Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gave Leadership to America's Country Life Movement: The Collaboration of Kenyon L Butterfield and Wilbert L Anderson

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gave Leadership to America's Country Life Movement: The Collaboration of Kenyon L Butterfield and Wilbert L Anderson

Article excerpt

Kenyon L. Butterfield, president of Massachusetts Agricultural College and a prominent Congregationalist lay leader, and Wilbert L. Anderson, his pastor at First Congregational Church in Amherst, were major figures in the nationwide movement to improve the quality of life of rural Americans in the early decades of this century. Butterfield, who gave substantial direction to the movement, was an agriculturist, rural sociologist, and educator, not a clergyman. This article is intended to document the fact that Butterfield's efforts to mobilize the nation's rural churches were greatly strengthened by guidance and strong support from his pastor, Anderson, who well understood the problems of the rural church and thought often and deeply about solutions. Anderson was Butterfield's "strong right arm" in this regard, assisting him to organize the nation's rural clergymen as a significant force in the country life movement.

Anderson's key role in support of Butterfield has not been previously documented. How did these comrades collaborate, and what was their collaborative impact on the country life movement? The following account is offered to help complete the historical record of Butterfield's outstanding leadership in the country life movement and to recognize Anderson's notable contributions.

The agricultural college, Butterfield held, "must not hide its light under a bushel, but it must carry to the great mass of rural people, and to all those interested in country life, the knowledge and inspiration that gather about the work of the institution." Anderson independently was pursuing country life objectives, and he was ideally suited to assist Butterfield. Authors of First Congregational's church history wrote: Dr. Anderson was "attracted to Amherst, in part at least, by the existence here of the Agricultural College.... The movement back-to-the-land is under way, and Kenyon Butterfield is its prophet."1

The basis of the Anderson/Butterfield association was Anderson's book The Country Town: A Study of Rural Evolution, published in 1906. It was a seminal analysis of forces affecting the future of America's rural towns, forces largely obscured by the nation's urbanization and industrialization. Anderson's study of the rural town, which proved to be a seminal work of the country life movement, was inspired by fellow Congregational clergyman and social reformer Josiah Strong and his studies of the industrial city. Strong revealed the need for someone to make a similar study of the country town, and Anderson applied himself arduously to the task. Strong wrote the introduction to Anderson's book, declaring: "This is a much needed and valuable book."2

Lowry Nelson, in his history of the development of rural sociology, observes,

Although by the turn of the century members of the clergy had become aware of the impact upon the church of the changes taking place in rural society, it was rare for anyone to present the church as an institution in the broad context of the rural community. One of the earliest to do this was Wilbert L. Anderson.

In a lengthy review for the New York Times, Edward Cary found Anderson's study to be an "extremely interesting and informing work."3

Even six years later, Anderson's book (reissued in 1911 and again in 1914) was praised by George Frederick Wells, Assistant to the Executive Secretary, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, as the "leading book thus far upon the religious phase of the country church problem..." In 1913 Professor Henry K. Rowe of Newton Theological Seminary, in an annotated bibliography of the rural church and country life, described Anderson's work as "The best book on the country problem. Sets forth conditions in fair, sane fashion, and is optimistic in tone and practical in suggestions." Also in 1913, in compiling a special reading list on the country church and the rural problem, Butterfield and Elmer K. Eyerly identify Anderson's book as: "A scholarly work, setting forth with a hopeful outlook rural changes in their historical, scientific and social aspects. …

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