Lectures About Jews a Hundred Years Ago

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, January 22, 1914:  Ruth and I went to town this evening to hear a talk given by a Jew in the Reformed Church.

St. Johns' United Church of Christ (It was St. John's Reformed Church in Grandma's day.)

St. Johns’ United Church of Christ, McEwensville (It was St. John’s Reformed Church in Grandma’s day.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The previous summer, on June 1, 1913, Grandma wrote a diary entry that was very similar to this one:

Went to Sunday school this afternoon. Took my time a getting home. I heard some of the best speaking I have ever listened to this evening. A converted Jew talked about some of the customs of the Jewish people in the Reformed Church at McEwensville.

I can’t figure out why a church would have two presentations less than eight months apart about Judaism, and why Grandma would be interested enough in the topic to attend both presentations even though she was a Baptist.

These diary entries make me want to learn more about Jewish culture in the US a hundred years ago, and how Jews were perceived by Christians in the early 20th century. Of course, these diary entries were written years before World War II and the holocaust. . . .

Percentage of US Population Affiliated with Various Religions, 1913 and 2013

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, June, 1913:  

What is so rare as a day in June ,

For then if ever comes perfect days,

When song of bird and hum of bees

Bring to us fair summer’s sweetest day.

Went to Sunday school this afternoon. Took my time a getting home. I heard some of the best speaking I have ever listened to this evening. A converted Jew talked about some of the customs of the Jewish people in the Reformed Church at McEwensville.

Religious.Affiliation

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’ diary entry made me wonder: What percentage of the US population were considered members of the various religions in 1913 and 2013?

I discovered that this was a much more difficult question to answer than I thought it would be.  The data on religious affiliations were collected very differently in the early 1900s than how it is gathered now—so when the data are compiled to do a comparison, it’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges.

This gets complicated, but let me try to explain what I did to create the figure above:

In the early 1900s , the US Bureau of the Census conducted a religious census every ten years.  Religious leaders were asked how many members their congregation had; whereas in recent years, various non-profit organizations have conducted surveys where they asked a sample of the population about their religious preferences.  As a result of these differences in methodology many more people were considered to have no religious affiliation a hundred years ago than now.

Calculation of 1913 Percentages

For the figure above, I used data from an article titled “U.S. has 42,043,374 Members of Church, New Census Shows” in the May 2, 1918 issue of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. According to the article:

The term ‘members’ has  a wide variety of uses. In most Protestant bodies it is limited to communicants or confirmed members; in the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some other churches it includes all baptized persons, while in some bodies it covers enrolled persons.

The membership for the Jewish congregations requires some explanation. Some congregations reported as members all who contribute to the treasury of the congregation and not infrequently included women and children. The more orthodox, of the other hand, reported only those males who have incorporated the institution or have bought share or membership in it, but do not recognize as members other persons who are regular attendees or even contributors.

For the figure, I used data from the 1916 Religious Census, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune article, since this was the one done closest to a hundred years ago.  To calculate the percentages I used the US population estimate for 1916 as reported by the US Bureau of the Census. I assumed that the percentage of the population who were members of various religions did not change much between 1913 and 1916 when creating the figure.

Calculation of the 2013 Percentages

For the 2013 percentages, I used data from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.  Phone interviews were used to survey a sample of the US population. Respondents were asked which religion they identified with.

The survey was conducted in July, 2012—and I assume that the percentages have not changed significantly since then.

Monthly Poem

On the first of each month Grandma included a poem in the diary. For more information about the poems, see a previous post:

Monthly Poem in Diary

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