E. Jean Scott
- 1937 - Died, June 1
“Lucy Rider Meyer opened her [Deaconess] Training School in Chicago, October 20, 1885, a date which will hereafter be commemorated as an historical epoch in American Methodism. This Training School has had a remarkable growth.”[i]
So writes Deaconess E. Jean Scott, (larger photo) a graduate of the Chicago Training School for City, Home and Foreign Missions. Large was the influence of Mrs. Meyer and the Chicago school on the development of the Deaconess movement in Canada. (To read some of Mrs. Meyer’s writing follow this link.) Lucy sent Jean to be the Superintendent of the first Deaconess Home in Canada, the Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School. She came with seven years’ experience and was described in the 1897 Annual Report in terms of her kindness, painstaking industry, consecration and gifts. “Our hearts have already gone out to this bright earnest worker, with whom one cannot come in contact without being impressed with her enthusiasm. She has the Christ idea. She goes about “doing good”[ii]. Jean served in the role from 1896 (following Alice M. Thompson, another Chicago Deaconess sent by Lucy) to 1906 during a decade of expansion and growth. Chairman of the Board of the Deaconess Home, Rev. W. Sparling, wrote in the Annual Report for 1905:
With gratitude we would refer to the faithful service of our Superintendent [E. Jean Scott], who is the right woman in the right place, and to whose untiring efforts the success of the institution is largely due.[iii]
Jean describes the development of the Toronto school this way:
Toronto Methodism, recognizing the great work being done through the agency of foreign and American deaconesses, took into practical consideration the question of an organization [like the Chicago school] in Canada. The Toronto Conference, after two years of careful consideration … decided to form “such a systematic organization of consecrated Christian women as will give them an official relation to the Church, similar to the order of deaconesses in primitive Christianity.” … On May 28, 1894, the home was opened.
It is modeled after the family home. The superintendent has charge of the Home and directs the outside work. The workers are supported by the funds paid into the Home, receiving board and small allowances, just enough to furnish the simple costume which they wear. Economy was one reason why a distinctive dress was adopted. It does not attempt to follow the vagaries of the changing fashion.[iv]
“Family” is a word frequently used in describing the relationship of the women to one another, not only in these early days but throughout the century of deaconess activity. The Superintendent played the role of mother to the young women in the Home. It would seem that Jean was well appreciated by them.
In the Year Book of the Class of 1906, this was written about Miss Scott at a skating party:
Miss Scott got along famously. Willing hands put on her hockey skates and she was guided safely to the ice. She soon mastered the first principles and became a promising pupil…. Forceful, original and practical, she has left her impression on the character of every one of us, and one of the greatest privileges and inspirations of the year has been that of knowing and associating with her. [v]
Formal communication about the Deaconess movement in this period is typically written in a melodramatic tone, with a definite bend to apology, and, to marketing. Deaconess work descriptions read like scripts for a silent movie. Jean writes of her band in an article in the Methodist Review, written a year after her arrival, aimed at recruiting both support from funders, and young women to the work.
Where the mother was ill, a deaconess has for months kept the children tidy for school and Sabbath-school, by going once or twice a week to iron and mend the clothes, supplementing the scanty wardrobe with clothes sent to the Home. … [Work among the children] has been most encouraging. … Conversions among the children have been numerous. In a home of poverty and squalor, where the father was seldom sober, and the mother very careless, Christ came to dwell in the heart of the son, a boy of twelve years.[vi]
Jean’s enthusiasm for the diaconal ministry being undertaken is clearly evident in her writing. She has an optimistic view of the future and is blunt about asking for the financial resources to support the growth.
In cities where the work … is well known, it is recognized as a powerful influence toward making respectable citizens of the disturbing element; and business men, acting along the line that prevention is better than cure, pay into the Home, for the support of a deaconess, two hundred dollars a year.[vii]
It is interesting that her appeal is girded with an economic rationale not one framed in theological terms, although, as explored in more detail below, the connection between social uprightness and faith was one Jean was consciously aware of.
