Five Men and One Woman: They Served Fifty Years Until They Died

Five Men and One Woman: They Served Fifty Years Until They Died

Mar 18, 2016

2nd in a series celebrating the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society Centennial

by Janet Thorngate

It was thirty-five years ago that I first saw the picture. Four men and one woman, posed formally in front of an ivy-covered wall, impressive, yet at ease in their fashionable 1920s attire. Who were they? And why worthy of an 8 x 10 print mounted on pressed grey cardboard—with not a note of who, what, where, when, or why! I packed the photo along with hundreds of others in the boxes of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society library and archives soon to be put on a moving van leaving Plainfield, New Jersey for Janesville, Wisconsin. In the years since, through the historical detective work that becomes addictive, the four men emerged as four of the five original trustees of the Historical Society. And the woman? That took longer.

  Historical Society Trustees, late 1920s: From left, William M. Stillman, Corliss Fitz Randolph, Asa F. Randolph, Else Fitz Randolph, Ethel L. Titsworth (later Stillman).

Historical Society Trustees, late 1920s: From left, William M. Stillman, Corliss Fitz Randolph, Asa F. Randolph, Else Fitz Randolph, Ethel L. Titsworth (later Stillman).

The fifth founding trustee was not in the photo because he had already died: Frank J. Hubbard (1868-1927). He had signed the Articles of Incorporation with the other four men in June 1916 and had served as treasurer the eleven years until his death. He was a civil engineer; graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; prominent for civic involvement in Plainfield especially in public education; and much involved in the SDB General Conference particularly as a fund-raiser for the new denominational buildings erected in the 1920s. He was the brother-in-law of the woman in the photo. She, Miss Ethel Lucile Titsworth, was elected to succeed him and served as treasurer for thirty years, as trustee for thirty-eight, until her death in 1965. She also followed Hubbard as treasurer of the Tract Society.

Frank J. Hubbard

Frank J. Hubbard


Of the other four founders, William M. Stillman (1856-1937) was the oldest. He served as 1st Vice President until his death in 1937. A graduate of Rutgers University, he was an attorney in Plainfield, making his legal services available for any denominational concerns. His wide-ranging interests included support of the early work of Joseph Booth as first SDB missionary in Nyasaland (Malawi) and South Africa. After the death of his first wife he married Ethel Titsworth; they are the bookends in the four-men-and-one-woman photo. It was a short marriage. He died seven years later; she, twenty-four years younger (age fifty-seven when they were married) lived to serve the Society another twenty-eight years.

William M. Stillman

William M. Stillman

Next to Stillman in the photo is Corliss Fitz Randolph (1863-1954) who might be called the father of the SDB Historical Society. Having already served many years on the SDB Historical Committee (forerunner of the Society) and having been largely responsible for the huge two-volume Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America (1902), Corliss became president of the Society as well as historian and librarian, serving for thirty-eight years until his death. Educated at Alfred and Columbia Universities, his employment was as a public school principal in Newark and his membership was in the old New York City SDB Church, but his first love was the work of Seventh Day Baptist history and his spirit and work influences it to this day.

Corliss F. Randolph

Corliss F. Randolph

In the center of the photo lineup is Asa Fitz Randolph (1876-1951), recording secretary for the Society and its legal and financial advisor during his thirty-five-year tenure. His Plainfield law office was corporate headquarters for the Society and storage space for the growing collections until the SDB Building was finished thirteen years later. Benefactor of many denominational concerns, one-fifth of his $83,000 bequest through the Memorial Board went to the Historical Society constituting one-sixth of the endowment that supported its work during the second half of the century.

#5 HS

Asa F. Randolph

Finally, Else Fitz Randolph (1868-1965), younger brother of Corliss, completes the lineup. One of the first graduates of Salem College, he was a teacher in West Virginia, Missouri, and New York City, retiring after forty-one years as principal of a school on Staten Island and returning to his home church in Middle Island, WV. His General Conference offices included terms on the Commission (forerunner of General Council) and Conference President. In commenting on his passing at age ninety-seven, Society Librarian Evalois St. John noted, “He was the last surviving member of the original Board of Trustees…. He had served as Vice-President down through these years and his interest had never ceased.”

 Else F. Randolph

Else F. Randolph

Ethel L. Titsworth Stillman (1888-1965) died the same year, one year before the Society’s 50th anniversary. So little we know of her beyond her years as HS and ASTS treasurer: a Smith College education, her self-assured posture in the iconic cloche hat and fur piece of the 1920s photo, and her best-known legacy—a generous endowment for SDB missionary vacations.

#7 HS

Ethel T. Stillman

Other striking facts connect these five men and one woman. Besides serving as trustees of the Historical Society, they all served terms on the American Sabbath Tract Society and on the SDB Memorial Fund, many years as officers of one or both. All had deep roots in SDB soil. They treasured the stories of faithful ancestors who had laid the foundation, but their vision was for the future. They saw the historical work as nurture for that future.

They worked hard during the First World War to generate interest and scarce resources to support construction of a denominational building that would house first the administrative and publishing work of the Conference and then a library and archives for the study and teaching of its history. Through the Great Depression they became a magnet for books, manuscripts, and artifacts from churches, colleges, private homes, closets, garages, and attics. They volunteered hours and years, and inspired that volunteerism in others. Never receiving more than a few hundred dollars a year from the denominational budget, they solicited and made personal contributions and generated endowment funds that amounted to $4,000 in 1960 and $170,000 by 1967 to preserve the distinctive history and heritage of Seventh Day Baptists. More is needed to support it in a new century.

To honor their legacy, we invite today’s Seventh Day Baptists to contribute to the Historical Society Centennial Fund, endowment “to provide financial support for the preservation and communication of Seventh Day Baptist History.”


Sources: Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, vol. 3, by Albert N. Rogers, Sabbath Recorder obituaries, Historical Society reports in SDB Yearbooks. Photos from SDB Historical Library.


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Author note: Janet Thorngate is president and former librarian of the SDB Historical Society and a member of the Salem, West Virginia, SDB Church.

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