Being the Wife of a Methodist Minister

Harold and Evelyn late 1920's

Evelyn Dutcher Griffis married Harold Griffis the year after he graduated from college. Evelyn graduated from teachers college a year before Harold. While Harold was a senior at Wesleyan University, Evelyn taught Latin at the Johnstown, New York High School for two years. According to oral history, Mary Jane (Platts) Dutcher advised her daughter Evelyn to work two years before getting married. She wanted Evelyn to demonstrate her ability to be independent, something Mary Jane felt she did not have.

Once Harold graduated, Evelyn followed the career of Harold Griffis and assumed the various roles and duties associated with being a minister’s wife. As a pastor’s wife she assumed leading roles in various church committees, facilitated fund raising drives, participated in church plays, and organized church events. Evelyn also assumed leadership roles on various Methodist district oversight church committees at the local and district levels of the church organization. [1]

In Amsterdam I headed a group of 100 young people and entertained notable speakers for one monthly forums such as Ralph Sockman [2], Bishop McConnell [3] .  In 5th Avenue and State Street there were were many workers but few willing to be chairmen and for the first time I chaired many dinners and worked in the kitchen.

During Harold’s assignment as a Pastor in Troy, New York in the 1930’s, Evelyn and Harold started a family with the birth of three sons: James Dutcher Griffis, John Harold Griffis, and David Griffis.

In Troy we were told that we would surely have a family, for all their ministers but one had had children after moving there.  After four years there we had three boys.

At the end of Harold’s tenure at the First Methodist Church and the East Main M.E. Church in Amsterdam, and prior to their move back to Troy when Harold became a district Superintendent, Evelyn had her fourth child, Nancy Evelyn Griffis in March 1946.

Evelyn resumed her teaching career, teaching Latin at a girls school, after Harold Griffis died in 1962.

After Harold died, I went back to teaching latin in St. Agnes Episcopal Girl’s school and taught 10 years.  In Amsterdam and Troy I often substituted in the public schools. 

Perceptions on Being a Minister’s Wife

Evelyn wrote an undated letter detailing Harold’s career and, by implication, their life experiences for ancestry documentation for her Dutcher side of the family.

Evelyn indicated:

I enjoyed very much being the wife of a Methodist minister. Never did I feel imposed upon. There was never a dull moment. In Jonesville I conducted choir rehearsal every Sat night – playing each part as the choir members could not read music. Every year for fifty years the church served a clam bake for 250-300 people on Labor day. The men washed 18,000 clams. We had an assembly line that took care of a number of chickens. A man stabbed the chicken. I, a bride, was given a hatchet to chop off its head, it was plunged in boiling water, feathers removed, cut up, tied on cheese cloth, ready for the bake. Another bride and I were assigned to make cottage cheese. Two huge milk cans of sour cheese were left on our side porch. [4]

The letter provides an historical narrative of Harold and Evelyns’ lives from Gloversville through their stops in Jonesville, New York; Williamstown, Massachusetts; Troy, New York; Amsterdam, New York; back to Troy; and finally to Albany, New York.

Evelyn completes the letter by stating:

It was important to us that our children should find love and respect in our family and each one develop to best of his or her ability. Each assumed a share in the daily work and regarded each day as a challenge to do one’s best.

Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 1 Click for enlarged view.
Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 2 Click for enlarged view.
Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 3 Click for enlarged view.
Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 4 Click for enlarged view.
Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 5 Click for enlarged view.
Handwritten letter by Evelyn Griffis on ancestry information for Dutcher Family
Page 6 Click for enlarged view.

The Early Years at Groom’s and Jonesville Churches New York

Evelyn Griffis 1925 sitting on the steps of her parent’s house, during Harold’s first pastoral assignment to Groom’s Church and Jonesville Church, New York.

source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

Williamstown, Massachusetts

Evelyn on the door step of the Williamstown M.E. Church parsonage with a puppy. ‘Mildred’, referenced in the scrapbook is in the background. The photograph was taken in 1928,.

Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Evelyn in a church play costume outside of the Williamstown Church circa 1928, Click for larger view.

Troy, New York: The Start of a Family

Harold’s career as a pastor and Evelyn’s involvement in church activities and district church assignments gained momentum with their move to Troy, New in 1930..

A newspaper article on the results of administrative actions associated with the Methodist Troy Council.

