Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part II

Iowa Quaker Orthodoxy




The General Superintendent


            The one office which to-day stands out in importance above all others in the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Orthodox Friends is that of the “General Superintendent of Evangelistic, Pastoral, and Church Extension Work”. This office had its origin, as its name would indicate, both in the evangelistic and pastoral systems and in the modern demand for a careful supervision of the whole field of the work of the Yearly Meeting. Its history is the record of the labors of the five men who have held the position.(168)

            Born at Fairfield, Maine, in 1832, John Henry Douglas, the first General Superintendent among the Iowa Friends, was in the very prime of life when he assumed the responsibilities of this new office. He was trained “according to the strictest sect” of the Quaker faith, receiving his early education at St. Albans and at Hartland Academy in his native State, and later spending three years at the Friends’ School at Providence, Rhode Island. By 1858 he was recorded as a minister in the Society of Friends in Clinton County, Ohio; and from there he came to Iowa.(169)

            Douglas arrived in Iowa about the time that the evangelistic movement was getting well under way. He entered into the work with an energy and enthusiasm which gave the movement a great impetus. Keen of mind, eloquent in speech, magnetic, and tireless, as the first General Superintendent among the Iowa Friends, John Henry Douglas left his indelible stamp upon the church in a firmly rooted pastoral system and a new membership which to-day constitutes the backbone of the Society in Iowa.

            Worn out by ceaseless toil, at the end of four years Douglas’s health failed him and he was compelled to give up the superintendency. Before long, however, he was again at work in other fields. Twenty-nine times he has crossed the Rocky Mountains in the course of his labors, and now after sixty years in the ministry(170) he is able to write from his California home that his interest in the work is unabated.

            In looking forward to the man who might be chosen to take his place Douglas wrote to the Yearly Meeting in 1889: “I would suggest that my successor should be a man of God, full of Holy Ghost and wisdom. He should be a man of large experience in both the evangelistic and pastoral work,… and he should be a man capable of representing the church before the world”.(171)

            It was upon just such a man that the choice fell. Much like his predecessor, Isom P. Wooten was filled with a zeal for evangelistic work. For five years he labored with a vigor that commanded respect on every hand. Evangelism, pastoral needs, and the internal organization of the fields already occupied all received his constant attention. For the first year he reported that throughout the Iowa Yearly Meeting there were sixty-six ministers who devoted at least a part of their time to evangelistic work; while during the five years of his administration the records show the conversion of 6251 persons through this means, with 3878 names added to the membership rolls of the church.

            The labors which had overtaxed the strength of John Henry Douglas, likewise proved too much for Isom P. Wooten and he also was compelled to retire from the work. At the annual gathering in 1895 Zenas L. Martin(172) was called by the Iowa Yearly Meeting to the General Superintendency. While the five years which followed show the same evangelistic activity which had been displayed under the two previous administrations, it is to be remembered that the problems confronting the General Superintendency. While the five years which followed show the same evangelistic activity which had been displayed under the two previous administrations, it is to be remembered that the problems confronting the General Superintendent were rapidly changing. The evangelistic movement, so far as the Society of Friends in Iowa was concerned, had spent its force; and the real problem of the church was that of holding the ground already taken and the development of a strong life within. This problem Martin undertook to solve. He repeatedly called the attention of the Yearly Meeting to the necessity not only of building up its pastoral service by the increase of salaries and the construction of comfortable parsonages,(173) but also of providing “homes for our aged ministers, some of whom in giving their whole time to the ministry have been unable to provide for the needs of their declining years.”

            Like those who had served as General Superintendent before him, Zenas L. Martin gave a definite bent to the policy of the Yearly Meeting. In pointing out the fact that “most of our churches, for years, have followed with studied regularity their methods, time and place of holding annual evangelistic meetings”, he ventured to recommend the uniting with other denominations where feasible, both for the salvation of souls and for the upbuilding of the communities where Friends found themselves brought into contact with other churches. This plan had frequently been tried, but of late years with little or no success so far as Friends are concerned.

            Having “received a call from the American Board of Foreign Missions to take charge of the mission work in the West Indies”, Zenas L. Martin resigned the superintendency of the Iowa Yearly Meeting on April 1, 1900, and William Jasper Hadley, then acting as the President of the Executive Board of the Evangelistic Committee, was appointed to fill out the unexpired term.(174)

                    When William Jasper Hadley read the report of the Evangelistic Committee in the fall of 1900 it was clear to all that he was the logical successor to the superintendency. As pastor of several of the most important congregations in the Yearly Meeting,(175) as clerk of Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings, and as President of the Mission Board he had known the problems and conditions of the home and foreign field probably better than any other man in Iowa. He accepted the office, and for eleven years he performed the tasks of the position with a devotion and with results which place him alongside of John Henry Douglas for the services which he rendered to the Society.

