Not long ago, before a presentation of Inwood History Night, regular attendee Michael Frank turned up with a massive 1922 edition of Bromley’s atlas of New York. Scanning through sturdy volume of thirty-two beautifully hand colored linen plates, I noticed the outline of a structure located not far the site of the tennis courts in today’s Inwood Hill Park. Printed in tiny letters were the words “P.E. Mission of the Redeemer.”
Intrigued, I delved into the Inwood files to discover what I could about the long forgotten church.
I soon discovered that a vicar named Charles A. Woodward led the tiny Episcopal Church. Woodward, an unimposing and congenial fellow who was often mistaken for an academic, lived a short walk away in an apartment located inside 154 Vermilyea Avenue.
While the church had a thriving flock of nearly 200 members, the Mission of the Redeemer was perhaps best known for its Sunday school whose roll numbered some 160 students.
Rev. Woodward, who had never married, seemed to have had a way with children. So much so, that in 1918 the vicar adopted a fourteen-year-old Canadian boy named George Frederick Maxey. The fact that Woodward was a confirmed bachelor and the boy’s mother lived just blocks away on West 207th Street didn’t seem to alarm the courts. According to published accounts, the two became close after the boy’s father died and Woodward adopted the teen to ensure he received a proper education.
Eventually, I learned, the Church of the Redeemer was absorbed into Holy Trinity Church on Cumming Street.
According to a history posted on Holy Trinity’s website, “In 1927, Holy Trinity agreed to merge with The Mission of the Redeemer in the Inwood neighborhood of northern Manhattan at Seaman Avenue and Isham Street. The simple wood frame chapel stood where the tennis courts of Inwood Hill Park are now located.”
And the story might have ended there, were it not for the discovery of a 1921 newspaper article describing one of the more progressive enterprises I have ever heard associated with a religious organization.
The below article, printed in the New York Evening Telegram, presents a showboating young Reverend who, for one evening, transformed his house of worship into a catwalk where church going women strutted their stuff alongside professional models to help raise money for Woodward’s growing flock.
That the event took place in Inwood didn’t surprise me in the least.
The New York Evening Telegram
Sunday, October 9, 1921
Pastor’s Fashion Show Held in Church Wins Approval of the Women
The Rev. C. A. Woodward, Episcopal Rector, Shows Latest Styles with Aid of Professional Models and Parishioners
By Elisabeth Smith
Gospel and gowns, the chancel and clothes.
A strange combination but one not found incompatible by the Rev. C. A. Woodward, the Episcopalian rector of the Mission of the Redeemer at 208th street and Seaman avenue, Inwood.
All doubting Thomases, both masculine and feminine, would have been convinced had they been in attendance at the fashion show staged this week by church members and professional models in the little church overlooking the Spuyten Duyvil waterway that separates Manhattan from the Bronx.
In these latter days of half portion skirts, feminine apparel keeps the dominies (clergymen) of the country busier than a hydra-headed elephant in a peanut factory.
Pulpits ring with the evils of clothes that make the bathing suit look to its laurels, and of the melodramas in ankles that plunge the country into a state of morality on a level with that of Babylon just about a week before the fall.
Scheme Causes Sensation
Small wonder is it, then, that the Inwood, Dyckman and Van Cortlandt districts are enjoying a regular Tabasco sauce sensation over Inwood’s peppy pastor’s novel scheme for raising money for his thriving young Sunday school.
Out in the prairie provinces they are still resorting to the tried and trusty oyster supper and the merry bazaar and the ice cream and cake “social” as a means of luring the lucre into the ever-empty church coffers.
The Rev. Mr. Woodward is showing them that in the world’s biggest city they do things up in a regular way, however.
Are the members of the congregation shocked at the Rev. Mr. Woodward’s up-to-the-minute methods? Not a bit of it. If you had happened into the meeting of the Women’s Guild held weekly in the portable little church that boasts of sixty by twenty-four measurements and stained glass windows that have been achieved by means of pasted paper angels and harps you would have seen that they were backing their pastor and backing him strong.
