Troubled Years

James Parkinson

As 1916 began, Christ’s Ransom and the Restitution hope for mankind were ..being preached far and wide. About eight million volumes of Studies in the Scriptures had already been circulated worldwide, colporteurs were distributing them on every continent, and Pastor Russell’s sermons were published weekly in over a thousand newspapers. But foreign work was being impeded by the war in Europe. Pastor Russell made no overseas trip in 1916. He was slightly ill as he began his last railroad trip, destination Los Angeles. His discourse there was delivered with a weak voice, and in a chair, rather than with his usual ambulatory presentation. Afterward Joe Brown drove him and Menta Sturgeon to the railroad station for the return trip. On October 31 on the train near Pampa, Texas, the pastor died. The body was removed from the train in Waynoka, Oklahoma. A Presbyterian minister offered his home for the viewing of the body, although it was taken to the lone mortuary in town. Helen Noah (later Williams, then Swanson) and her carload from Alva were the first on the scene a few hours later.

Menta Sturgeon wired his wife that Pastor Russell had died. A. H. MacMillan intercepted the telegram at the Brooklyn Bethel home and wired J. F. Rutherford, then at a convention in Oakland, Maryland, “The old man is dead.1 Rutherford came immediately to Brooklyn and took over.

Pastor Russell’s will had designated a five-member Editorial Committee: Wm. E. Page, Wm. E. VanAmburgh, H. Clay Rockwell, E. W. Brenneisen, F. H. Robison. Then, “The names of the five whom I suggest as possibly amongst the most suitable from which to fill vacancies in the Editorial Committee are as follows: A. E. Burgess, Robert Hirsh, Isaac Hoskins, Geo. H. Fisher (Scranton), J. F. Rutherford, Dr. John Edgar.” The declaration of “five” names, followed by six names, could possibly be because John Edgar (of Scotland) had died (although seemingly Ruther­ford’s name should have appeared after Edgar’s if that were an added codicil), or because as keeper of the will, he had added his own name. (It is said that Rutherford denied all requests to see the will.) Rutherford added himself to the Editorial Committee.

At the next Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society annual meeting on January 6, 1917, Rutherford insisted that some new by-laws needed to be passed to continue Watch Tower operations, though he did not allow the new by-laws to be read to the elders meeting or the membership meeting. Among the by-laws were provisions that votes for officers of the Watch Tower board would be counted only for those nominated, and that election as president of the Peoples Pulpit subsidiary would be for a life term.2 At the annual meeting A. H. MacMillan was chairman; for election as president he recognized only those who would nominate or second for J. F. Ruther­ford, and then those who moved and seconded that all votes be cast for him. Rutherford’s assertion in the January 15, 1917, Watch Tower that “There being no further nominations … Brother Rutherford was declared the unanimous choice of the convention as President of the Society for the coming year,” hardly seems to epitomize the matter.

Pastor Russell’s last will and testament left “all my voting shares … in the hands of five Trustees, as follows: Sr. E. Louise Hamilton, Sr. Almeta M. Nation Robison, Sr. J. G. Herr, Sr. C. Tomlins, Sr. Alice G. James. J. F. Rutherford convinced these five that it was contrary to law for them to vote those shares (which constituted a majority of all shares). It is unclear whether Rutherford then proceeded in the name of the Watch Tower to vote those shares himself, as he did in subsequent elec­tions.

Rutherford’s efforts to establish control met increasing resistance from the majority of the board. On July 17, 1917, Rutherford claimed the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society charter provided for the election of directors annually, so only the three officers of the board (elected January 6) were truly members of the board; and so he appointed A. H. MacMillan, G. H. Fisher, J. A. Bohnet, and W. E. Spill to replace Ritchie, Wright, Hoskins, and Hirsh.3 The board majority, joined by F. H. McGee, countered that officers of the board cannot be elected unless they are first members of the board; therefore there are either seven members or no members. Both sides purchased legal opinions to support their claims. The ousted members decided not to institute legal proceedings, per 1 Corinthians 6:6,7.

