St. Michael’s Own: Adelaide Teague Case

According to Holy Women, Holy Men, July 19 is the day the Church remembers Adelaide Teague Case (1887-1948), religious educator.

Adelaide Teague Case (undated)

Though born in Missouri, Adelaide Teague Case grew up in New York City. She attended The Brearley School and then Bryn Mawr College; she received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she taught Religious Education for more than twenty years before joining the faculty of Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School) in 1941. She wasas the first woman on the faculty of any Episcopal seminary. Her influential doctoral thesis, Liberal Christianity and Religious Education, was published in 1924; her 1927 book, As Modern Writers See Jesus, was widely use in Sunday Schools and Bible study groups throughout the twentieth century, as were Seven Psalms (1934) and The Servant of the Lord (1940). Two Case essays, “When Is Education Religious” and “Religion and the Child’s Life,” are still regularly anthologized in the early 21st century in education and child development textbooks.

Throughout her career in both New York City and then Cambridge, Massachusetts, Case was associated with a wide variety of social and educational ecumenical movements; well known beyond the confines of academia, Case lectured all around the country, addressing local and regional club and parent groups, secondary schools, colleges and universities, and church conferences. At her death at the young age of 61, Case was mourned for her intellectual leadership, her community activism on behalf of the disenfranchised, and  the spiritual generosity of her extensive, enduring friendships.   

Current historians of the Episcopal Church, most notably the Reverend Sheryl A. Kurjawa-Holbrook, now Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Professor of Practical Theology and Religious Education at the Claremont School of Theology, have written extensively and elegantly about Case’s adult thinking and her institutional activities at Teachers College and, especially, the Episcopal Theological School. However, little work has been done to identify and understand the early influences on Case’s mature ideas.

Adelaide Teague Case was a St. Michael’s girl.

Many aspects of Case’s thinking can be directly traced to the influence of John Punnett Peters and the spiritual world Case encountered at St. Michael’s.

From the late 1890s through 1921, the extended Case family was active at St. Michael’s. After moving to New York City from the mid-west, two brothers, Gilbert Dudley Case (1850-1917) and Charles Lyman Case (1852-1921), together with their families made St. Michael’s their spiritual home. The men, their wives, and all their children, were actively involved in all aspects of life at St. Michael’s. Gilbert Case, a lawyer, and Charles Case, an insurance executive with an international reputation for his legal acumen, both served on St. Michael’s vestry: Gilbert Case served from 1894 until his death in 1917, and Charles Case, from 1902 until 1917. The brothers shared fifteen years together on the vestry; their wives, at various times, were involved in various committee headships in the Women’s Missionary Society and the Clothing Bureau.

Charles Lyman Case and his wife had six children, Charles, Frank, Lyman, Clara and the twins, Mary and Adelaide. The three girls all attended The Brearley School and then Bryn Mawr College.

During the era of the Case family involvement in St. Michael’s, rector John Punnett Peters’ bracing spiritual and civic leadership constituted a model for community engagement that permeated the culture of the congregation.

undated publicity photo

Peters was active in the Church Association for the Advancement of Interests of Labor (CAIL), the Good Government Club, the Independent Club of the Twenty-first Assembly District as well as the West Side Independent Club, the Transit Reform Committee and the Riverside and Morningside Heights Association, for each of which he was, at one time or another, president. Peters preached regularly on the spiritual and practical goals of all these organizations; the main ideas of Peters’ sermons were regularly reported on in the New York Times. Throughout several of St. Michael’s guilds and clubs, social justice issues – sweat shop conditions, tenement overcrowding, labor abuses of work conditions and wages, transportation safety, alcohol addiction – were addressed, often in cooperation with other church and diocesan groups.  

John Punnett Peters’ 1902 collection of essays, Labor and Capital: A Discussion of the Relations of Employers and Employed brought together writers and thinkers as diverse as Henry Davies, Josiah Strong, Anson Phelps Stokes, Samuel Gompers, John De Witt Warner, Henry C. Potter, James, Cardinal Gibbons and Jacob Riis. Topics covered in the book included conciliation and arbitration, profit-sharing and wage standards; the key organizing questions were “Is permanent work with a comfortable living wage possible for all in this country?” and “How may work and workers be equitably brought together?”

