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MARY RIVETT, ‘THE FEDERAL INDEPENDENT’ to REV. J.H. HOLMES, NEW YORK

This rather insignificant cover involves an interesting multi-talented Australian woman, Mary Rivett, the editor of The Federal Independent of Sydney and Dr. John Haynes Holmes of New York, Unitarian minister, and pacifist, noted for his anti-war activism. The cover has the blue 3d KGV head stamp cancelled with a roller cancel SYDNEY/ 8 MAR/ 1930/ 11 AM/ N.SW. with the slogan COMMONWEALTH LOAN/ NOW OPEN/ APPLY AT ONCE. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

 

Mary Rivett was one of 3 daughters and 2 sons of Rev. Albert Rivett, Congregational minister and his wife Elizabeth Mary Ann. Named Doris Mary, she was the youngest of the 3 sisters having been born on 4 December 1896 at Beechworth, Victoria. She was educated at Fort Street Girls’ High School, Sydney and graduated B.A. University of Sydney in 1918, with 1st class honours and the University medal in Philosophy. In 1919 she entered Newnham College, Cambridge and took first class honours in psychology in 1921 and then lectured at Bedford College, University of London before returning to Sydney where she was an university extension lecturer in psychology in 1923-27, as well as lecturing at the Kindergarten Training College.

She edited her father's paper, The Federal Independent, a Journal of Applied Christianity, and left the university to promote faith healing and was interested in telepathy. She defended her belief in parapsychology in 1926 in Man and His Latent Powers and Vrillic Force. In Brisbane on 13 January 1934 Mary married a widower, Thomas Matheson, tutor in mental hygiene, and later a banker. Mary had been inspired by the David Copperfield Library for Children in a poor district of London. On her return to Sydney in 1922 she and sister Elsie transformed a children's club that Elsie conducted into the free Children's Library and Crafts Club at the Quaker Meeting House, Surry Hills. Their philosophy was that children must express their whole selves in self-satisfying and socially acceptable ways; if natural creativity and instincts were repressed they would re-emerge in dangerous and anti-social ways. The club was run on a small budget with voluntary helpers and is remembered as a place of happiness.

A 1934 report on Australian libraries severely criticized the lack of free children's facilities. Mary and Elsie formed the Children's Library and Crafts Movement. In 1936 they opened their second centre; by 1949 the movement had twenty-six centres and, with some 11,000 members, was a major provider of free children's libraries in New South Wales. Mary was secretary-organizer until 1961 and Elsie honorary supervisor at Surry Hills until 1959. The two sisters were slight in build and noted for their energy and determination. While Mary provided the philosophy and administrative ability, Elsie had a natural flair for working with children. Believing that service was its own reward, they refused honours. Both died at Castlecrag, Elsie on 23 May 1964 and Mary on 15 January 1969. In 1969 their organization became the Creative Leisure Movement which continues to implement the sisters' ideals; their work in providing for children's reading needs has been taken over by public libraries.

John Haynes Holmes (November 29, 1879-April 3, 1964), a Unitarian minister and social activist, was prominent in the Unitarian movement throughout much of the first half of the 20th century. He is remembered for his pacifism, for his part in founding civic organizations still important today, for his advocacy of the work of Mahatma Gandhi, for exposing Unitarians to voices from other religions, and for his role in the Community church movement. Highly respected, he was a controversial figure, because of the character of his preaching and writing.

 Holmes began his prophetic career writing editorials in the school newspaper against various local evils. By his own account, each of his indictments was drawn "in terms of furious denunciation, and in a bitterly censorious spirit." In debates at the high school literary society, he "was always a member, not infrequently a leader, of the minority."

Grandfather Haynes provided Holmes's tuition at Harvard College. He enrolled in Harvard Divinity School and finished there in 1904. During the week of his class's graduation, he married Madeleine Baker. In 1904 Holmes was called to the church in Dorchester, Massachusetts where he had preached several times as a seminarian. He began in his first pastorate to experience Unitarian churches as something like social clubs for a certain class. In 1907 the Church of the Messiah, N.Y. called Holmes.

 At the May Meetings of the American Unitarian Association in 1908 Holmes banded with 20 other young radicals to found the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice, and was its president, 1908-11. Holmes was soon a leader among the younger ministers agitating for a socially conscious religion. The carnage of World War I shook Holmes's and other liberals' faith in human nature. In 1915, Holmes announced his opposition to all wars in a sermon, "Is War Ever Justified?" The board of the Church of the Messiah met to respond to Holmes's pacifist avowal. Though only one member agreed with his position, the board determined that the issue at stake was the freedom of their pulpit, and they unanimously supported Holmes's freedom to preach as he felt. He preached anti-war messages around the country and repeatedly from his own pulpit.

To keep him, the church changed its name to the Community Church of New York (as on the present cover) and Holmes then announced that he would stay in New York. Holmes's preaching drew people in, as did a broad program of outreach. The Community Church supported education, sponsored political and social forums and provided health clinics. It also courageously supported Margaret Sanger's controversial birth control initiatives. Over time the Community Church was transformed into a diverse, multicultural congregation. By 1930 it had more than 1800 members of 34 nationalities from six continents.

Holmes had discovered Mahatma Gandhi in 1918. In 1921 he declared him in a sermon "The Greatest Man in the World," a "savior" who provided a vision of what religion could be in the contemporary world. Thereafter, Holmes tirelessly promoted Gandhi's spirit of active non-violence. A photo of John Haynes Holmes is seen in Figure 2.

The information on Mary Rivett and her sister Elsie was obtained from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, but a photo of her has not been found to-date.

 

 

 
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