Evelyn Griffis was elected first Vice President of the Minister’s Wives Association. In addition, Harold Griffis was accorded the status of an accredited teacher of “Study of the Pupil”

  • Glenns Falls Times , April 11, 1931

During Harold’s assignments as pastor at the Troy at Trinity Methodist M.E. church, Harold and Evelyn started their family. James Dutcher Griffis was born February 21, 1932, followed by John Harold Griffis on July 4, 1933, and David Griffis was born December 28, 1936.

The following photographs are from one of Evelyn’s personal scrapbooks and capture the growing family in 1933.

Click for larger view.

The first born, James Dutcher Griffis, Here are two photographs of the first born, James Dutcher Griffis, when James was four and a half months old in 1932.

From a personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Young James with Evelyn Griffis, possibly in the summer of 1933 in Troy New York.

From a personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

The following two photographs are of Evelyn and the second addition to the family, John Harold Griffis in 1933.

Evelyn and John
Source: Evelyn Griffis personal scrapbook, click for larger view.
Newborn John H Griffis and Evelyn, 1933, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The following photographs were taken in the summer of 1933 at Evelyn’s parent’s house in Gloversville, New York.

Source: Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

A photograph in the winter of 1933 of Evelyn holding John and James sitting on the doorstep.

Evelyn Griffis with John H. Griffis and James D Griffis, Troy 1933, click for larger view.

In December 1936 , three days after Christmas, David Griffis was born in Troy. The following is a photograph of Evelyn with her three sons taken in the beginning of 1934.

Source: Evelyn Griffis personal scrapbook, click for larger view.

Amsterdam, New York

When Evelyn and Harold moved to Amsterdam, Evelyn was taking care of three boys. The first year in Amsterdam was tumultuous. Her third son David Griffis contracted chicken pox and died (see A Short Precious Life). Despite this profound loss, Evelyn continued to pour her energies into church activities and raising her two older sons. At the end of their stay in Amsterdam, her fourth child, Nancy Griffis, was born.

The following photograph was taken in July 1938. James D. Griffis and John H. Griffis with their younger brother David Griffis.

The three boys, click for larger view.

Another photograph taken in the summer of 1938 was always on a bedroom bureau of Evelyn’s, which captures a fun moment with her three boys at a local swimming location.

The three boys and Evelyn, 1938, click for larger view.
Harold holding David, James and John, click for larger view.

Sons James sand John are in the following photograph in front of First Methodist Episcopal Church in Amsterdam.

John H Griffis and James D Griffis, Troy, New York, click for larger view.
Postcard of where Evelyn attended a Methodist Branch meeting, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Along with Harold, Evelyn was involved with the Epworth League. She often participated in various Epworth league and church sponsored plays. As her daughter Nancy Griffis recalled, Evelyn envisioned her alternative, desired profession as a ‘thespian’.

As reflected in the following undated newspaper article in the 1940’s, Evelyn was involved various roles in church play activities: programming, casting, and play reading.

Unidentified Epworth League Play, no date. Evelyn is second to the left sitting. Click for enlarged view.
Evelyn in a play “Little Women”, sponsored by the First Methodist church of Amsterdam, NY, January 25, 1941, from personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, Click for larger view.
Evelyn and Harold 1940’s, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Evelyn Griffis, President of Troy Conference Ministers’ Wives’ Association mid 1940’s, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Proof photograph from the newspaper article, click for larger view.
Young parishioners: James D Griffis second to the left back row, Evelyn Griffis fourth from the right, personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

Evelyn Griffis, secretary of publicity, Women’s Society of Christian Service, December 10, 1942

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

In 1946, Nancy Griffis was born. the photograph below was taken in 1947 while the family lived in Amsterdam.

Source: Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Nancy Griffis around 2 years old, source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
James D. Griffis with sister Nancy Griffis at Riverside Camp, source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
John Nancy and James, click for larger view.

The Post War Years Years in Troy and Albany

In 1946 through 1954 Evelyn and family were in Troy, New York where Harold was initially a District Superintendent and then a pastor. From 1955 through 1961 when Hard passed away, he family lived in Albany, New York where again Harold was a District Superintendent and a pastor.

Evelyn continued playing many roles within the church and managing the family.

