Celebrating 175

October 22: Asbury Dickins (1861)

Asbury Dickins served as Secretary of the U.S. Senate for 25 years. Dickins’ service coincided with the Senate’s “Golden Age,” a period of national political turmoil that propelled the Senate to the front rank of America’s political institutions.  In its increasingly jammed chamber, the “Great Triumvirate” of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun held forth on the divisive issues of territorial expansion.  During Dickins’ tenure, sixteen additional senators from eight new states took their places in that chamber. Prior to his appointment as Secretary, Dickins had worked as a publisher, a bookseller, and as chief clerk in the Treasury and then the State Department. When Dickins took over the position in 1836, the Secretary’s Office consisted of six clerks and one messenger. Within the Secretary’s Office, the growth in the Senate’s membership and national stature brought additional staff and more detailed job descriptions.

Asbury Dickins, aged 62, with eight children and numerous grandchildren, appears to have been associated with Epiphany from its founding. The baptisms of two of his granddaughters took place in early 1844, before the initial church building was completed. Over the next several decades, there are at least 16 entries of baptisms, confirmations, and burials for members of his family. Asbury Dickins helped direct the Senate’s institutional activities at a time of vast political growth and turmoil.  That he survived several changes in party control attests to the bipartisan respect he earned for his office.  On July 15, 1861, with hostile armies maneuvering to seize Washington, the eighty-year-old Secretary reluctantly retired and died soon thereafter.  Since that time, no successor has witnessed as much institutional change or come within reach of his longevity record. The funeral of Asbury Dickins took place from Epiphany Church before his interment in Congressional Cemetery amongst those he served so faithfully.

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October 21: Susan Roosevelt Osterhout Ver Planck (1902)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the nursing profession was in its infancy and dominated by men. Increasing numbers of casualties and the overburdening of aide facilities soon broke down gender-related strictures on nursing and spurred the nation’s women into taking action. In April 1861, Dorothea Dix staged a march on Washington, demanding that the government recognize their desire to aid the Union’s wounded. Secretary of War Simon Cameron quickly named her to superintend the women nurses assigned to the U.S. Army. Despite such responsibilities, however, neither she nor her nurses were granted military appointments. By nature compassionate and giving, Dix was also a no-nonsense and often quirky leader. At first she required nursing applicants to be at least 30 years old and ‘plain looking,’ wearing brown or black clothing with no ornaments, bows, curls, jewelry or hoops. Despite these stringent requirements, some 2,000 women laid aside their cherished jewels and laces to pass Dix’s austere muster. As casualties mounted, Dix was forced to relax her standards, and after the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 she accepted anyone willing to work. Her nurses were paid 40 cents a day plus rations, housing and transportation.

One of these volunteer nurses was Susan Roosevelt Osterhout Ver Planck. She was from New York City and about 35 years old at the outbreak of the war. With several other women, she came to Washington to serve as a nurse. Records indicate she was present when the first exchange of prisoners took place in July 1862. She was attached to the various hospitals in Washington and aboard the transports between Washington and New York. Following her death on October 21, 1902, her funeral took place at Epiphany Church prior to her burial at Arlington. A newspaper obituary stated, “Into her tender hands fell many hundreds of unfortunates from Libby and other Southern prisons. In her hospital service she experienced hardship and privation in every conceivable form, and, while caring for the wounded and dying on the battlefields, she was under fire three times. At her funeral, following the committal of the Episcopal Church, a bugler blew ‘lights out’ above the open grave.”

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October 20: John Stephens Graham (1976) & Elizabeth Breckinridge Graham (2005)

