This is the day that … Mary Artemisia Lathbury was born in Ontario County, New York State, in 1841.
Her father was a Methodist minister … and her two brothers would also become Methodist ministers later in life. However pulpit ministry was not available to women, so Mary found her own way to touch lives.
Despite poor eyesight, Mary Lathbury became a professional artist, and even an art teacher at an academy in Vermont. She edited the Methodist Sunday-School Union magazine. She was a pioneer in the field of book and magazine illustration by women.
One day she heard a voice she believed was God, saying: “Remember, my child, that you have a gift of weaving fancies into verse and a gift with the pencil of producing visions that come to your heart; consecrate these to Me as thoroughly as you do your inmost spirit.”
She was one of the founders of the Chautauqua Movement, aimed to promote spiritual and cultural values to Methodists. During the summer months 50,000 people would attend the great convention meetings at this camp site at Lake Chautauqua (New York State).
In 1877 a Methodist bishop suggested that it would be good if the Chautauqua Movement had its “own vesper hymn”. As the sun set across the lake that night, Mary Lathbury penned the now well-known hymn, “Day is dying in the west, Heaven is touching Earth with rest…” The melody, called “Chautauqua” in some books, and “Evening Praise” in others, was composed by the camp Music Director, William Fiske Sherman. Note her words of praise to God in the chorus…
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of Thee!
Heaven and earth are praising Thee,
Our Lord most high!
Seven years later, at the same camp-site, Mary Lathbury again set pen to paper, this time to write a special study song for those who attended the Chautauqua meetings, “Break Thou the Bread of Life, dear Lord, to me…” Again it was set to music by William Sherman.
Thus she became known as the poet laureate of Chautauqua.
She remained single, dedicating her work, “to Him who is the best friend that woman ever knew”. She also founded the “Look Up Legion”, based on four rules promoted in Edward Everett Hale’s “Ten Times One is Ten”. These are:
Look up, and not down;
Look forward, and not back;
Look out, and not in,
And lend a hand.
Mary Lathbury died on 20 October, 1913, in New Jersey.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.