Evelyn Griffis was a teacher at the tenth annual summer institute of the Troy Methodist Conference Women’s Society of Christian Services at Green Mountain Junior College, Poultney, VT.

Evelyn Griffis was one of the planners for a retreat of methodists minister wives in the Troy Conference.

Harold, Evelyn and daughter Nancy attending dinner meeting of the members of the cabinet of the Troy Conference

The Glens Falls Times August 27 1956 Page 9. Click for larger view.

Evelyn Griffis as a Teacher

As indicated, Evelyn Griffis started her career as a teacher after graduating from the New York State College for Teachers in Albany, New York. She taught Latin for two years at Johnstown High School, New York. She also was a substitute teacher in Troy and Amsterdam, New York in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The following is Evelyn’s college transcript and the college Board of Recommendations. In addition there are two letters of recommendation that Evelyn probably used in her continued pursuit of teaching.

Click for larger view.
Click for larger view.
Evelyn Griffis Board of Recommendations photo and cover
Evelyn Griffis, State College Teachers Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page one of Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page Two, Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page Three, Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page Four, Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page Five, Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.
Page Six, Board of Recommendation, click for larger view.

Sources

Featured story photograph: Harold in front of and Evelyn on the porch of the Williamstown church parsonage on Main Street, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

[1] See for example: Evelyn Griffis elected as first vice president of Methodist Minister’s Wive’s Association The Glens Falls times. volume, April 11, 1931, Page 5

Evelyn Griffis Troy Conference Secretary of Missionary Education and Service leads a training institute held at the Trinity Church in Albany – Summer Institute: Plattsburgh Press-Republican October 13, 1945 Page 5

[2] Ralph Sockman was was the senior pastor of Christ Church, New York city. He gained considerable prominence in the U.S. as the featured speaker on the weekly NBC radio program, National Radio Pulpit, which aired from 1928 to 1962, and as a writer of several best-selling books on the Christian life. See: Ralph Sockman , Wikipedia, page accessed July 28, 2021.

[3] Francis John McConnell was an American social reformer and a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, elected in 1912. Born on August 18, 1871, in Trinway, Ohio, he died on August 18, 1953, in Lucasville, Ohio. McConnell was a graduate of the Ohio Wesleyan University and the Boston University School of Theology. See Francis John McConnell, Wikipedia, page accessed July 28, 2021.

[4] I have excluded three pages from the complete letter for reasons of privacy. These pages provide historical detail on individuals currently living.

David Griffis – A Short Precious Life

David at the School Door August 1938

David Griffis was the third child and son of Harold and Evelyn Griffis. David was born three days after Christmas in 1936 in Troy, New York. [1]

The featured photograph at the top of this story is a cropped version of a photograph that my father had on his bedroom bureau. He had it displayed ever since I could remember as a child. David’s smile is etched in my memory.

The story of David’s Short Life

This young boy, my uncle, would unfortunately succumb to suffocation from having chicken pox in his windpipe on October 9, 1938. The story of his untimely demise had been told by my father numerous times. Whether it is accurate is not certain but I imagine the general outline and major facts of the story are true.

After living in Troy, New York since 1930, the family of five moved from Troy to Amsterdam, New York in 1938. As a Methodist minister, Harold’s career and assignments within the church were dictated by the Bishop of his particular district and the sentiments of parishioners of a church. In 1938, Harold was appointed to serve the First Methodist Church in Amsterdam, New York. The family move was at a time when the Greet Depression had been ongoing since October 1929.

After moving to Amsterdam young David contracted chick pox and as responsible and loving parents, Evelyn and Harold attended to his needs. When a child is sick at the age of almost 2 years old (David was about one year and nine months old), the ability to communicate and convey what hurts or what is wrong with one’s body is very difficult. Evelyn and Harold did not realize the chicken pox had quickly spread within his air passageway. It is not known if the chicken pox had manifested itself externally. David began to rapidly have difficulty in breathing.

Harold and Evelyn swooped young David up, placed him in the car, drove to the general public hospital in Amsterdam. At the emergency room, David was denied service due to Harold not having health insurance. The parents then ran back to the car with David and raced to St. May’s, a Catholic hospital in Amsterdam. St. Mary’s hospital received David to attend to his needs. Unfortunately, time ran out. David passed away due to suffocation.

