"United Progressive Mennonites": Bluffton College and Anabaptist Higher Education, 1913-1945

By Bush, Perry | Mennonite Quarterly Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

"United Progressive Mennonites": Bluffton College and Anabaptist Higher Education, 1913-1945


Bush, Perry, Mennonite Quarterly Review


Abstract: In contrast to the more established narratives of Mennonite higher education as represented by schools like Goshen and Bethel Colleges, the story of Bluffton College in Ohio is less well-known. As one of the first accounts rooted primarily in the archives at Bluffton, this article redresses that imbalance. It argues that what emerged at Bluffton was a self-consciously progressive approach to Mennonite higher education, one much more accepting of assimilation. As such, the "progressive Anabaptism" developed by Bluffton leaders like Samuel Mosiman, Noah Byers and C. Henry Smith emerged as a major target of attack for Mennonite Fundamentalists in the 1920s. This was an attack rooted partly in personal and institutional rivalries. By the 1940s, an emerging new cohort of institutional leaders at Bluffton, led by president Lloyd Ramseyer, worked to address the flaws of the earlier vision and reshape it into a durable program for the future.

**********

On August 5, 1913, having just arrived and rented a home in Bluffton less than a month before, the recently departed president of Goshen College Noah Byers delivered one of the principal addresses at the "Bluffton Home Coming and College Day." "United Progressive Mennonites. These are significant words," Byers intoned to the crowd, since "the union of different sects in this great work is surely in line with the best spirit of the age...." (1) course, he added, "I need not tell you of the good qualities of progressive Mennonites. Five branches representing over fifty thousand members will unite here to build up here an institution of higher learning. There are other Mennonite colleges," Byers proclaimed, "but none that have aimed to do the advanced College and Seminary work to be offered here." (2)

In 1999, as Bluffton College reached its hundredth birthday, the events of the preceding century left an ambiguous record as to whether Byers' optimism of 1913 was fully warranted. As innovators and institution-builders, Byers and his fellow Mennonite academics were certainly progressive in pushing their own church to accept the ways of the broader society. And in their affirmation of assimilation, they were consciously absorbing a national mainstream culture that was progressive in an explicitly political sense as well.

In such a cultural embrace, however, the Mennonite scholars and church leaders at Bluffton College plunged their own institution into nearly twenty years of conflict with many of the churches in its constituency. Though these battles were ostensibly about theology, viewing them through the lens of power dynamics at Mennonite colleges reveals that they also emanated from rivalries that were both personal and institutional. The conflicts that ensued would ultimately threaten not only individual careers but also entire institutions. By the 1930s the cumulative effect of years of such battles would combine with the financial calamities of the great depression to destroy whatever hopes remained of the great "union movement" that Byers and his colleagues had so grandly inaugurated.

Even so, the college at Bluffton survived, partly because of the residual power of its founding vision. Several generations of college leaders adeptly built from and elaborated upon the heritage of progressive Anabaptism established in earlier years by Byers and his colleagues. In so doing, the community of Mennonite scholars and church leaders at Bluffton came to nourish a progressive Anabaptist vision for Mennonite higher education that may prove serviceable even for today and into the future.

"THE MOVEMENT IS TIMELY AND CAN BE WORKED"

The first dozen years of the new college were difficult and contentious. Born in 1899, the institution barely managed to survive the presidency of its first leader, the young and headstrong Noah C. Hirschy. Like its sister schools at Bethel and Goshen, Central Mennonite College was small and struggling, hardly much of a college at all; indeed, the vast number of its students were enrolled in the academy as secondary students. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"United Progressive Mennonites": Bluffton College and Anabaptist Higher Education, 1913-1945
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.