Baracas & Philatheas

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In June of 1909 Asheville hosted the 13th annual convention of the World Wide Baraca-Philathea Union. Over 1,000 delegates were expected to arrive from many states. According to the Charlotte Evening Chronicle of June 18 “a special Baraca-Philathea train, from Raleigh has been secured for the Statesville delegation, and the car will be prettily decorated with streamers bearing the inscription Statesville Baraca-Philathea Special.”

Marshall Hudson began Baraca in 1890 at First Baptist Church in Syracuse, New York. It was an ecumenical class to foster young adult evangelism. The Baraca class—for boys and young men—met during Sunday school and studied the Bible together. The popularity of the class led Hudson’s eldest daughter, May Hudson, to start a class for young women based on the same program. She named it Philathea. When other churches heard of the success of these classes, they wanted to use Hudson’s ideas and apply them in their own churches. By the early 1900s there were Baraca and Philathea classes in every major Protestant denomination, in almost every state in the United States, Canada, Italy, England, India, and Japan.

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On Saturday the 19th the movement’s founders arrived and set up headquarters for the Central Committee at the Swannanoa Hotel. The hotel’s location at the corner of South Main Street (Biltmore Avenue) and Aston Street was conveniently located near two local churches where events would be held throughout the convention’s run. Young ladies decorated the committee headquarters and the interior of the Y.M.C.A. on Haywood Street with American flags draped on the walls and platforms. Potted palms and plants were arrayed in artful banks as well according to the report in the Asheville-Citizen.

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The delegate headquarters was housed in a recently purchased building—the former Asheville library—next to First Presbyterian Church. The building was partitioned in half. According to the Asheville Citizen “a rest room in blue and white (was) furnished with easy chairs, toilet accessories, etc.” for the Philatheas. The Baraca room had a telephone, post office and an “admirable kitchen” furnished with a gas range to prepare lunches for the delegates between sessions. Day meetings during the convention were split between two churches. Baracas met in First Presbyterian; Philatheas in the four-year-old Central Methodist Church.

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On Sunday morning June 20, there were services held at 11 and 3:30 at various churches. Downtown was filled with young people wearing blue and white badges and ribbons as they walked to services in churches all over town. In addition to Central Methodist and First Presbyterian, services were held at the Methodist Protestant Church, Ora Street Presbyterian, Haywood Street Methodist, West End Baptist, Christian Church, North Asheville Methodist, and First Baptist Church. A gathering of all the delegates took place at 8 p.m. in the city auditorium on Haywood Street.

First Baptist Church


Local photographer Herbert W. Pelton made a group photograph “directly after the morning sessions on June 21” of the attendees underneath the ivy-clad arches of Central Methodist. From the angle of the photo, it’s likely that Mr. Pelton elevated his camera in some manner. Perhaps using a ladder from across the street in front of First Presbyterian Church? Below you can see a number of the gathered delegates and read the message that Geraldine sent to Commerce, Georgia.

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Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room Board Member

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