A series of publications were issued from various sides, including:

w    Light After Darkness (summer; by the ousted board members)

w    Harvest Siftings No. 2 (October 1917; by Rutherford)

w    Harvest Siftings Reviewed (P. S. L. Johnson)

w    Facts for Shareholders (November; by the ousted board members)

The Watch Tower proxies for the January 5, 1918, annual meeting were solicited with Power of Attorney (granting the proxy holder the right to override the designated vote). About 13% of the votes recorded were for M. Sturgeon, A. I. Ritchie, H. C. Rockwell, I. F. Hoskins, R. H. Hirsh, J. D. Wright, and W. J. Hollister.4 The convention then voted to ask R. H. Hirsh to resign from the Editorial Committee.

Thereupon several withdrew to a hastily-convoked mini-convention at the Fort Pitt Hotel. A Committee of Seven was elected to carry on work outside the Watch Tower and IBSA (International Bible Students Association, as a voluntary association, not the British corporation of the same name). The first convention scheduled outside the IBSA was held July 26-29, 1918, at Asbury Park, New Jersey. Two or three hundred attended the Providence, Rhode Island, convention November 8-10, where it was resolved to form the Pastoral Bible Institute (PBI): The first board of directors consisted of J. D. Wright, chairman; Ingram I. Margeson, vice-chairman; I. F. Hoskins, secretary; P. L. Greiner, treasurer; H. C. Rock­well; F. H. McGee; and E. J.  Pritchard. (The Committee of Seven was dissolved.) The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom commenced publication in December under an editorial committee of I. F. Hoskins; R. E. Streeter of Providence, Rhode Island; I. I. Margeson of Westwood, Mas­sachusetts; H. C. Rockwell; and Dr. S. N. Wiley of Philadelphia. PBI offices were in Brooklyn.

When P. S. L. Johnson, Raymond Grant Jolly, and Robert Hirsh were not re-elected to the Committee of Seven, they, with most of the Philadelphia church, severed association with the Committee. They then organized the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement (LHMM) and began publishing the Present Truth and Herald of Christ’s Epiphany in 1919. The Bible Standard began publishing in 1920 for public witness work. The LHMM calls Pastor Russell the Parousia Messenger, and P. S. L. Johnson the Epiphany Messenger.

When the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures was published in July, 1917, suggesting that the Gospel age harvest period was to end in the Spring of 1918, the IBSA  classes in the Pacific Northwest backed it completely. But C. E. Heard, of Vancouver, and many others, felt Rutherford’s recommendation in the spring of 1918 to buy war bonds was cowardice, and sacrilegiously perpetuating harvest work. The Stand Fast Bible Students Association was organized in December 1, 1918, at Portland. It published the monthly Old Corn Gems (Joshua 5:11,12) and organized many conventions in the northwest and in some midwestern states. Perhaps 40% of the Watch Tower adherents in the Northwest left in favor of the Stand Fasts. Many (non-doctrinal) divisions followed a July 25-27, 1919, Seattle convention.

In 1922 John A. Hardeson and C. D. McCray organized the Elijah Voice Society for an ambitious regathering and witness work. They published the Elijah Voice Monthly, and became the most prominent seventh volume group, though they never quite regathered “Gideon’s 300.”

In 1923 Ian C. Edwards and C. E. Heard organized the Stand Fasts into the Star Construction Company in Victoria (although Heard was persuaded by his wife to stay in Vancouver). Fearing the prophesied time of trouble, Edwards in 1924 took the company of more than 300 to Sooke and the Gordon River on the southwest part of Vancouver Island. The business failed in 1927 so most packed up and went home.

From twelve hundred adherents in 1919 in the Northwest and near Wisconsin, these seventh volume movements have now dwindled to the vanishing point.

Overseas, Alexander Freytag started the largest movement to break with the IBSA, the Man’s Friends group (or Philanthropical Society). They numbered around 50,000 until the French and Swiss groups divided.