John S. Graham (d. October 20, 1976) and Elizabeth B. Graham (d. October 25, 2005) lived the majority of their married life in suburban Maryland with their four daughters. When it came time to choose a church home, the Grahams made the decision to bypass several nearby churches and attend Epiphany in downtown Washington where their children would be exposed to a wider variety of people. John Graham, a native of Reading, Massachusetts, grew up in North Carolina, attending the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia Law School. After leaving the Winston Salem firm of Vaughan and Graham to serve as an officer in the Naval Reserve during World War II, Graham became assistant to the under secretary of the Treasury. In 1948, President Truman appointed him assistant secretary of the Treasury. In 1957, President Eisenhower named him a commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and a delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Elizabeth B. Graham was born in Monterey, Pennsylvania and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Her father was the assistant secretary of War under President Woodrow Wilson. Elizabeth later compiled a journal of recollections of her childhood in Washington in the early 1900s. Her first ride in an airplane was with her father’s friend Charles Lindbergh when they flew over Washington in 1927. Her mother was lost at sea off the coast of Iceland in 1941 when a ship she was on was torpedoed by a Nazi submarine. Elizabeth was a graduate of Vassar College and had a lifelong interest in education. She devoted countless hours to such programs as Reading is Fundamental, which encouraged reading in inner city schools. She was the founder of the Tuesday School, a weekly after-school enrichment program at the Church of the Epiphany for fourth graders from a local school. Following their deaths, the funerals of John and Elizabeth Graham were held at Epiphany.

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October 19: Eleanor Augusta Norcross (1923)

Eleanor Norcross was an artist, collector, and museum founder. She was born in 1854 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Her father, Amasa Norcross, was a lawyer, became a member of the Massachusetts legislature, mayor of Fitchburg, and eventually a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Her mother, Susan Augusta Norcross, was a schoolteacher and known for her work with the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society. Both parents instilled in Eleanor a commitment to her community that she honored her entire life. Her young brother Nelson died of scarlet fever during the Civil War, and her mother died of consumption a few years later. These sad deaths left Eleanor and her father as a small family that remained close throughout their lives. Norcross attended the Massachusetts Normal Arts School in Boston to become an art teacher. She obtained her teaching certificate and began to teach drawing in Fitchburg. When her father was elected to the House of Representatives, Norcross accompanied him to Washington, D.C., where she acted as his hostess.

While in Washington, the Norcrosses became associated with the Church of the Epiphany. A year after their arrival, Eleanor was baptized at the church. Three days later, she was confirmed there. At the age of 24, Eleanor moved to New York City to attend classes at the Art Students’ League. Her teacher, noted American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase, was so impressed with her talent that he urged Eleanor to continue her studies in Paris – the art capital of the Western World in the late 1800’s. While in Paris, Eleanor’s skills and reputation as a painter grew. Her paintings were exhibited in Paris, New York City, Boston, and Chicago. Eleanor collected textiles, dishes, and furniture while living aboard, with the dream of creating an art center in Fitchburg. Although she did not live to see her dream of opening an art center fulfilled, her bequest of her collections and funds made it possible to open the Fitchburg Art Center in 1929 – “for the joy and inspiration of art.” In 1951 The Fitchburg Art Center became the Fitchburg Art Museum, where Eleanor Norcross’ legacy lives on.

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October 18: +William Rollinson Whittingham (1879)

William Rollinson Whittingham was the fourth bishop of Maryland and it was in his diocese that Epiphany was founded in 1842. Whittingham was only four years older than Epiphany’s founding rector, John French. Consecrated at age 35, Whittingham was the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church at the time and had been in the position a year and a half when Epiphany’s founding meeting was held. Whittingham was born in New York City, the first child of Richard Whittingham and Mary Ann Rollinson. His younger brother and only male sibling also became an Episcopal priest. He was educated at home and later attended General Theological Seminary (GTS), graduating in 1825. He received a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Columbia University in 1827. Whittingham was ordained a priest in 1829 and served parishes in Orange, New Jersey and New York City before accepting a professorship at GTS. In 1840, a diocesan convention elected Whittingham bishop of Maryland. On September 17 of that year at St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, Whittingham was consecrated and thus became the 36th bishop in the American succession.

The diocese of Maryland at the time of Whittingham’s consecration included the entire state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Whittingham’s first visit to Epiphany was in March 1842. Although he kept Baltimore as his see city, he would make annual visitations to the DC churches. He presided at a service at Epiphany in January 1852 for the consecration of the original church building. His last visit was in April 1873. The little mission church that grew up during his episcopate would play host to the consecrations of Whittingham’s next two successors – Pinkney in 1870 and Paret in 1885. At the time of his consecration Whittingham was the youngest of the American bishops. At his death he was the second-oldest, having been in office thirty-nine years. In the book “The Episcopate in America, ” William Stevens Perry writes, “Whittingham was a scholar of rare attainments, a sound theologian, an impassioned speaker, a clear debater, and a most devoted bishop. Outspoken, fearless in his defense of the right, scrupulously conscientious, and self-denying, he will ever be remembered among the foremost bishops of the American Church.”