Newspaper article in the Amsterdam Times on David’s passing. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Healthcare in the 1930’s

The unfortunate experience that Harold and Evelyn experienced with the death of their son David should be put into a wider historical context. Only 9 percent of the population had insurance on the eve of World War II. That percentage had more than doubled to nearly 23 percent by the end of the war. It more than doubled again by 1950 and was close to 70 percent by 1960. [2].

While private health insurance as we know it today was rare during this period, “Sickness funds” had existed at least from the time of the Civil War. These funds were established by employers, unions, and fraternal organizations. By the progressive period (1896–1916) it was estimated that 20 percent of industrial workers were members of a sickness fund. Even though the sickness funds did not provide health insurance per se, satisfaction with these plans is perhaps an under-appreciated reason why early compulsory health insurance initiatives were not successful. [3].

During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis. However, by the 1930s the fee-for-service system of paying for medical services was not working. What stood in the way of dramatic improvements in public health was the Great Depression. Local hospitals were affected by the Depression like other firms. Receipts drastically dropped as well as occupancy rates while charity care rose substantially. [4]

By the mid-1930s, the average national income in the United States was half that of 1929. With nearly 40 percent of some states’ populations on government relief, fewer patients could afford to pay for medical care. Physicians earned less as a result, but many continued to treat charity cases for free. Hospitals had similar problems. [5]

In the absence of modern drug therapies, the average hospital stay in 1933 was two weeks. Many patients could not afford to pay, so beds remained empty while people suffered at home. In addition to less people seeking medical treatment, the Great Depression caused lack of hospital funding. Many hospitals were forced to make cuts to staff members, including nurses, and often times hospitals ended up shutting down.  [6]

The Great Depression had taken hold and many Americans were unable to afford the care they desperately needed. Insurance policies for health care coverage were practically non-existent. As a result, many hospitals across the country were thrown into financial ruin and were forced to close. [7]

Health was regarded as uninsurable because hazards had to be both definite and measurable. When the hospital service plans finally became popular, they initially did not offer health insurance; they offered hospitalization coverage. An admission to a hospital was a definite event, determined by a physician. In 1934 commercial carriers such as Blue Cross, began offering hospital coverage in a few states. Initially, they did not provide physician coverage. Most states viewed the new hospital service plans as the prepayment of hospital services, rather than as insurance. In 1933, however, the New York state insurance commissioner determined that the plans should be viewed as insurance. By 1939, 25 states had such enabling legislation. [8]

The development of Blue Shield plans mirrors that of Blue Cross. The first medical service plan, analogous to the hospital services plans, was the California Physicians’ Service, established in 1939. The plans had two key features. First, they required free choice of physician, and second, they were indemnity rather than service benefit plans. This meant that the plans paid the patient a dollar amount for each covered event; the patient, in turn, was responsible for paying the physician.

The emerging trends associated with medical care and insurance did not help young David’s plight. As a Methodist minister, Harold did not have insurance to pay for such services and in a moment where he needed time-sensitive emergency service, it was denied.

Memories of David

David’s death had a profound effect on Harold and Evelyn. My father, while only six years old at the time, profoundly remembered in his late 80’s the wake that was held in their home before his service and burial. Nancy Griffis, their fourth child, recalls Evelyn revealing that she felt responsible for David’s death for many years. She also recalled that Harold “was in deep depression” after David’s death but was able to function and perform his duties as a pastor. Evelyn also indicated to Nancy that it too a great effort to help Harold overcome his sense of lose and responsibility for David’s death.

David’s headstone in Ferndale Cemetery, Johnstown, New York, Plot G 21, Source: Find A Grave

Harold Griffis always promoted an ecumenical dialogue in his sermons and talks; and shared his pulpit with ministers of other denominations. He established close. associations with Catholic priests, protestant ministers, and Rabbis in each community that he was assigned. Subsequent to David’s death, whenever there was an appropriate time to discuss this family experience of David’s passing, Harold spoke kindly of the openness of the Catholic faith and their service to man. The actions of the individuals at St. Mary’s hospital in Amsterdam, New York reflected the ideals of his faith and had an indelible effect on his views of the hospital.

As Harold stated in a speech to the Kiwanas Club”, “the most important thing in the world is not our statement of high ideals but what you deliver on the basis of those ideals”. [9] While Harold had a deep love for man and God, he also believed that personal responsibility and actions toward others determine how we and our situations will be judged.