Peters’ book achieved wide national circulation. By the time of St. Michael’s Centenary celebrations in 1907, Peters was one of the most politically influential – and progressive – Episcopal clergymen in the United States.

For the young Adelaide Teague Case – as for all members of St. Michael’s – John Punnett Peters himself set the model for practical action as Christian faith’s lived imperative.

This core principle animated all of Case’s thinking.

Case noted, “It is the business of the Church to take an active part in social reforms” (“Are You a Liberal? Your Answers Tell: Columbia Professor Evolves 15-Minute ‘True and False’ Test Which Discloses Whether One Has Advanced Views,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5 March, 1930). Twelve years later, after Case’s appointment to the faculty of Episcopal Theological School, The Living Church reported on her core views. “Christianity must be the most revolutionary force in the world, not the most conservative … (t)he Church has had the means in the past of being a creative force in catastrophic surroundings and must do so again if there is to be a Protestant Church in the post-war world” (October 25, 1942).

At the center of Case’s presentation for ‘liberal Christianity’ and the kind of education that supported it were two immutable ‘objectives:’

“First, Knowledge of the facts of our present civilization – accurate information on living conditions, on social institutions including the church and the state, and on the make-up of human nature.

“Second, The desire and the ability to relieve suffering and to work toward the reform of un-Christian social conditions.”

Case saw Christianity as “a dynamic factor in the moral progress of humanity.” She viewed Christianity as “radical and creative,” and she frequently chose to “define its terms less in theological terms than in terms of social psychology and ethics. It standards are social standards and its goal, the creation of a new human society, the democracy or the commonwealth of God” (from Liberal Christianity and Religious Education).

From 1917, when she first began her graduate work at Columbia, until her death, Case lectured tirelessly both within her own university settings – Columbia’s Teachers College and then Episcopal Theological School – and beyond. Case served on the faculty of the Deaconesses Training School, teaching Religious Education; she talked to diocesan groups, school and college groups, public library reading groups, PTA gatherings and YWCA conventions. National and local newspapers carried notices and reports of her appearances.

from The Boston Globe, 25 June, 1922

By 1922, Case was already a popular speaker: at a ten-day long summer training course for Episcopal Church workers, Case gave daily presentations on the best teaching methods for church school teachers.

In the 1920s, Case gave radio talks on “Religious Training in the Home” on WEAF in New York City. In 1930, in Chicago, Case addressed the Girls Friendly Society national convention.  

from Chicago Tribune, 13 October, 1930

Newspapers often announced Case’s upcoming appearances and then, several days later, reported on the highlights of her talks. In Wilmington, Delaware, in November, 1934, Case spoke to the Parents Association of Trinity Episcopal Church School, noting that “Parents have no reason to be surprised that their children are not interested in the Bible if they themselves have no interest in it,” and illustrating her main points with “personal experiences.” A second article on Case’s talk examined her particular message for fathers.

from The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, 27 November, 1934

Over the course of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Case’s public lectures focused increasingly on ecumenical approaches to religious education and, as war loomed in Europe, on peace initiatives.  In the last years of her life, Case was not simply encouraging discussions about religious education in the Episcopal Church – and beyond – but was actually formulating policy.

from The Boston Globe, 17 October, 1947

In October, 1947, Case collaborated with Bishop Norman B. Nash in a course at the Massachusetts Diocesan School on “Social Responsibility of the Christian and the Church” (Boston Globe, 17 Oct 1947).   

Case’s mature ideas about religious education – the roles of congregations, parents, Sunday School teachers; the innate responsiveness of children; materials and curriculum; spiritual and moral imperatives – were her own, but John Punnett Peters’ early influence is clear.