As Jean’s greatest hope, that there would be an increase in the number of women entering the profession materialized, requiring an increase in staff. Alice Thompson returned from Chicago in the summer of 1899 to be the Matron. As Superintendent, Jean Scott had more responsibility with the Board and with churches, Alice focused on the management of the Home. The number of Deaconesses and candidates grew quickly. There were 6 completing their work in 1898 and 14 graduates by 1901. In 1904 there were 18 graduates out of a beginning class of 23. That year Ora McElhenie, also a graduate of the Chicago School, joined the staff as Assistant Superintendent. Another responsibility for Jean was travelling to various churches with a goal of increasing attendance and deepening interest in the work of the Home and School. She made several trips to the east beginning in 1899 and applicants from there followed. Her first trip to the northwest was in 1905, with the result that in the fall of 1905 students began to come from there.[viii]
As the number of women living in the Home, both students and licensed Deaconesses, there was an increase in the number of rules established for their communal living. Right from the beginning though, Jean was intent on establishing the decorum of a family, but desired to keep the regulations to a minimum.
There are only such [regulations] as have been found necessary for the harmonious working of so large a family. Among them are: All are desired to be prompt and regular at meals and to take out-door exercise every day. Calls are received on Friday evening only, except in special cases. Only Sunday evening and one other evening a week are spent outside, except by special permission. Food is served only at meals and all fare alike, except in the case of sickness.[ix]
Jean Scott was influenced by the social gospel theology of Isabelle Horton, (photo) another American Methodist and a colleague of Lucy Rider Meyer who wrote several well circulated books on the diaconate, and frequently toured to speak. (Click here to download the text Horton’s book The Burden of the City.) Jean invited her to be the speaker at the 1904 Training School graduation for example. Like her male social gospel counterparts, Horton believed that salvation rested in addressing, and alleviating, the suffering in the world. Characteristic of this time, she also retained a strong commitment to converting people into a personal relationship with Jesus, but not to secure their salvation in the next life, but rather believing that a commitment to Jesus bettered one’s life in this world. There was a strong equating of social security with British ideals of a proper home. This was true evidence of a committed faith. The hope was that Deaconesses would be icons in this goal, as “deaconesses have been leaving touches and making impressions in every avenue of life. What it has meant, God alone knows, but the results as we see them are better homes, better lives and higher ideals.”[x]
In the Deaconess movement in this era the suffering to be addressed was seen most strikingly in the overwhelming poverty of urban North America, where statistics on childhood mortality matched those of countries in Africa. For Horton, and her followers, the social gospel perspective was layered with maternal feminism. This mixture had a profound influence in shaping Protestantism in Canada.
As Jean Scott observed, “It is impossible for men to do all the work the church ought to do in the world.”[xi]
Maternal feminism or as Isabelle Horton termed it, evangelical domesticity, utilized the language of the domestic sphere and images of motherhood to express a social theology. Economically privileged women were motivated by this theology/philosophy to define a public role for themselves for the purpose of improving society and as a way to faithfully respond to the call of God. Historian Gwyn Griffith writes, “Many believed that women were more spiritually pure than men and therefore called to be the redeemers of the world. It was this belief that influenced the movements for temperance and women’s suffrage. It was also the rationale for theological education and training for women at a time when they were not permitted to enter the male theological colleges. Women needed to be properly equipped to carry out the church’s mission, because they were best suited to care for the poor and most vulnerable, both in Canada and in foreign lands.”[xii]
Jean Scott and her mentor Isabelle Horton parted company however with other Canadian social gospellers, like Nellie McClung. McClung and her coworkers in the cause of women’s suffrage saw a public, political role for women and likewise a governance role for women in the church. Horton, though, wrote:
What matters if we are not law-makers? We will conquer by the sign of the cross, the sign of utter sacrifice for love’s sake.[xiii]
And while Jean Scott thought that Deaconesses “stood coordinate” with “deacons and preachers and should be so recognized” she did not believe their work to be the same.[xiv] Her argument that only women could undertake ministries of caring for the poor, educating children, or rescue work (essentially a women’s shelter for abused women, prostitutes, runaways and unwed mothers) was offered as a strategy to further the status and opportunities of women, but as many historians have suggested, it resulted in confining women to ghettoized service. But in judging the promotion of women into public service, even if narrowly defined, it is important to remember that this was a new and radical idea for the then generally conservative culture in Canada. This is a time when women were not to take part in public life. The Dominion Elections Act, for example, stated that “no woman, idiot, lunatic or criminal shall vote.”
