Celebrating 175

August 2: Alexander Graham Bell (1922)

When Alexander Graham Bell died on August 2, 1922, the entire telephone system on the North American continent was silenced for one minute in tribute to his life. Although a scientist, engineer and innovator and the holder of 18 patents, Bell is best known as the primary inventor of the telephone. Bell’s father, grandfather and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing his life’s work. Bell’s research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in his being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876.

The Bell family home was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until 1880 when Bell’s father-in-law and business manager, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, bought a house in Washington. In 1882 he bought a home in the same city for Bell’s family, so that they could be with him while he attended to the numerous court cases involving patent disputes. In the early 1880’s, two of Bell’s unmarried sisters-in-law were confirmed at Epiphany. Later after one sister-in-law was married, the baptism of the couples first child was at Epiphany and the funeral of the other sister-in-law took place. The only evidence of Bell’s direct connection to Epiphany is a 1889 pew rental receipt from Epiphany found in his papers. Pew rentals were the method at the time by which people kept a pew and financially supported the church.

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August 1: Caleb Clapp Willard (1905)

Just a block away from Epiphany today is the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Although it has gone through numerous changes in management and its physical building over the years, this old Washington institution traces its roots to 1847 when Vermont native Henry A. Willard came to town to take over the old, run-down City Hotel. Several members of Henry’s family joined him in the venture including his youngest brother, 15-year old Caleb Clapp Willard. Henry took Caleb under his wing and taught him the business. The education didn’t fall on deaf ears. Caleb Willard later became the proprietor of the Ebbitt House Hotel and one of the largest real estate holders in the city.

The first record of Caleb Clapp Willard’s connection to Epiphany is the baptism of his two children, Kate and Walter, in 1869. Four years later came Caleb’s baptism, with his confirmation a few weeks after that. In 1874, Caleb’s first wife, Allie, dies and was buried from Epiphany. Caleb’s daughter, Kate, married John C. Boyd at Epiphany in 1887 and the funeral of his son, Walter, took place from the church in 1893. Caleb’s own funeral took place there in 1905. When Epiphany’s parish house was being built in 1910, the rector made an appeal for endowments to furnish and maintain the meeting rooms. Kate Willard Boyd endowed two adjoining rooms on the first floor in memory of her parents. The memorial plaque honoring her father reads, “This room is endowed in memory of Caleb Clapp Willard, for thirty years a devout communicant of the Church of the Epiphany.”

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July 31: Robert Smith Chew (1873)

In the painting, Signing of the Alaska Treaty, by Emmanuel Leutze, Russian minister Eduard Stoeckl stands beside the globe pointing to “Russian America” while Secretary of State William Seward (seated) with pen in hand prepares to sign the treaty held by his chief clerk, Robert Smith Chew. For most of the 19th Century, the Chief Clerk of the State Department was the second-ranking official of the department. Chew joined the State Department in 1834. In 1866, he became chief clerk. His continuous service under seven successive administrations made him an authority on affairs of state.

The first known association of Robert Smith Chew with Epiphany is the 1860 confirmation of his first two children. Over the next thirteen years, his remaining six children were confirmed at the church. His eldest child (Richard Smith Chew) married the eldest child of John and Louisa Coffin (Louisa H. Coffin) at Epiphany in 1870. Chew lived to see two of his granddaughters baptized at Epiphany. Chew was confirmed in 1870 and buried from the church three years later. The Rev. Charles Hall, who had been Epiphany’s rector during the initial decade of Chew’s association with the church, returned to Washington to officiate at the funeral.

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July 30: Mary Randolph Dickins (1849)

In the midst of a neighborhood in suburban Fairfax County today stands Oak Hill, a Georgian style home built in 1790. The house is one of three mansions built during the 18th Century on the enormous Ravensworth estate. Francis Asbury Dickins, a Washington attorney, owned one of the other mansions and used it as a summer home until the outbreak of the Civil War, when it became his year-round residence. The Dickins family were closely connected with Epiphany in its early years. A story in The National Intelligencer records the death of Dickins’ oldest daughter, Mary near Oak Hill. The funeral of Mary Randolph Dickins is recorded in Epiphany’s register. Seven months later, Mary’s parents were both confirmed at the church.