“I think it’s just perfectly splendid,” announced Mrs. Marie MacPherson, the president of the guild, as she diligently snipped away with her scissors on the work she was doing. “I’m sure that we want to know all about the fashions, and what could be a better way of finding out than having a fashion show right here that we can all go to?”
What Every Woman Wants to Know
“Yes, that’s exactly what I think,” chimed in pretty little Mrs. Carrie Grant, the guild’s treasurer, who had just come in nattily attired in black sweater and white hat. “Every woman wants to know all about the styles.”
“I hear they are going to show beautiful pieces of lingerie,” contributed one young matron. “I understand that the show is to open with a boudoir tableau.”
Her remark about the lingerie was frowned upon by another woman, who added that she hoped they would show plenty of clothes instead of too few. Her comment was in turn frowned on by a motherly looking middle-aged woman of portly proportions and glasses, who replied with a twinkle in her eyes that she for one thought it was going to be perfectly fine.
Oh, yes, taking it all in all, the Rev. Mr. Woodward’s congregation is backing him and backing him strong. It might be unkind to suggest that his being a fancy-free bachelor had anything to do with the feminine approbation that the show is meeting with.
In his charming little apartment, furnished with rare pieces of antique furniture, at No. 154 Vermilyea avenue, the Rev. Mr. Woodward explained later all about the show.
The Rev. Mr. Woodward, by the way, doesn’t measure up to the regulation ideas of what a dyed-in-the-wool clergyman should look like. He might be a philosopher or a young professor or a whimsical young author, but not even Pinkerton would take him for a rector.
Show Seems Most Logical
You may have considered the Rev. Mr. Woodward’s fashion show held in his church as ridiculous or sacrilegious, according to your turn of mind, but after you have listened to him explain all about it, it seems the most the most logical thing in the world.
“Everybody knows that when you are feeling down at the heel as far as clothes go, everything is lost,” explained Rev. Mr. Woodward. “According to the laws of psychology, if you are properly dressed, and suitably for the occasion, you feel better spiritually and every other way.
“We people up here do not go about so much as some others may do, but when we do we want to go dressed in the best possible style. The show told us just what that style is.
“I first conceived the idea from a fashion show that was held by a church in Ridgewood, New Jersey. This was held in a private house, and the only models were church members. We have branched out, however.
“The show was arranged by Mrs. Claire J. Brandes, who has a shop at No. 571 West 207th street. She has only a small shop, but she has some very attractive gowns there. Albert Alfrandl, a designer of Mona dresses, No. 105 Madison avenue, also assisted in the running of the show.
All Kinds of Clothes
“We exhibited everything at the show from negligees to evening gowns. There were also riding habits and sport clothes. Play clothes for children, children’s school clothes and party clothes were also shown.
“The show opened with a tableau in the lady’s boudoir. There were three women seated at” —the Rev. Mr. Woodward struggled for a moment for the word—“at whatever it is that they sit down to comb their hair in front of,” he concluded a little lamely. When I suggested the words “dressing table” he thanked me gratefully.
“Everything in the church was all switched around for the party,” he continued presently. “The aisle down the middle was used as a runway, and the seats were used to face it.
“The proceeds of the show are to go to the Sunday school. I can think of no better way to spend money than for our children, on whom the future of the entire country depends. We have a Sunday school of about a hundred and sixty, which is large for the size of the congregation.
“If our church were a sanctified building it would have been different. In reality, however, it is merely a parish house. Before we were here we held our services in a motion picture house, where pictures were shown after the morning service. In the spring we hope to build a regular church. We have about two hundred members, all of whom are of fine Anglo-Saxon ancestry. The church itself seats only about a hundred and forty. At special services at Christmas and Easter many of those present are obliged to stand.”
“Do you condemn the present short skirt?” I asked, switching the conversation back to the fashion show.
Approves Short Skirts
“No,” he answered. “I can not say that I do. Anything that makes for comfort should not be condemned. I think that they are decidedly comfortable, practical and sanitary. I think clothes should be plain and well made in all cases. This is of more importance than whether or not they have a short skirt or a low neck.”
We’re like the congregation. We’re backing the Rev. Mr. Woodward every time.