History of the Columbia River Valley, From the Dalles to the Sea: Bishop Walter Taylor Sumner

Fred Lockley

Said Fred Lockley in one of his interesting contributions to the Oregon Journal: "Bishop Walter Taylor Sumner believes in militant Christianity. There is a bit of verse in Mother Goose that goes something like this:

For every evil under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none.
If there be one, try and find it,
If there be none, never mind it.'

"A good many people think enduring evils is easier than curing them. Bishop Sumner has always acted on the belief that the way to cure evil is to go right after it, hammer and tongs, and never let up till that particular evil has been put out of business. They call him ' The Fighting Parson.' I spent an hour or so with Bishop Sumner at his home recently and he told me of some of the fights in which he had been engaged in the cause of civic righteousness and moral decency. Before telling of his career I am going to tell something about Bishop Sumner himself. In answer to my questions he said: " 'I was born at Manchester, New Hampshire, December 5, 1873. My father, Charles D. Sumner, was a native of Boston and a cotton manufacturer. He was active in civic affairs —a member of the school board, the city council and the state legislature. My mother, whose maiden name was Rintha Thompson, was born in New Hampshire and is now living at our old home in Manchester. Her father was a wheelwright. I was her only child. After attending the public schools of Manchester I went to Dartmouth College. It is the common practice now for the big corporations to select college graduates to go into business, but when I was a student at Dartmouth the custom was just being introduced. Charles DuBois, the present president of the Western Electric Company, came to Dartmouth to get a line on the graduates. He selected three, F. V. Bennis, Fred H. Legett and myself, to learn the electrical business. Bennis and I roomed together for three years while we were working for the Western Electric. Bennis became treasurer of the company. Legett became manager of the European branch and was later made general sales manager. During the three years I was with the company I worked in twelve different departments, including the dynamo, assembly department, stock room, testing department, and finally became city salesman. " 'I have always been very fond of music. During my college course I was college organist, manager of the orchestra and played cello, double bass and piano. I was accompanist in our Glee Club and played the guitar in the Banjo & Mandolin Club. I served as organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas' Episcopal church at Hanover while I was at Dartmouth. My people were Baptists, but serving as choirmaster in the Episcopal church brought me in touch with some very lovable men connected with that church, so I became an Episcopalian and was confirmed. While a senior I planned to enter the ministry, but when I found it would take three more years at a, Seminary I decided to take up a business career. " 'During the three years I was with the Western Electric Company I worked with Jane Addams of Hull House. She had me take charge of a boys' club at the cathedral. Dean Pardee talked with me and suggested that I enter the ministry. He told me that if I would go to the seminary for three years he would see that I secured enough work at the cathedral to pay my expenses. When I asked the Western Electric people for a release they were very good about it. They told me I could have my job back any time I wanted it and that I could also work there during vacations. During my seminary course my eyes went back on me, so the doctor advised me to take a year off and live outdoors. I went to Flagstaff, Arizona, and landed a job in a lumber camp. I put in Sundays and evenings at missionary work and organized an Episcopal mission there. This mission later became a parish and they now have a well-built stone church and a stone parish house. I returned to the seminary and for two years served as organist and choirmaster of the cathedral and had charge of the Sunday school and the boys' work. I completed my seminary course in 1904 and immediately thereafter became secretary to the Rt. Rev. C. P. Anderson, bishop of Chicago. Within a few blocks of my residence there were more than nine hundred women engaged in commercialized vice. I discovered that hundreds of the saloons in Chicago were owned by the breweries and that these breweries also controlled the houses of prostitution run in connection with the saloons. In these houses the girls sold for a dollar a bottle, beer that could be bought in the saloons for a dime. The moral and sanitary conditions were unspeakable. I came to the conclusion that regulation was not the remedy for commercialized vice, that the wiping out of the saloons and restriction of the vice district was the only remedy. I commenced a campaign of education and agitation. We were finally able to secure the cooperation of the mayor, who appointed the first municipal vice commission ever organized, with myself as chairman. Since that day nearly one hundred cities have organized such commissions. The mayor allowed me to select my own committee, asking me to meet a few public officials and others he suggested on the committee, which I was glad to do. After a year of investigation we brought in a report that was a revelation to the public of Chicago as to vice conditions. A new mayor, however, had come in. He refused to act on our report. Public sentiment, however, was so strong that he appointed a commission of his own, composed of politicians. Pressure was brought to bear upon them and they indorsed our report. The mayor was indignant. He felt that he had been betrayed by his friends. At the behest of the brewers and the saloon-keepers, he discharged his own committee and appointed a hand-picked commission, who were sent to Europe to investigate the methods of handling the problem in Germany, France and other European countries. After an exhaustive investigation they reported that regulation was ineffective, indorsed our report and recommended the wiping out of the redlight district. Press, pulpit and public were almost a unit in demanding that this be done; so our long fight was won at last and the segregated redlight districts were wiped out. " 'The next fight I took up was for clean blood. To the best of my ability I worked and fought for a law that only the fit should marry. This meant that both men and women should present medical certificates that they had no contagious or venereal diseases. This, also, was a long, hard fight. When we began to see daylight in this I took up the fight to make the schools social centers. I was able to do effective work along this and other lines as a lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit. I also addressed, whenever the opportunity offered, ministerial conferences as well as public meetings. " 'On January 6, 1915, I was consecrated bishop of Oregon. On January 1, 1918, in the cathedral at Chicago, Miss Myrtle Mitchell and myself were married. We have two children— Betty or, to give her her full name, Elizabeth Ann, who was born June 6, 1919, and Mary Jane, born April 7, 1924. " 'One of the greatest assets of my fights for civic righteousness has been the making of scores and hundreds of friends. Some day I will tell you how much I value the friendship of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his splendid cooperation in my various fights for better civic conditions."' A tireless worker, impelled by the courageous nature and high ideals of the Crusaders of old, Bishop Sumner has imbued kindred spirits with his zeal and made them see his visions, so that his energy has been multiplied by the energy of others. His thought has been the public welfare, human happiness and a better world for all and no influence has diverted him from that purpose.


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