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October 17: Dedication of Parish House (1911)

The following description of the dedication of Epiphany’s new parish house comes from a Episcopal Church newspaper of the time.

“On October 17, 1911, the parish house of Epiphany Church, Washington, was dedicated by Canon McKim [Epiphany’s rector]. The devotions consisted of a short and appropriate office authorized by Bishop Harding, and of addresses from various persons. Dr. McKim presented the house to the authorities of Epiphany parish on behalf of the donors. It was accepted by Nathaniel Wilson, Esq. [senior member of Epiphany’s vestry]. Canon Roland Cotton Smith [rector, St. John’s, Lafayette Square] spoke a few words of greeting on behalf of the clergy of the diocese, and the Rev. Wallace Ratcliffe [pastor, New York Avenue Presbyterian] spoke the felicitations of the citizens of Washington. The exercises were held in the splendid assembly hall (see accompanying picture). There are about twenty other rooms, including a large gymnasium and running track and also offices for the clergy, bedroom for the assistant minister, guild rooms, libraries and choir rooms. The east and west halls contain staircases providing easy access not only to the upper floors of the parish house proper but also to the great transept galleries of Epiphany church, which have hitherto been difficult to access. The new building is situated immediately in the rear of the church and is so designed that every room in it is flooded with light.

“This addition will add greatly to the equipment of Epiphany parish for its work as a downtown church. Two sisters, life-long members of Epiphany church, Mrs. B.H. Buckingham and Miss Isabel Coleman Freeman gave the $50,000 needed for this structure, and in addition several individual gifts were received for the furnishing of separate rooms [Willard and Dunlop]. The architect is Mr. Frederick H. Brooke [Dr. McKim’s stepson], of Washington.”

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October 16: Charles Duell Kean+ (1963)

On January 27, 1954, Bishop Angus Dun installed Charles Duell Kean as the twelfth rector of Epiphany Parish. As a guide for its search for a new rector, Epiphany’s vestry determined that it wanted a man under fifty who “must be evangelical or orthodox and have high spiritual qualities, be a preacher, have an interest in young people, and an ability at organizing and directing church work.” Kean was born in West Point, New York, but of Virginia ancestry. He attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and worked for five years as a newspaper reporter with the Providence Journal. Pursuing a call to the ministry, he attended General Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1937. Kean served parishes in New York City; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Kirkwood, Missouri before coming to Epiphany. He brought with him his wife Jane and three children, one of which (Anne Schmidt) is still an Epiphany parishioner today.

Dr. Kean served as an instructor at George Washington University until 1960 when he was named associate professor. He was nationally known as the author of numerous books and pamphlets. As articulate in the pulpit as with the pen, Dr. Kean expressed himself on many current issues and was outspoken on civil rights. He served many years as secretary of the Episcopal Joint Committee on Approaches to Unity. In 1960 with many Protestant clergy opposing the election of Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy, Dr. Kean lashed out at the bigotry of such a position.  In 1963, Kean praised the work of Pope John XXIII in opening the door on church relations. After only nine years, Dr. Kean’s ministry came to an abrupt end on October 16 when he suffered a heart attack in the church parking lot. Washington Star Religion Editor Caspar Nannes stated, “Washington lost a dynamic, imaginative and enthusiastic force for good when Dr. Charles Duell Kean, rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church, died suddenly last week.” After his funeral at Epiphany, Dr. Kean was buried in Epiphany’s plot in Rock Creek Cemetery. With the passing of his wife in 2008, Charles and Jane Kean were placed side by side in Epiphany’s new columbarium.