In Great Britain, Jesse Hemery was progressively centralizing power in himself5 but was opposed by Henry J. Shearn and Wm. Crawford. P. S. L. Johnson was sent by J. F. Rutherford to England, where he expelled Shearn and Crawford. Secession from Hemery and the Watch Tower Society progressed rapidly after World War I ended. The Bible Students Committee was constituted on April 5, 1919,  in London to coordinate publishing, pilgrim service, etc., outside the IBSA. Its seven initial members were H. J. Shearn, W.  Crawford, and Frank B. Edgell of London (west side); Fred G. Guard, Sr. and Alex Guy of Forest Gate (London east side), William Seager of Ipswich; and George B. Tharratt of Bishops Stortford. (The Committee was dissolved in 1945.) Edgell began publishing Fellowship in 1923. Shearn began publishing the B.S.C. Monthly (then Bible Students Monthly until 1951, now Bible Study Month­ly) in 1924. Crawford commenced The Old Paths in 1925 (continuing to 1961).

In Australia, R. E. B. Nicholson rejected the seventh volume. In 1918 he formed the Berean Bible Institute in Melbourne and began publishing Peoples Paper, which continues today.

In India, S. P. Devasahayam (“Davey”), from near Nagercoil, had begun the work in 1912 including the translation of Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 1, into Tamil and then Malaya­lam. After Pastor Russell’s death, contact with the Watch Tower was lost for many years, but contact with the Pastoral Bible Institute was quickly established.6 Davey appointed V. Devasandosham to succeed him circa 1920. It was Devasandosham who organized the Associated Bible Students (later, India Bible Students Association) and centered the work in Madras.

In Germany and Switzerland, Samuel Lau­per published Herold des Königreiches Christi, which was the German Herald of Christ’s Kingdom. He also published a German translation of R. E. Streeter’s two Revelation volumes.

Polish activity outside the Society began with the journals Strasz [Watchman] in 1923, edited by R. H. Oleszynski, and Bzask Nowej Ery [Dawn of a New Era] in 1930. Oleszyn­ski also translated the six volumes and Tabernacle Shadows into Polish.

Probably a few thousand left the IBSA in the U. S. and Canada at this time, and many thousand did so overseas. Of the several groups, all continued to stress Ransom and Restitution. While the Stand Fasts, Elijah Voice Society, P. S. L. Johnson, and A. Frey­tag all believed the door to the high calling was now closed and that the hope of newcomers would be Restitution on Earth, Johnson rejected “The Finished Mystery” as the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, and was not associated with the other two groups. Freytag’s claims to direct divine revelation were a concern to those outside his group.

The Pastoral Bible Institute, Bible Students Committee [England], and similar committees on the European continent (also in India), and the Berean Bible Institute [Australia], all stressed that the high [heavenly] calling remained open, though the called, chosen, and faithful were getting fewer. The Second Presence of Christ to accomplish the return of Israel and bring to an end the present evil world was also prominently featured. It seems a majority of those with the heavenly hope eventually left the IBSA though not all for the same reason.

In the 1920s F. H. Robison contacted Adolph Ernst Knoch of the Concordant Publishing Concern, then in Los Angeles, and was converted to universal reconciliation. He soon persuaded Menta Sturgeon, O. L. Sullivan, Walter H. Bundy, W. T. Hooper, and most of the ex-IBSA Bible Students in Finland and Sweden to go with him.

None of Pastor Russell’s nieces and nephews stayed with Rutherford: Alice Land Williamson was sister-in-law to A. Ed. Williamson, a leader in the 1909 New Covenant movement; Ada Land White, in Kansas, followed P. S. L. Johnson; May F. (“Thelma”) Land Kendall, in Florida; Joseph Russell Land, in Atascadero, California, associated with the Dawn.

Prominent Personnel

Many who had been with Pastor Russell were well known to Bible Students around the U.S. and Canada, and some overseas as well. All were well versed in Scripture.

Alfred Ritchie (1871-1946): Watch Tower Vice-President, was the principal ­administrator of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society including its main office and publishing plant. Originally from Nova Scotia, Ritchie was a capable administrator though not gifted as a leader.

Alex Hugh MacMillan (born 1877): The greatest orator the IBSA had. Widely known for his September 1914 discourse, “I am Ready to be Offered,” in which he said, “This is positively my last public address on this side of the veil” [i.e., in this life]. But Pastor Russell then persuaded him to speak at the New York Temple the following Sunday. (MacMillan did not get along well with A. I. Ritchie and several others at the Bethel home.) He apparently was given charge of the Brooklyn Bethel, home for the Watch Tower workers, in 1916.

