In July of 1942 a special issue of the Bulletin of Bethel Institute arrived in the mailboxes of alumni and other subscribers. Here’s a photo of the cover:
It isn’t all that surprising that an American college would wrap itself in the colors during a war, especially in the month of July. Now, whether a Baptist school ought to do so, or proclaim itself “Loyal to God and Country,” is something we’ll need to probe some more as our project goes on.
But when you open this “Victory Number” of the Bulletin, you quickly realize that it’s just an ad for Bethel. The back cover turns the school’s name into an acronym:
B – Baptist
E – Educationally Worthy
T – Thankful
H – House of God
E – Extra-Curricular Activities
L – Loyalty
And here loyalty takes on a rather different meaning, devoid of nationalistic fervor:
Loyalty to Christ
Loyalty to our Churches
Loyalty to our Baptist Cause
This might be more reassuring for those leery of Christians’ placing loyalty to country — even in time of war — in the same breath as loyalty to God.
But as the war went on, “Loyalty” began to be used in Bethel publications in such a way that loyalty to country and loyalty to God were put in service of loyalty to Bethel, and its desire for better facilities.
The cover of the Bulletin‘s final 1944 issue seems to be encouraging readers to support the war effort, by buying bonds that would help underwrite the cost of battling Japanese forces. But again, one turns the page and finds that the content has little to do with American war aims:
Invest Now In Baptist Christian Education
Make a Future Men’s Dormitory Possible Now
And here we need to back up two years, to the November 1942 issue. It announced that February 1943 would kick off a campaign to raise the money necessary to build a new men’s dormitory in time for Bethel’s 75th anniversary in 1946.
(If it seems odd that a college with enrollment problems would attempt to expand its physical plant in the middle of history’s worst war… Carl Chrislock points out that Augsburg College stayed afloat in part because it received increasing donations from Lutheran congregations flush with the relative prosperity of a war that saw real wages increase. Indeed, by then “distrust of American higher education within the constituency was giving way to unqualified endorsement of Augsburg’s aspiration to become a first-rate liberal arts college” — From Fjord to Freeway, pp. 195-96.)
How could readers help Bethel build a new dorm?
We hope that every member of our loyal Bethel family will be willing to sharing bonds, or stamps, or contributions, or pledges to this opportunity to make Bethel a bigger and better school for its important program of presenting Christian Education. The slogan for the men’s dormitory is “Buy a Bond for Bethel boys.”
The next issue (January 1943) explained further how this would work, addressing the concern that the federal government was asking for citizens to buy war bonds up to 10% of income on top of imposing a “victory tax” of 5% over and above the income tax:
What about the tithe? Will God continue to come first with those who desire to honor Him with the first-fruits of the increase?
The tithe is sacred to the Lord. His storehouse is full. He is still willing to open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon His own. We must not fail Him. He must still come first in spite of bond purchases, victory taxes, and incomes taxes.
Supporters of Bethel were presented with a tidy solution: give 5% of their income directly to their church, buy bonds with 10% of income, then give half of those bonds to their church, denomination, and/or school. One example trumpeted by the Bulletin: the Baptist youth of Dalton, Michigan had raised enough to buy an $18.50 war bond for Bethel — “under the leadership of aggressive Virgil Olson,” a recent Seminary grad later to become a professor and dean at his alma mater and the leading historian of the Baptist General Conference.
Not only did the fundraising campaign try to intertwine support for the war with support for Bethel (the inside of the issue is done in red, white, and blue, with stars surrounding the top slogan — “Is This Too Good for Our Boys?” — and the bottom one — “Buy Bonds for Bethel Boys Dormitory”), but the February 1943 kick-off to the campaign was titled “Bethel Loyalty Month.” (While the student newspaper mentions February being “Loyalty Month” as early as 1940, that designation no doubt took on new implications in the middle of a war that saw Japanese-Americans — and, to a much smaller extent, German- and Italian-Americans — interned because their loyalty was in question.)
How effective was this approach? By the end of 1944, the Bulletin reported that Bethel was just $10,000 short of its $75,000 goal. (It also raised another $30,000 to expand the women’s dorm.) In the end, the new men’s residence ended up costing almost $145,000, but by the time Edgren Hall opened in fall 1946, the Baptist General Conference — itself beginning its striking postwar “advance” — had already approved a $200,000 expansion of Bethel’s facilities. All of which would be outgrown by the end of the Fifties, but that’s a story for another post…
(As a postscript… I haven’t had a chance to dig into his papers in the archives yet, but I can only assume that the men’s dormitory campaign was largely the work of H. Wyman Malmsten, the Baptist pastor-turned-assistant to president Henry Wingblade in charge of fundraising. Here’s a remembrance of the tireless Malmsten by his eldest daughter, Marlys.)