Helen Barrett Montgomery


Helen Barrett Montgomery

Helen Barrett Montgomery (July 31, 1861 – October 19, 1934)was a social reformer, church leader, women’s activist, missions activist.Helen Barrett was the oldest of three children born to Adoniram Judson Barrett and Emily Barrows Barrett, both of whom were teachers at the time. When she was a child, her parents moved to Rochester, New York so that her father could attend the Rochester Theological Seminary. After he graduated in 1876, he stayed in the area, as pastor of Lake Avenue Baptist Church until he died in 1889.

Helen Barrett went on to graduate from Wellesley College as a teacher in 1884. It was later important that she studied and excelled at Greek, leading her class. She taught at the Wellesley Preparatory School in Philadelphia. She later returned to Rochester, where on September 6, 1887 she married a businessman, William A. Montgomery owner of North East Electric Company, (which eventually became the Rochester Products Division of General Motors).

Her activities are here discussed under four headings: church, social reforms to benefit women, Bible translation, and missions. It is obvious that much of what she did flowed from her interests in more than one category, but this framework is an attempt to organize the information.

Church activities

Montgomery stayed on at Lake Avenue Baptist Church (her father the pastor having died two years after her marriage). She organized and taught a women’s Bible class there, continuing this for forty-four years. Shortly after, in 1892, the congregation licensed her to preach (not the same as ordination).

Her involvement and leadersip in church cicles grew beyod her congregation to the point that she was elected president of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1921, the first woman to hold this office.

Social reforms to benefit women

She soon became involved in a number of social reforms, especially activities to benefit women. In 1893, she joined with Susan B. Anthony in forming a chapter of the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU) in Rochester, Montgomery serving as president. The WEIU followed the example of chapters in Buffalo and Boston serving poor women and children of Rochester. WEIU also founded a legal aid office, set up public playgrounds, established a "Noon Rest" house where working girls could eat unmolested, and opened stations for mothers to obtain safe milk.

She was also an advocate for education. After establishing her credentials in the community by her work with WEIU, she became the first woman elected to the Rochester School Board, in fact the first woman ever elected to any public office in Rochester, (particularly noteworthy as it came during an era when women rarely spoke in such public venues). She served 10 years as a member of the Board. During her tenure, she was an integral part in implementing several reforms, such as introducing of kindergarten, vocational training in schools, and inclusion of health education in the curriculum. An elementary school in Rochester bears her name today.

In 1898, she began working with Susan B. Anthony to raise fund to open opportunities for women students to study at University of Rochester, a goal which was reached in 1900. Her interest in education for women was not limited to the USA, so she also raised funds for missionaries in Asia to start Christian colleges for women.

Bible translation

Montgomery was also the first woman to translate the New Testament into English from Greek and have it published by a publishing house. (Julia E. Smith did her New Testament translation from Greek, but published it herself.) Her motivation to produce a new English translation grew out of teaching street boys in her church, finding that they did not understand the King James Version. She tried using the Weymouth New Testament of 1903 and found that they understood it much better. Still not fully satisfied, she decide to produce her own translation, utilizing her Greek education, to “make it plain” for the “ordinary” reader. It was published in 1924 as The Centenary Translation because it was published by the American Baptist Publication Society in celebration of its one hundredth anniversary. This has been reprinted under the title, The New Testament in Modern English, with a spine and cover labeled “Montgomery New Testament”.

Her translation was also notable for beginning the practice of inserting chapter and section titles (as seen in photo), a pioneering feature that is now common in Bibles in many languages.

Not surprisingly, her translation included some interpretations that supported enlarged roles for women in the church than were found at the time, with clear influence from the work of Katharine C. Bushnell. For example, she translated 1 Cor.11:13-15 as statements, rather than as questions as they are interpreted by others, as illustrated below from the New American Standard Bible and the King James Version.

Montgomery: “It is fitting that a woman should pray to God with her head unveiled.”

NASB: “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?”

KJV "Is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?"

Christian missions

It is not surprising that Montgomery was intensely interested in Christian missions, since her Barrett grandparents had shown a strong awareness and interest by naming her father after Adoniram Judson, a famous Baptist missionary (1788-1850).