“A most lamentable accident occurred on Monday evening last, in Fairfax County, near the residence of David Fitzhugh, Esq., about ten miles from Alexandria. The horses attached to a spring wagon, in which Mrs. M.A. Fitzhugh, Miss Dickins, and two other ladies were riding, took fright and ran off with great fury. The wagon was dashed against a tree, and broken to pieces. Miss Dickins, about twelve years of age, a most interesting girl, daughter of Francis A. Dickins, Esq. of this city, was so severely injured that she died in an hour or two after the accident. Mrs. Fitzhugh was very much injured, but it is hoped, from the report of the physicians, that her wounds are not dangerous. Another of the ladies had her arms shattered, and in other respects was much bruised; and the other young lady was slightly injured. Such was the violence of the concussion of the wagon against the tree, that it is a wonder the whole party were not killed. This melancholy accident is deeply regretted in the whole neighborhood.”

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July 29: Rosalie Vaden Oakes (2008)

Following her death, Rosalie Oakes’ hometown newspaper, The Winchester Star, hailed her as a “Quiet champion for civil rights.” Born in the spring of 1917 and raised to be a “proper young lady” in an Irish family of five daughters, Rosalie Vaden Oakes was remembered by friends and family in Winchester, Virginia where she grew up, as quiet, modest and somewhat shy. It would seem she would be an unlikely candidate to change the world. After graduation from the University of Richmond, Oakes pursued a remarkable career with the Young Women’s Christian Association. She spent 15 years in South Africa teaching leadership skills to black women living under apartheid. She faced off with the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina after the group tried to shut down a YWCA camp where blacks and whites lived and swam together.

At colleges in the South in the late 1950’s and 60’s, Rosalie served as the behind-the-scenes driving force as sit-ins and protests began to unravel the Jim Crow laws that for nearly a century had kept blacks and whites separated in schools, movie theaters, restaurants, and other aspects of public life. Oakes’ family members described her as “an absolutely amazing woman, but she never brought attention to herself.” Rosalie Oakes and her sister Ann found a spiritual home at Epiphany in the twilight years of their lives. Rosalie served on Epiphany’s vestry and was involved with several outreach programs of the church. Following her death in 2008 at age 91, a memorial service was held at Epiphany. There is no doubt that her religious convictions were the motivating force throughout her life and career.

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July 28: William Belden Noble (1896)

The William Belden Noble Lectures at Harvard University were established in 1898 by Nannie Yulee Noble in memory of her husband. According to the terms of the bequest: “The object of the Founder of the Lectures is to continue the mission of her husband, whose supreme desire was to extend the influence of Jesus as ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’ and to illustrate and enforce the words of Jesus — ‘I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’ Lecturers in the annual presentations have included Theodore Roosevelt (1910) and John Shelby Spong (2000). William Belden Noble was born in Essex, New York. In his youth, precarious health took him to the south and west. During this period, Noble and his mother were confirmed at Epiphany on April 6, 1884.

After studying at several schools, Noble finally graduated magna cum laude in the Harvard College Class of 1885. In 1887, he married Nannie Yulee, daughter of Senator David Levy Yulee of Florida. In 1888, he entered the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge, Massachusetts intending to enter the ministry. He remained there for two years, but his health again gave way and he abandoned his studies. He lived in Washington for some years and then traveled abroad and around the country for his health. At 35 years old, he died in Colorado in 1896. Two years later, his wife established the William Belden Noble Lectures in his memory.

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July 27: John Thomas Newton (1857)

On the side of his tombstone are written these words, “John Thomas Newton entered the navy in 1809, was an officer in active service during the war of 1812, and died while in the performance of his duty, having devoted forty-eight years of his life to the service of his country.” A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Newton commanded USS Beagle on her maiden voyage to the Caribbean. Newton was in command of USS Missouri during her historic crossing of the Atlantic, the first by a steam-powered vessel. At the time of his death, he was the president of one of the Naval Courts of Inquiry that was sitting in Washington. Commodore Newton was known as a scrupulous gentleman in all his relations and a skillful and gallant officer.