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October 15: Margaret Coleman Freeman Buckingham (1946)

Along with her sister Isabel and her aunt Sarah, Margaret Buckingham was one of Epiphany’s most loyal and generous benefactors. Over a period of 50 years and often with attempted anonymity, Margaret Buckingham’s support was present in almost every aspect of Epiphany’s operation and ministry. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1857, Margaret was the youngest child of William Grigsby Freeman and Margaret Cassatt Coleman. Her wealth stemmed from an iron furnace business in southeastern Pennsylvania started by her great grandfather, Robert Coleman. The house at 1525 H Street, NW in which Margaret was born was purchased by her parents and her aunt in the early 1850s. This is the house where Margaret was married to Lt. Commander Benjamin H. Buckingham by Epiphany rector Randolph McKim in 1894. This is the house in which Margaret died on October 15, 1946, aged 78. After funeral services at Epiphany, she was interred in the family plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Margaret Buckingham’s philanthropy extended far beyond Epiphany. Examples include the donation of local fire engines, the prevention of consumption and the improvement of housing conditions, sending inner city children to summer camp, gifts to the Red Cross during World War I, hospitals, disaster relief, civic projects, and on and on. Specifically at Epiphany, her gifts included a chapel for the Epiphany Church Home, a gymnasium at the SW Washington Mission House, a chapel at Camp (Fort) Meade, with the stipulation that it be named Epiphany; the Parish House that stands behind the church today and the bells in the church’s tower. Following her death, six stained glass windows were placed in the east transept in memory of Margaret and her sister. The theme is Matthew, Chapter 25 – “For I was hungry and you gave me meat….” The adjoining plaque reads, “The windows in this transept are dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Isabel Coleman Freeman and Margaret Freeman Buckingham whose faith and good works are woven into the life of this church.”

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October 14: Nathaniel Theodore Wilson (1922)

Nathaniel Wilson was a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer and a long-time vestry member of the Church of the Epiphany. Wilson was a native of Zanesville, Ohio and graduated from Shurtleff College, a law school in southwestern Illinois. By 1861, he was admitted to the bar and living in Washington, D.C. During the Civil War years, he served as an assistant U.S. district attorney. Eventually Wilson would found and become a principal of the law firm Wilson, Huidekoper & Lesh.  Wilson’s son, Clarence Rich Wilson, was also associated with the firm. Wilson was a member of the American Society of International Law, was a delegate to the Universal Congress of Lawyers and Jurists and a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association, of which he was elected president for four terms.

Wilson’s first connection with Epiphany was his 1863 marriage to Annie E. Hutton. The Wilson’s marriage spanned 53 years and produced seven offspring, all of which were baptized and confirmed at Epiphany. Two of the children were married at the church and two were buried from it. In 1870, Wilson was elected as parish register, serving for four years. In 1874, he was elected as a vestry member and served in that role for the next 48 years. After Wilson resigned the role in the last year of his life, his fellow vestry members paid him tribute. “In former years his interest in the church was a very live one and his service as a vestryman marked by exemplary devotion. His recognized ability as a lawyer was attested by his election to the presidency of the District Bar Association and on all occasions when legal advice in the business of the church has been needed Mr. Wilson freely and devotedly gave both his advice and services for the benefit of the vestry.” Wilson’s funeral took place at Epiphany and was conducted by the bishop of Washington, Alfred Harding.

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October 13: Ransom Hooker Gillet (1876)

Ransom Hooker Gillet held a variety of positions in the federal government including two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York. Born in New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York in 1800, Gillet pursued an academic course before studying law in Canton, New York. He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Ogdensburg, where he resided for about twenty years. In 1825 he married Eleanor Barhydt, of Ogdensburg. In 1827 he was appointed brigade-major and inspector of the Forty-ninth Brigade of Militia, and for ten years drilled and inspected six large regiments in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties.  He was appointed postmaster of Ogdensburg, which office he filled about three years. Gillet was a delegate to the first national convention of the Democratic Party that nominated Andrew Jackson for the presidency.

Gillet was elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses and served as a member of the committee on commerce. In 1837, he was appointed by President Van Buren as a commissioner to negotiate with Indian tribes in the state of New York. President Polk appointed Gillet as Register of the Treasury serving from 1845 to 1847, when he was appointed Solicitor of the Treasury. He was then appointed Assistant Attorney General of the United States and served from 1855 to 1858. President Buchanan appointed Gillet as solicitor of the court of claims, serving from 1858 to 1861. Gillet retired from public life in 1867 and engaged in literary pursuits. He died in Washington, D.C. The funerals of Ransom (1876) and Eleanor (1881) Gillet were both held at Epiphany. Ransom was originally buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, but later reburied with Eleanor at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in New Lebanon, New York.

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