Using the medium of the monthly St. Michael’s Messengers, Peters was already writing frequently about issues related to Sunday School when the Cases joined St. Michael’s. In February, 1895, Peters wrote in his monthly column, “Parents, teach your children religion at home. Do not try to throw your duty and responsibility on the Sunday-School teacher. The Sunday-School should merely supplement your work. You are responsible to God for the religious instruction of your children.” Several months later, Peters elaborated on the key features of Sunday School teaching, “one of the most important, most difficult and most exacting of parish activities.” Peters’ expectations of Sunday School teachers were high. “The teacher must be interested in the children whom he teaches,” Peters observed, “Make their acquaintance, study their characters, visit them at their homes, learn what they do, what they think, what they are interested in, what is their work and what are their amusements, so that he may know how to appeal to them, and what they are capable of understanding … A faithful, diligent, intelligent and enthusiastic Sunday-School teacher does a great work for Christ …”

In 1900, in spite of his demanding schedule, John Punnett Peters assumed full responsibility for all aspects of St. Michael’s Sunday School, declaring himself its Superintendent. He required Sunday School teachers to receive specialized training, just as day school teachers did; he himself offered a course of lectures on the life of Jesus intended for Sunday School teachers. The course was open to the entire diocese. Peters also directed that Sunday School classes should be organized as “normal classes” – in grade level groups – rather than in informal age and friendship groupings, and he required regular Sunday School faculty meetings for all teachers. “There is no more serious or important task which can be undertaken in the work of the Parish than that of teaching in the Sunday-School,” Peters declared.

After Clara, Mary and Adelaide Case graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1904 and 1907, they returned to New York City, to live at home with their parents and brothers at 309 West 91st Street. (The Case family home, a handsome brownstone, still stands.) All three Misses Case assumed leadership positions in children and young people’s activities and in the Sunday School at St. Michael’s. They worked under the direct supervision of John Punnett Peters.

From 1904, when she graduated from Bryn Mawr, to 1909, Clara chaired the Girls Friendly Society. Mary taught in the St. Michael’s Sunday School from 1907 to 1909, first in the Grade 4 Class and then in the Grade 5 Mission Study Class. Adelaide’s involvement with the Sunday School extended well beyond her sisters’. For St. Michael’s Centenary Celebrations in 1907, Adelaide was in charge of the activities of St. Faith’s Guild – twelve to eighteen-year-old girls – in the planning and execution of the Centenary Children’s Day; she then taught the Grade 1 Sunday School class from 1910 to 1912 and then the specialized Grade 6 Life of Christ class from 1912 to 1914.

In 1909, Clara married. She and her husband, an expert in Persian carpets, dealer in antique rugs and managing director of Oriental Carpet Manufacturers, moved to Constantinople; the couple subsequently lived alternately there and in London. Mary stopped teaching in St. Michael’s Sunday School in that same year; for the rest of her life, she taught in New York City’s public school system.

Adelaide, too, tried teaching at the secondary school level: for one year, she taught mathematics and Latin at St. Faith’s School in Poughkeepsie, New York, but poor health forced her to move back home to convalesce. She began her classes at Teachers College in 2017. As student, teacher, assistant professor, full professor and, finally Religious Education department chair, Adelaide remained at Teachers College until her appointment to the faculty of Episcopal Theological School in 1941; she and Mary lived together in their family home until the late 1930s, when Mary moved to Westchester and Adelaide moved to 501 West 113th Street, to be closer to Teachers College.

The influence of Adelaide Teague Case remains strong today: her progressive child-centric approaches to religious education and her certainty that social justice advocacy on behalf of the disenfranchised constituted the core of ‘liberal Christianity’ continue to guide us. She noted, “Religious education, when it becomes socially dangerous, is surely beginning to be socially useful!” At Episcopal Divinity School, a religious education student prize in Case’s name, instituted after her death, is still given. In addition, since 1994, the Episcopal Women’s History Project – the third of the three history organizations of the Episcopal Church, together with the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church and National Episcopal Historians and Archivists – has awarded the Adelaide Teague Case Prize to an historian who best fulfils EWHP’s mission.

undated publicity photo

Joining together with the whole church, St. Michael’s remembers Adelaide Teague Case with the collect from Holy Women, Holy Men.

Everliving God, who raised up your servant Adelaide Teague Case, whose compassion and commitment to peace and whose leadership in education inspired generations of students from little children to adults over more than half a century, grant that we, following her example, may serve you in our vocations and labor for your reign in peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[N.B.: This post concerning Case will be followed by further posts incorporating additional research.]

July 19, 2019