Newton’s burial appears in Epiphany’s records. The service possibly took place from a private residence due to the fact the church was undergoing a major renovation at the time. The funeral is described in this article from The Evening Star. “The Funeral of Commodore Newton took place this morning from the Meade House, where the corpse has remained since his death. The funeral service was there performed by the Rev. Mr. Hall, of the Church of the Epiphany. The procession consisted of a military escort–the United States Marines stationed here, under command of Brevet Major Zeilin, with the entire band of the corps, a very long line of coaches, containing the relatives and friends of the deceased officer; members of the Naval Courts of Inquiry; officers of the United States Navy and Army in uniform, and others connected with the government and citizens of the District, Virginia and other States.”

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July 26: Joseph Griffin Parkinson (1916)

Joseph Griffin Parkinson was in the first graduating class of Gallaudet College. He was one of three members of the class of 1869 (middle figure in the accompanying photo). Parkinson had attended the Hartford School for the Deaf, the nation’s oldest permanent school for the deaf. Parkinson was born into a family with a legacy of higher education and professional achievement. His childhood had a rocky start due to an epidemic of scarlet fever that took the lives of his two youngest brothers and also took his hearing. Joseph and his twin brother, Robert, and two other surviving brothers all received degrees from Dartmouth College and pursued a career in law.

A job in the Patent Office brought Parkinson to Washington, where he worked for several years. His work was so good that he was eventually promoted to the position of chief examiner of patents. There were two other deaf lawyers in the United States, but Parkinson was the only patent lawyer. Parkinson seems to have become connected with Epiphany through his wife’s family. His mother-in-law is listed as a communicant and her death was at the church. Parkinson’s second daughter, Louise, was baptized at the church in 1877. Parkinson’s father, the Rev. Royal Parkinson, served as sponsor. Parkinson spent much of his time in Utah, where his appreciation of nature and the environment inspired him to support efforts to conserve the land and protect the wildlife dwelling there.

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July 25: John Potts (1872)

John Potts served for 36 years in the War Department, America’s 19th Century Defense Department. Potts was chief clerk for the last 13 years of his career, which included disbursing millions of dollars during the Civil War. Following Potts’ death, Secretary of War Belknap issued the following General Order: “It is with regret, made stronger by personal friendship, that the Secretary of War announces the death, at an early hour this morning, of John Potts, Esq., chief clerk of the War department. His official life, conducted with faithfulness and honor, gave evidence of pure integrity, while in constant devotion to duty he was a model for our imitation. A long career of labor in the public service is closed without a blemish on the record.”

The Potts family appears to have been connected with the church from its early years. Several of John Potts’ sisters were married at Epiphany. Shortly after his own confirmation, Potts stood as a sponsor at the baptism of his brother-in-law, Lt. Thomas Scott Fillebrown, USN. His parents were both buried from the church. His first child, Louisa, was baptized there in 1848, followed by several other children over the next decade. At the time of his death, Potts was serving on Epiphany’s vestry. Following his death, the funeral of John Potts took place at Epiphany. Secretary of War Belknap served as one of the pall bearers.

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July 24: William James (1845)

When the new Epiphany congregation was founded, eleven male attendees subscribed an amount of money for the support of a clergy person. William James pledged $20. His annual salary as a clerk in the office of Register of the Treasury was $1400. He had served as superintendent of St. John’s Sunday School and subsequently as a vestry member at Trinity. When Epiphany was formally organized in August 1842, William James was elected as one of the new congregation’s first wardens.

Following his death on July 24, 1845, warden William James was buried from Epiphany Church. His fellow vestry members remembered him with the following resolutions:

“Resolved, That the members of this body learn with sincere sorrow of the death of Mr. William James, Senior Warden of this church.

Resolved, That while we submit in resignation to this afflicting dispensation of Providence, we yet rejoice that he departed in the full hope of eternal blessedness through the merits of that Redeemer whom he had served through life and by whom he was signally controlled in death.

Resolved, That we render thanks for the blessings of Divine Grace bestowed on our departed friend and associate, exhibited as they were in a blameless Christian character, in the virtues of a holy life, and in the faithful discharge of his relative duties as a Son, Husband, a Father, a Friend, and a Citizen.

Resolved, That we tender to his afflicted family and friends, the assurance of our deep sympathy with them, in a bereavement, which reaching also this body calls on us together with them, to look for consolation from above.

Resolved, That as a body we will attend the funeral, and wear crape on the left arm for thirty days.”

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