Her missions support activities included a national speaking tour (1910-1911), book writing, and serving as president of the Woman’s American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (1914 - 1924). She wrote Western Women in Eastern Lands (1910), a book which examined the role of women missionaries and women’s mission boards overseas. She did not limit her missions writing to adults, but was also associate editor of Everyland, a magazine for children.

She was also president of the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions (1917 - 1918). She was one of the founders of the World Wide Guild, an organization that encouraged young women to become involved in missions.

External links

*Dowd, Sharyn. "Helen Barrett Montgomery's Centenary Translation of the New Testament; characteristics and influences." http://godswordtowomen.org/studies/articles/Dowd.htm

* [http://www.winningthevote.org/HBMontgomery.html Helen Barrett Montgomery ] at www.winningthevote.org

* [http://www.bibleshark.com/bible/CTNT/Matthew/1/ Helen Barrett Montgomery's Centernary Translation of the New Testament Available Online]

Writings about Helen Barrett Montgomery

*Abbott, Conda Delite Hitch. 1997. "Envoy of Grace: the Life of Helen Barrett Montgomery". Valley Forge, PA.: American Baptist Historical Society.

*Brackney, William. 1994. Helen B. Montgomery 1861-1934 and Lucy W. Peabody 1861-1949. "Mission Legacies", ed. by Gerald Anderson, et al., 62-70. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

*Bullard, Roger A. 1987. Feminine and Feminist Touches in the Centenary New Testament. "The Bible Translator" 38(1): 118-122.

*Cattan, Louise Armstrong. 1972. "Lamps are for Lighting: The Story of Helen Barrett Montgomery and Lucy Waterbury Peabody". Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

*Dowd, Sharyn. 1992. "Helen Barrett Montgomery's Centenary Translation of the New Testament: Characteristics and Influences." "Perspectives in Religious Studies" 19/2: 133-150.

*Hudson, W.S. 1971. “Montgomery, Helen Barrett," "Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary", 2/G-O, ed. E.T. Jones, 566-568. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

*Mobley, Kendal. 2003. The Ecumenical Woman’s Missionary Movement: Helen Barrett Montgomery and “The Baptist”, 1920-1930. "Gender and the Social Gospel", ed. by Wendy J. Deichmann Edwards and Carolyn De Swart Gifford, p. 167ff. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

*Mobley, Kendal. 2005. Susan B. Anthony and Helen Barrett Montgomery: An Intergenerational Feminist Partnership. "Baptist History & Heritage" 40, Summer 80–90.

*Mobley, Kendal. 2007. Helen Barrett Montgomery: a "Middle-of-the-Road Baptist" Bible translator. "Baptist History and Heritage". (available at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Helen+Barrett+Montgomery:+a+%22Middle-of-the-Road+Baptist%22+Bible...-a0165018128)

*Paul, William. 2003. “Montgomery, Helen B.” "English Language Bible Translators", p. 164,165. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland and Company.

*Robert, Dana L. 2002. The Influence of American Missionary Women on the World Back Home. "Religion and American Culture" Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 59-89.

*Tucker, Ruth. 1987. Female Mission Strategists: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective. "Missiology" 15: 73-89.

Writings by Helen Barrett Montgomery

An autobiography was assembled posthumously from her papers and published in 1940 along with tributes by friends and associates, Helen Barrett Montgomery: From Campus to World Citizenship. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

The following is a partial list of writings by Helen Barrett Montgomery, though the facts of publication are not always comlete.

*(1925-26) "Translating the New Testament". "The Baptist" 651-52.

*(1929) "From Jerusalem to Jerusalem". Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions.

*(1915) The King's Highway: A Study of Present Conditions on the Foreign Field. West Medford, MA: The Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions.

*(1910) Western Women in Eastern Lands: An Outline Study of Fifty Years of Woman's Work in Foreign Lands. New York: Macmillan.

*(1906) "Christus Redemptor: The Island World of the Pacific".

*(1913) "Following the Sunrise: A Century of Baptist Missions, 1813-1913". Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis: American Baptist Publication Society.

*(1920) "The Bible and Missions". The Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions (available at http://ia311509.us.archive.org/0/items/thebibleandmissi00montuoft/thebibleandmissi00montuoft.pdf)

*(1924) "Prayer and Missions"

*(1931) "The Preaching Value of Missions: Being the John M. English Lectures Delivered at the Newton Theological Institution". Philadelphia: Judson Press.


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