Remembering Meta, Part One, by Frank Bellizzi

Author Frank Bellizzi is a minister and a historian residing in Tulia, Texas. This guest post is the first of a series on Meta Chestnutt Sager (1863-1948), Oklahoma Hall of Fame educator.

Meta Chestnutt, graduate of Peabody College in Nashville, 1888. Her badge is her teaching credential.

Meta Chestnutt (1863-1948), at the time of her graduation from Peabody College in Nashville, 1888. 

At Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, a framed photograph with a brief biography hangs in the main hall of the College of Biblical Studies. Together, the picture and text represent one of the few remembrances anywhere to one of the most significant women in the history of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. The biography reads as follows:

Meta Chestnutt Sager is the only known female missionary from Stone-Campbell churches in Indian Territory. A native of Lenoir, North Carolina, she was born to a family with roots deep in the Restoration tradition in 1863. Much influenced by T. B. Larimore, she determined to serve as an educational missionary among Indian people. In 1889, she came to the Chickasaw Nation where she established a school in Silver City and then Minco. She named her school El Meta Christian College and then El Meta Bond College. The school continued until 1920. In the meantime, she also arranged evangelistic meetings, organized Sunday schools and Bible readings, and “spread” the Lord’s table with service brought from the East Coast. She was one of the founders and protectors of the Minco Church of Christ. When she died in 1948, Meta Chestnutt Sager was serving as a librarian for Oklahoma College for Women. She was buried at Chickasha.[1]

 

El Meta Christian College, Minco, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, c. 1895

El Meta Christian College, Minco, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, c. 1895

El Meta Bond College Catalog, 1914

El Meta Bond College Catalog, 1914

 

In September of 1939, nearly twenty years after she had closed her Christian school and moved eighteen miles south to Chickasha, Oklahoma, the town of Minco held a two-day series of events to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of her arrival in Indian Territory and her seventy-sixth birthday. A memorial stone wall with a plaque dedicated to her was constructed on the site of the old school in Minco. The wall still stands today and the plaque can still be read:

This memorial, erected by students of the El Meta Bond College, 1889 to 1919, is dedicated in loving memory of the founder, Mrs. Meta Chestnutt Sager, whose undaunted courage, interest in education, and love for mankind live anew in every individual who reflects the ideals and principles of that noble Christian character. 1889 — 1939 [2]

Two months after the memorial was dedicated, in November 1939, Meta Chestnut Sager was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.[3] Yet today she is hardly known. It appears, for example, that forty years have passed since her life story was acknowledged in any work of Restoration history.[4]

When it comes to historic examples of women in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement who gave themselves to Christian ministry, Meta Chestnutt Sager has been mostly overlooked. The quality of her character and the success of her mission deserve to be remembered. They were easily recognized in Oklahoma during her lifetime and in the few years that followed. For a time, a women’s dormitory at the University of Oklahoma was named Sager Hall. Since then, however, she has become little more than a shadow among important figures in the history of Oklahoma and of the Restoration Movement. Her spiritual odyssey of more than eighty-four years, stretching from the Civil War to the threshold of the Civil Rights era, has much to tell us about stateside missionary work in the nineteenth century, education among Native Americans and Anglos in Indian Territory, and the history of women and Christianity in America.

Notes:

[1] The text quoted above is taken from a photocopy that was made for me by Dr. Lynn McMillon when I visited the campus of Oklahoma Christian University in May 2013. It could be improved with only a few slight revisions. Meta Chestnutt was born and raised in Lenoir County, North Carolina. There is a city in North Carolina named Lenoir, but it lies far to the east in Caldwell County. Also, the text might have included that Meta Chestnutt was married to J. Alba Sager in 1906, and that she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1939.

[2] In May 2013, the present writer visited the memorial in Minco, Oklahoma, and photographed the plaque.

[3] Regarding her membership in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, see “Meta Chestnutt Sager” at the following URL: http://www.oklahomahof.com/Portals/0/PDF%27s/HOF%20bios/Sager,%20Meta%20Chestnutt.pdf (accessed June 29, 2016).

[4] For example, there is no entry for Meta Chestnutt Sager in Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, eds., Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004). Nor does her name appear in the encyclopedia’s index. Also, a search for her name on the Restoration Serials Index website turns up no hits. The main page for RSI is at the following URL: http://www.restorationserialsindex. org/

Carisse Mickey Berryhill, PhD, is Associate Dean for Archives and Collections at Abilene Christian University’s Brown Library. Berryhill holds advanced degrees in English, library science, and church history. She does research in rhetoric in the Stone-Campbell religious reform movement of the 19th Century and its 18th Century Scottish roots. At ACU she directs the university archives and leads the acquisition of print, archival, and digital collections related to the Stone-Campbell movement. She currently serves as chair of the Corporation Board of Restoration Quarterly.

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

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