The Lecturing Career of Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry (2/2)
Mrs. Miriam McKinstry, as discussed in the previous post, outlined her course of lectures on “The World’s Great Empires” out of the desire to see a new form of teaching that would stir up more public interest. Mrs. McKinstry was an evangelist at heart, and desired to take her lecture series and teach it all over the United States and Canada with the goal of spreading the message of the soon-coming return of Christ. It is assumed that Mrs. McKinstry began lecturing in 1881, and soon began the work of perfecting her course of lectures, studying the scriptures and refining her work, resulting in her lectures first being published in 1883. The popularity of Mrs. McKinstry rose over the years, and soon she became “the most wonderful woman lecturer in the country.” What contributed to her popularity? How did she become so well-known? What was it about Mrs. McKinstry and her lectures that caused her to stand out in such a way? There are three factors that will be suggested below as having contributed to the growing popularity and uniqueness of Mrs. McKinstry: the illustrated charts she used as visual aids to her lectures, her ability to contextualize her lectures and discuss relevant current issues, and the personal character and individuality of Mrs. McKinstry as a lecturer displayed in the public newspapers.
Sometime early in the development of her lecture series, Mrs. McKinstry had large, 90 feet long illustrated charts made to accompany her lectures. The oldest chart that is preserved in the Jenks Memorial Collection of Adventual Materials was made in 1881, signed by G. W. Burnham. These illustrated charts, three of which have been preserved, bear a striking resemblance to the charts used by William Miller and his followers.
During the height of the Millerite movement in the 1830’s and 40’s, the Millerites would attract large crowds to their meetings by displaying large illustrated charts. These charts, created by William Miller himself, depicted the eschatological chronology of Miller’s interpretations with grotesque images of beasts, colorful symbols from the scriptures, and other bizarre and disturbing images of the apocalypse that would appeal to interested people. Catherine Brekus records: “The Millerites published three hundred of these charts, each one measuring three feet wide and six feet long,” and other female preachers during the early period of the Millerite movement would carry these charts with them on their travels.
Mrs. McKinstry developed charts that depicted similar imagery, but her charts were much larger than those which were created by William Miller. One such chart is referred to in The Charlotte Observer, where it is stated that the chart was “some 90 feet long,” and displayed in the church at which she was lecturing; this chart would use illustrations, symbols, and events referred to in lectures based on the biblical text.
Mrs. McKinstry would advertise her lectures in printed pamphlets, much like programs handed out at events and lectures today. In one such pamphlet, from a series of lectures she gave in Lafayette, Rhode Island in November of 1905, her attention to current issues and effort to display the relevance of the scriptures and prophecy to these current issues can be seen. On the second page of the pamphlet, following the series title of “Nine Illustrated Lectures of the World’s Great Empires,” the subject titles of each lecture in the series are listed. These subject titles are listed in a precise order that is parallel to those found in her published compilation of lectures. These lectures follow a particular historical order, which parallel to visions in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. The titles of Mrs. McKinstry’s lectures are as follows: (1) “The Babylonian Empire,” (2) “The Medo-Persian Empire,” (3) “The Grecian Empire,” (4) “The Roman Empire,” (5) “Rome Divided,” (6) “Rome and Modern Europe,” (7) “The Opening of the Seven Seals,” (8) “The Scarlet Beast and Rider,” and (9) “The Fifth Empire.” All nine of these lectures include illustrations, and there are several themed topics for discussion, as indicated by the third page of the pamphlet.
The third page of this pamphlet includes “Miscellaneous Lecture Themes.” These themes seem to indicate that within her lectures, Mrs. McKinstry also sees fit to address several historical events, biblical themes, and even current events in the life of the public at the time. Such historical and biblical themes for discussion include “The Forgotten Dream,” “Christianity Heathenized,” “The French Revolution,” “The Eastern Question,” “The Redemption in Type and Antitype,” “Romanism in the Light of Prophecy,” “The Antediluvian World,” and “The Repeopling of the Earth and Origin of the Nations.” Each of these topics handle biblical events which are placed in history, and each of them are listed as being “illustrated.”
Mrs. McKinstry also includes two topics which may be an indication of her awareness of and willingness to address current issues in the life of the public: “Woman’s Place in the Home, in the Church and in the State,” and “Bible Temperance.” Neither of these topics are listed as being “illustrated.” Regarding the “Women’s Place” topic of discussion, it is important to recognize that the current year is 1905, which is in the midst of the time period after which the nineteenth amendment was introduced into Congress in 1878, but awaiting ratification. The Women’s Suffrage movement was a major current event at the time, and only a few short years after this series of lectures the nineteenth amendment would be ratified in 1919 and passed in 1920. It is plausible that this discussion may have been introduced into Mrs. McKinstry’s lecture series due to the political interest at the time.