William E. VanAmburgh (died 1947, age 83): Secretary/Treasurer of the Watch Tower. Originally from South Dakota and a man of financial integrity. Had some gift for writing, including poetry.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1861-1942): Came from a large Calvinist family; formerly a small-town lawyer in Missouri; at least once appointed to serve as judge in a case; politically active in Democratic politics. Custodian of Pastor Russell’s last will and testament. Apparently dismissed from Bethel in early 1915, lived in Monrovia near Los Angeles and worked as a lawyer for a department store in Los Angeles. Forceful in disposition and persuasive. Debated Rev. John H. Troy at First Baptist Church in Glendale, California, April 21-24, 1915.

Clayton Woodworth (died 1951, age 81): A bright idea-man, living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 1907 he had assembled a Bible commentary from Watch Tower publications, called the Berean Comments.

James Dennis Wright (died 1920):­Elderly, of gentle manner. The senior member of the Watch Tower board of directors.

Isaac F. Hoskins (died 1957): An able journalist with a sharp tongue for those who differed with him. One of many Hoskins brothers and sisters in the IBSA. Was a Watch Tower director.

Paul Samuel Leo (formerly Levitsky) Johnson (1873-1950): A converted Jew, then Lutheran pastor, and then one of Pastor Russell’s personal secretaries. A brilliant man, delved heavily into Bible types; had suffered a nervous breakdown (“brain fag”) in 1910. A strong leader, though controversial.

Robert H. Hirsh (died 1949): An able journalist.

Fredrik Homer Robison (1885-1932): Formerly Disciples of Christ, later a personal secretary to Pastor Russell. Perhaps the most scholarly in the Watch Tower office.

Menta Sturgeon (died 1935): An able speaker. Older than most of the others. Was Pastor Russell’s personal attendant on his final train trip to and from Los Angeles.

John G. Kuehn: Had a large Ohio family, all in the IBSA. Managed the extensive Watch Tower pilgrim work.

Henry Clay Rockwell (died 1950): Was on the Editorial Committee, but a relatively new member of the Watch Tower board of directors.

Francis H. McGee: A lawyer in Freehold, New Jersey. Assistant to the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey.

Charles E. Heard: A Watch Tower pilgrim from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

George H. Fisher (died 1926): Another from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Active also in the German Watch Tower. In 1926 he urged the German classes to disfellowship J. F. Rutherford.

R. Hipolit Oleszynski (1857-1930): Polish immigrant to Chicago. Active in Watch Tower work in the U.S.A. beginning 1891, and intermittently in Poland beginning 1894.

Jesse Hemery (born circa 1863, died 1963): Manager of the IBSA (the British subsidiary corporation of the Watch Tower) in London, England.

Henry J. Shearn (died 1946): Secretary of the IBSA in London.

William Crawford (died 1957): From Scotland. Treasurer of the IBSA in London.

R. E. B. Nicholson (died 1955): Former colporteur. Manager of the Australian branch of the Watch Tower beginning 1909.

Alexander Freytag (1870-1947): Manager of the Watch Tower office in Switzerland. Capable in the French language, as well as German and English.


[1] It remains to determine to what extent J.F. Rutherford’s conduct there had motivated this trip.

[2] It is perhaps possible the wording was a coded message, rather than simply disrespectful.

[3] J.F. Rutherford was the only one seeking that office. (The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was a Pennsylvania corporation; the Peoples Pulpit Association was a New York subsidiary, incorporated to do business in that state when Watch Tower offices were moved to Brooklyn, N.Y.)

[4] The simultaneous release of “The Finished Mystery,” advertised as the 7th volume of Studies in the Scriptures, appears to have been irrelevant to the arguing that followed this move.

[5] If the shares C.T. Russell had contributed to the Watch Tower were excluded, this percentage might have been closer to 16%. Had Power of Attorney not been exercised, it is unknown how much higher it would be.

[6] Hemery later published Futurist interpretations of Revelation, but he could not be forced out of the London Bethel home on account of a lifetime contract with the I.B.S.A.

[7] A letter from S.P. Davey of S. Travencore appears already in the Herald of 1918 Dec. 15.

[8] MacMillan’s version, “This is probably…,” is less positive than others remembered it.