It could also be argued that the ministry to the most vulnerable and marginalized was never going to be main stream for the majority of the church, and to create a distinct movement, an “army of mighty power” as Jean described it, was a worthwhile experiment in insuring a social justice ministry. The slide of Deaconesses into serving the needs of the gathered congregation begins in the Methodist tradition in the 1920s when stenography and other office skills are introduced to the curriculum. Not surprisingly, then Deaconesses are given tasks in the church office. In the Presbyterian Church before a decade has passed the new Deaconess Order experiences the creep of the institutional church, as graduates, starting in 1917, are recruited to general pastoral leadership due to the war time shortage of men to fill the role. This pastoral leadership plays a role in opening the way for women to serve in ordained leadership, which comes in the United Church in 1936, but it also draws women away from the dedicated purpose of social ministry.
By all accounts, Jean was an important leader in the new movement for women. Her contribution is well proclaimed. The Chairman [sic] of the Training School board, Rev. S. Cleaver, wrote of her in 1906, at the end of her decade of service, “By our Superintendent’s superb leadership and the lofty inspiration of her tireless enthusiasm, her sublime faith and her heroic labors, she has marshaled the forces of this organization to aggressive activity which marks an encouraging advance in every department.”[xv] Mary Acton, the Secretary of the Toronto Deaconess Society, confirms this view of Jean in her report. “The reports [to the Society] of the enthusiastic and consecrated Superintendent, E. Jean Scott, have been a source of inspiration and help, her indefatigable energy and buoyancy have not only put life into both the officers and the deaconesses, but her general optimism has continued to promote open doors where otherwise the latter had not been.”[xvi]
When Jean left the position at the Methodist Home she disappears from the Canadian Deaconess List. Presumably she returned to the United States. Further research in the United Church and American Methodist archival files could reveal more about her after 1906. The minutes of the United Church Deaconess Committee note her death, June 1, 1937.
This profile was written by Caryn Douglas, November 2012.
[i] E. Jean Scott, “Deaconess Work in Canada” in Methodist Magazine and Review, Vol XLV, Jan-June 1897, Methodist Publishing House, Toronto, 1897, p 521.
[ii] United Church Archives (Toronto), Fonds 536, Methodist National Training School (1898 – 1926). 87.101C, Box 4 Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School, Fourth Annual Report, 1897
[iii] Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School of the Methodist Church, Eleventh Annual Report, 1904-1905, The Methodist Book and Publishing House, p 25.
[v] United Church Archives (Toronto). Fonds 536, Methodist National Training School, (1898-1926). 98.104C, Box 1-1. Class Histories, Class of 1906.
[vi] E. Jean Scott, “Deaconess Work in Canada” in Methodist Magazine and Review, Vol XLV, Jan-June 1897, Methodist Publishing House, Toronto, 1897, 523.
[vii] Ibid. Methodist Review 1897, p 523.
[viii] Gwyn Griffith, from unpublished drafts of Weaving a Changing Tapestry, The Story of the Centre for Christian Studies and its Predecessors, The Centre for Christian Studies, Winnipeg, 2009.
[ix] United Church Archives (Toronto), Fonds 536, Methodist National Training School (1898 – 1926). 87.101C, Box 4 Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School, Fourth Annual Report, 1897
[x] Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School of the Methodist Church, Twelfth Annual Report, 1905-06, Methodist Church of Canada, Toronto, p 4.
[xi] E. Jean Scott, “Deaconess Work in Canada” in Methodist Magazine and Review, Vol XLV, Jan-June 1897, Methodist Publishing House, Toronto, 1897, p 520.
[xii] Gwyn Griffith, Weaving a Changing Tapestry The story of the Centre for Christian Studies and its Predecessors, The Centre for Christian Studies, Winnipeg, 2009 p 14.
[xiii] Cited in Diane Haglund “Side Road on the Journey to Autonomy: The Diaconate Prior to Church Union” in Shirley Davy, Women Work and Worship in The United Church of Canada, p. 221.
[xiv] E. Jean Scott, “Deaconess Work in Canada” in Methodist Magazine and Review, Vol XLV, Jan-June 1897, Methodist Publishing House, Toronto, 1897, p 520.
[xv] Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School of the Methodist Church, Twelfth Annual Report, 1905-06, Methodist Church of Canada, Toronto.
[xvi] Toronto Deaconess Home and Training School of the Methodist Church, Twelfth Annual Report, 1905-06, Methodist Church of Canada, Toronto, p 54.