            While the first General Superintendent labored chiefly in the work of evangelism, Hadley concentrated his efforts on the perfection of a more effective form of church machinery. The extent to which the former succeeded has been noted; while to appreciate the full measure in which the latter accomplished his purpose, one must view the organization through which the Superintendent does his work to-day. Hadley persistently urged the consolidation of rural meetings into circuits, the centralization of authority in the hands of the Evangelistic Board, and the establishment of permanent funds for the care of aged ministers and for church extension. He aroused a deeper appreciation of the problems confronting the church.

            William Jasper Hadley resigned the office of General Superintendent in the fall of 1911, and Harry R. Keates,(176) a man of wide experience and great energy, became his successor. Evangelistic in his methods, the type of ministry which Keates is bringing to bear upon the home field appears in the following statement from his first annual report to the Yearly Meeting in 1912:


            The preaching demanded today is the same that has been blessed of God in the past to the salvation of souls. Man’s utterly lost condition, the penalty for sin, the Divine provision for salvation, man’s responsibility for accepting this on Divine terms, its results here and hereafter are fundamentals which cannot be ignored.


The vigor with which the new Superintendent entered upon his work surprised and almost alarmed many members of the Society. For some time the meeting at Marshalltown, Iowa, had been torn and rent with factions to such an extent that it was on the verge of breaking into pieces. In a manner that in the light of ancient Quaker democracy seemed arbitrary, the Evangelistic Board intervened and enforced its right to adjust the difficulties. A storm was raised, and the Yearly Meeting was asked to give its ruling in the case.(177)

            Keates has also grappled with the problem of reenergizing the ministry of the Yearly Meeting on an evangelical basis. Constantly moving from one Quarterly Meeting to another, he has throughout the field called the ministers and workers into special conferences to discuss the problems of each particular charge. Here again adverse criticism has found expression. Undaunted, however, at passing obstacles, Keates has continued his work with an enthusiasm which promises to put new vitality into the Society.


Notes and References


168- The years served by each of the General Superintendents of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends are as follows: John Henry Douglas, 1886-1890; Isom P. Wooten, 1890-1895; Zenas L. Martin, 1895-1900; William Jasper Hadley, 1900-1911; Harry R. Keates 1911-.


169- The writer is indebted to John Henry Douglas for a brief sketch of his life, prepared in May, 1913.


170- John Henry Douglas states that he began preaching in 1853.


171- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1889, p. 19; 1891, p. 21.


172- Zenas L. Martin was born in Yadkin County, North Carolina, near the old home of Daniel Boone, in 1855. He came to Iowa in 1859 with his parents Daniel H. and Belinda (Reece) Martin, who settled at New Providence, Hardin County. Here he made his home until he entered the services of the American Board of Foreign Missions in 1895. He is now the Superintendent of the Friends missions in Cuba.


173- In connection with his annual report in 1897 Zenas L. Martin made the following recommendation: “I would recommend that,…. All our meetings which have not parsonages consider the matter of building next year, and that there be liberality in the size and convenient arrangement of them. It would be well for good cupboards and closets to be made in all houses, and that stoves be furnished, so that in moving ministers may be saved the expense of handling heavy furniture.”—Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1897, pp. 23, 24.


174- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1900, p. 11.


175- William Jasper Hadley was born in Hendricks County, Indiana, in 1848. He came to Iowa in 1870 and settled in Dallas County. From that time on his career runs as follows: farmer, teacher, Superintendent of Indian Schools, deputy to County Treasurer of Dallas County, 1888-1890, County Superintendent of Schools, preacher and pastor, General Superintendent of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1900-1911, pastor of the Friends Church at Des Moines, 1911-1913.


176- Before accepting the evangelistic superintendency of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Orthodox Friends, Harry R. Keates had served in a like capacity in the New York Yearly Meeting. Later he had been for three or four years the pastor of the Friends Church at Des Moines, Iowa.—See Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1912, p. 8.


177- In its report, the committee to which was referred the subject of the Evangelistic Board having been granted “absolute authority to take such action as may seem right in the case”, “where differences exist likely to cause hurt to a meeting” (Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1910, p. 17), announced its approval. “Your committee believes, however, that our Constitution already provides a complete method of dealing with all ‘differences’ which may arise and that, therefore, the above resolution is in conflict with it.”—Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1912, p. 14.



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