Remembering Meta, Part Three, by Frank Bellizzi

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

 

Side by Side on the Prairie

Meta Chestnutt was adamant: early education is vital, and women should have equal opportunities in schools. Her experience of succeeding against male competition in the academies she attended appears to have settled her conviction on this matter. She was the Valedictorian at Bethel Academy, comparable to a modern high school, when she graduated in June 1884. Significant to her future life’s work, in her valedictory address titled “The Spring Time of Life,” she emphasized the importance of a person’s early years:

Teach a child to know from the cradle the things which he ought to observe, and those which he ought to reject, and when he has passed the spring time of life, the impression which that teaching made will still go with him. It is as much impossible to obliterate it as to blot out the stars from heaven.[1]

Not long afterwards, she began her studies at the Greenville Institute (later named the State Teachers’ College) in Greenville, North Carolina. Upon graduating from the Institute, she was approached by her principal, J. W. Duckett, a former North Carolina State Superintendent of Schools, who had a surprise for her. Without her knowledge, Duckett had secured for Meta a full scholarship from the North Carolina State Board of Education, and a place in the incoming class at the Peabody Normal School (later George Peabody College for Teachers) in Nashville, Tennessee.[2]

A page from the Peabody College Alumni Directory published c. 1910 (It does not indicate a date of publication). By that time, the College had lost track of their graduate, Meta Chestnutt. She moved to Indian Territory in 1889, and didn't look back.

A page from the Peabody College Alumni Directory published c. 1910. By that time, the College had lost track of their graduate, Meta Chestnutt. She moved to Indian Territory in 1889, and didn’t look back.

 

During her student days at Peabody, Meta was a member and taught Bible classes at the South Nashville Christian Church. David Lipscomb served as one of elders of the congregation until he died in 1917. It must have been at the South Nashville Church that Meta met Larimore, one of the best-known evangelists among the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in his generation. The congregation’s first revival meeting had been conducted by Larimore in 1887, during which 123 people made the good confession and were baptized into Christ.[3]

In 1888, Chestnutt received from Peabody the Licentiate of Instruction (L.I.), with honors. Around that time, T. B. Larimore, likely her most significant mentor, learned of Meta’s dream of conducting an educational mission among Indians and put her in contact with a Christian couple he knew in the Chickasaw Nation. W. J. and Annie Erwin were residents of Silver City, Indian Territory, a community that needed a teacher.[4] Those were the personal connections that opened up the possibility for Meta to eventually move to Indian Territory in September of 1889.

 

This page from Meta Chestnutt's autograph book includes the signatures of W. J. and Annie Erwin and their children. The Erwins picked up Meta when she arrived by train in Oklahoma City in September 1889. For several years, Meta lived in a wooden lean-to that W. J. built on to the side of the Erwin's house.

This page from Meta Chestnutt’s autograph book includes the Christmas, 1892, signatures of W. J. and Annie Erwin and their children. The Erwins had picked up Meta when she arrived by train in Oklahoma City in September 1889. For several years, Meta lived in a wooden lean-to that W. J. built on the side of the Erwins’ house.

 

When it was time to start her school, Meta was determined to educate both boys and girls from the native and white populations. In her poem titled “El Meta Bond College,” she clearly expressed her convictions:

We stand on the open prairie,

Our grounds ten acres broad,

Minco to southward and eastward,

Along the Rock Island Railroad.

The site in the Chickasaw Nation,

Three miles from O.T. line;

Looks out over boundless prairies,

Where browse the lowing kine.

The work which our school proposes

Invites the girl and the boy,

God gave them both in one family,

Shall man that union destroy?

Away the fad of temptation,

That co-education defiles;

Is the rose less pure and fragrant

Because of the thorn by its side.

Then welcome the youth of both sexes,

Change not heaven’s eternal decree;

But side by side in life’s conflict,

Till ended, their mission be.[6]

[1] Heiliger, Born to Meet Adversity (and Rise Above It), 15. Meta Chestnutt Sager Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

[2] Ibid., 16-18.

[3] Wooldridge, John, Elijah Embree Hoss, and William B. Reese, History of Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville: H. W. Crew, 1890), 496-97.

[4] Heiliger, Born to Meet Adversity (and Rise Above It), 18.

[5] “Poems by Mrs. Meta Chestnutt Sager,” Minco Minstrel (September 7, 1939).

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.

About CHARIS

The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
Karissa Herchenroeder
Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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