The other lecture mentioned above, “Bible Temperance,” may well be a reference to the fact that Prohibition was soon to be in effect by the year 1920. The earliest Temperance movements were organized in New York and Massachusetts in the early 1800s, and the movement gained momentum in the coming years. At the time of Mrs. McKinstry’s lecture series in 1905, advertised by this pamphlet, discussions and meetings concerning Prohibition were taking place in churches and towns all over the country. Prohibition would be introduced into Congress with the eighteenth amendment in 1917, and ratified in 1919 – in the same year as the nineteenth amendment. The presence of this themed discussion on the agenda for the lecture series indicates the importance placed on it by Mrs. McKinstry.
Character and Individuality:
Mrs. McKinstry set herself apart in how she conducted herself in her lectures. Over the years, it seems, she developed a method to presenting herself as an intelligent, respectable woman who could teach with authority. Mrs. McKinstry is recorded as teaching “without notes,” and those in her audience would wonder at how she “could hold so much history and bible in her mind.” It appears that Mrs. McKinstry had the ability to retain much information, and the gift to communicate to others. She is recorded, in discussing her own topic of study, as saying:
History, …especially ancient history, is called a ‘dry’ subject, but when it is shown much of the history of this world was told beforehand by God through his faithful servants, the events that transpire proves to all fair minded people that the history of this world has been foretold and is found in the Bible under the heading prophecy.
Earlier in her full-time career as a lecturer, one newspaper states that “Mrs. McKinstry is proving herself one of the best informed lectures on the American platform. The worth of these lectures is demonstrated by the fact that those who hear one are anxious to hear the others and regret that they missed any.” Writing on her extensive study and knowledge of the topics she presents, the Bellingham Herald reports: “Mrs. McKinstry has given more than forty years’ study as a specialty of world history and prophetic symbolism and will argue that if God has told a correct story of the great outlines of human governments as recorded in history, He should be trusted to foretell the fifth universal kingdom of peace for the earth…” It is evident that Mrs. McKinstry put immense time, effort, energy, and skill into the development of this lecture series. Mrs. McKinstry has surely displayed herself as a competent, respected, and worthy woman to do the work of teaching and spreading the message of the return of Christ, as was her mission to do so. The character and individuality of the woman known as Mrs. McKinstry played a role in setting her apart as someone with authority, and as one worthy to be heard.
In conclusion, Mrs. McKinstry is a woman whose narrative and history has been lost and buried over time. It was the goal of this study to recover her within her historical context, unearth her story, and discuss what caused Mrs. McKinstry to be unique in her profession amongst the Advent Christian denomination. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry is a woman who shall not be forgotten, and her legacy remains in the Advent Christian denomination as the “most noted Advent Christian woman preacher.” Though her story has been neglected, the impact Mrs. McKinstry made on education is palpable within the denomination, and her life is one to learn from as an example of a woman who was determined to let her passions flourish.
Prophetic Chart Photo Gallery, April 19, 2018, accessed April 27, 2018, https://aurora.edu/academics/library/jenks-collection/photo-gallery.html#31.
Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims, 322f.
“Series of Lectures on World’s Great Empires,” Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), Jan. 3, 1921.Rev. Mrs. M. McKinstry, "Nine Illustrated Lectures of the World’s Great Empires." Lectures at the Advent Christian Church, Lafayette, RI, November 5 - 12, 1905.
Ibid. Cf. Mrs. M. McKinstry, The World’s Great Empires: A Course of Nine Lectures (Boston, MA: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1920). The titles of the lectures are identical to the chapter titles chosen for the published work.
“19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote (1920),” Our Documents - 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote (1920), accessed March 08, 2018, https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=63.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Prohibition," Encyclopædia Britannica, March 23, 2017, accessed March 08, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/event/Prohibition-United-States-history-1920-1933.
“Series of Lectures on World’s Great Empires,” Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), Jan. 3, 1921.Ibid.
“Noted Woman Coming,” Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA), Oct. 14, 1922.
“Lectures Growing in Interest,” Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL), Feb. 9, 1911.
“Churches,” Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA), Oct. 28, 1922.