Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

William Manross Historian and Benefactor

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

William Manross Historian and Benefactor

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1987 officials of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church were surprised to learn that the society had been named as the recipient of a generous bequest.1 The benefactor was a professor emeritus of Philadelphia Divinity School who had been associated with the society's activities for many years. Who was this individual? In what different ways did he further historical studies of the Episcopal Church? Why did he leave this gift?

The person in question was William Wilson Manross. It is difficult to ascertain very much detailed information about him, because in adult life he kept largely to himself. Surviving acquaintances say that no one really knew him very well. Consistent with this modest deportment, Manross kept published information about himself to a minimum, supplying only bare-bones data about his birth, parents, education, marriage, publications, residence near Philadelphia, and career in that city.2 A few more sources, posthumous and archival, allow us a slightly fuller glimpse of the man whose usual manner was to shield his private life from public view.

Manross was born in Syracuse, New York, on 21 February 1905, the son of William Doane and Martha Elizabeth [Wilson] Manross. His maternal grandfather, an Episcopal priest, was William Dexter Wilson who taught philosophy at Hobart College and later at Cornell University. His father, also ordained, began his ministry as rector and teacher on Indian reservations such as Onondaga, New York, Rosebud, South Dakota, and Fox Lake, Wisconsin. Alter that he pursued more routine parish work at small churches located in the states of Delaware, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. All we can surmise about young William's childhood is that he grew up amid Native Americans on several reservations and spent a few subsequent years in each of four states.3

We know little else of Manross's early life, finding only that he graduated from Hobart College [summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa] in 1926 and went to New York City for post-graduate work. He obtained an M.Div. degree from General Theological Seminary [GTS] in 1930 and an S.T.B in 1931. He also studied at Columbia University during the same years and was awarded an M.A. in 1931 from this latter institution. After ordination as deacon in 1929 and priest in 1930, he served as fellow and tutor at GTS for a decade thereafter. He continued advanced studies at Columbia and acquired his Ph.D. in 1938. There is a gap from 1939 to 1948 in the information Manross chose to divulge. We know nothing of his professional activities during those years, but additional sources show that, while "officiating out of diocese," and occasionally designated as "teacher," he resided in Lynbrook, New York, New York City, and Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.4

If we view Manross as he wished to be seen, his real career began in 1948 when he became librarian and, shortly thereafter, treasurer of the then named Church Historical Society. He lectured in an ancillary capacity at the Philadelphia Divinity School [PDS] between 1950 and 1959, but his central responsibility was to put the society's books and manuscripts in proper order. They were kept in the crypt of St. Andrew's Chapel on the PDS campus, and it became immediately clear to him that the facilities were inadequate for housing the denomination's archival materials. As another observer put it:

During that time, the resources of the Society, as well as the Church demands upon it for service, had increased so greatly that larger quarters had become imperative, not to mention the need for a fire-proof building if the Society was properly to discharge its responsibility as custodian of the Church's archives as owned by the General Convention and by the National Council.5

After seven years of determined activity Manross proved to be the instrumental figure in seeing to it that the archives and library were transferred in 1956 to Austin, Texas. As we shall suggest below, his concern for the society and its mandated activities was directly connected to the bequest contained in his will. …

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