While David’s life was short, he undoubtably brought smiles, laughter and bright light into lives of his family.

The photograph below was taken probably taken when David was two months old, brother John on the left and brother James on the right.

New Baby Brother David Griffis
Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Harold with John and James and holding two month old David. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

The following is a. group shot of the family in 1937. Harold and George Griffis are in the back standing up. From left to right, grandmother Jane Dutcher, aunt Kate Sperber, Ida’s sister, and grandmother Ida Griffis are sitting. James, John and David are on the blanket.

source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Two photographs from Evelyn’s personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Harold Reading the Newspaper with the three boys, circa 1937. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
A smiling David! Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click or larger view.
A page from one of Evelyn’s scrapbooks. Click for larger view.

This photograph was taken in August, 1938.

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Source: Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view
Grandmother Ida Griffis with David. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.
Grandmother Ida Griffis (on the left) with the three boys and Aunt Kate Sperber (on the right). Click for larger view.

David at one and a half years old on the steps of the school.

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The three brothers in Amsterdam, New York, 1938.

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.

The following family group photograph was taken near the First Methodist Church in Amsterdam in May 30, 1938. Front row: unidentified playmate, James D. Griffis, David Griffis, John H Griffis; Second row: Edison Platts (maternal side uncle of Evelyn Griffis), Harry Staley (husband of Edith Mae Griffis daughter of George Griffis), Harold Griffis, George Griffis (Harold’s step father); Back row: Charlotte (Lottie) Platts (Evelyn’s maternal aunt), Evelyn Griffis, Aunt Kate (Catherine Platts, another of Evelyn’s maternal aunts), Jane Dutcher (Evelyn’s mother), Ida Griffis (Harold’s mother).

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
mesGrandfather George Griffis with his three grandsons, John James and holding young David. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Another photograph of the family on the same day: Back row: Charlotte Platts, Edison Platts, Harold Griffis, Harry Staley, Kate (Catherine Platts), Evelyn Dutcher Griffis, Jane Dutcher (Evelyn’s mother), Ida Griffis (Harold’s mother); front Row: James Griffis, George Griffis holding David Griffis, John Griffis

Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis, click for larger view.
Photograph taken in August 1938. Harold wheeling David in a lawn chair. Source: personal scrapbook of Evelyn Griffis. Click for larger view.

Sources

[1] New York State Birth Index, 1881- 1942, 1936, Page 503, birth date 28 Dec 1936, Birth certificate Number 81612

[2] Morrisey, Michael, Health Insurance, Chapter One: History of Health Insurance in the United States, Chicago: Health Administration press, 2014 https://account.ache.org/iweb/upload/Morrisey2253_Chapter_1-3b5f4e08.pdf 

[3] Murray, John, Origins of American Health Insurance: A History of Industrial Sickness Funds, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007

[4] Palmer, Karen, “A Brief History: Universal Health Care Efforts in the US” Transcribed from a talk given by in San Francisco at the Spring, 1999 PNHP meeting, https://pnhp.org/a-brief-history-universal-health-care-efforts-in-the-us/ page accessed July 29, 2021

[5] “The 1930s Medicine and Health: Overview .” U*X*L American Decades. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Jun. 2021 

[6] Henderson, Amanda, Working Conditions of Nurses during the Great Depression, Nursing 1920-1940, page accessed July 21, 2021, https://sites.google.com/site/nursing1930s/home/influential-figures-in-nursing-1920-1940 

[7] Nutzer, Bryce, Born from the Great Depression, a continued promise to protect the sustainability of health care costs, September 3, 2019, Blog, BlueCross BlueShield Minnesota, 

Hoffman, Beatrice, Health Care Reform and Social Movements in the United States, American Journal of Public health, January 2003, https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.93.1.75#_i8

The 1930’s Medicine and Health: Overview, page accessed July 31, 2021, Encyclopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1930s-medicine-and-health-overview 

[8] Morrisey, Michael, Health Insurance, Chapter One: History of Health Insurance in the United States, Chicago: Health Administration press, 2014 https://account.ache.org/iweb/upload/Morrisey2253_Chapter_1-3b5f4e08.pdf 

[9] “We Face Our Social Concerns” a speech provided to the Glens Falls Council of Churches.  Click here to read the newspaper article from The Glens Falls Times May 29 1959 Page 6