In A Tale of Two Churches, Pt 2, I wrote about Zion Chapel, a church in Axtell, built in 1931 to be accessible for all disabled persons, decades before the ADA regulations of 1990. I thought this in itself was remarkable, and indeed it was. But then I learned something more today that expands on the story.
Today I discovered the masterminds behind building Zion Chapel were not the men, as I so easily assumed, but two women – Emmy Evald and Sister Julianne Holt – and the many women from the Lutheran churches who joined them in this remarkable building project.
Women led the way!
Women Led the Way
Emmy Evald was an extraordinary woman who graced the small community of Axtell, Nebraska!
A quick google search revealed she was friends with Susan B. Anthony – an abolitionist, leader for women’s rights, and founder of National Woman Suffrage Association.
In college Emmy roomed with Jane Addams, the social reformer and activist who was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931.
When Emmy visited Bethphage in the 1920s, a small frame structure built in 1917 was being used for church.
She was appalled at what she saw.
“[N]on-ambulatory people had to be carried manually up several steps to reach the front entrance of the church and … people who walked with difficulty strained themselves and were tugged by others to make it possible for them to join in worship.” 1
The two women went to work immediately with plans to remedy the situation. Julianne Holt would film the situation on the grounds at Axtell – in black and white, and without sound. The plan was to show the movie to churches around the nation to raise funds to build the new chapel.
Since movies were considered evil and sinful at this time, churches did not have projectors.
So, when Emmy Evald traveled, she took along a projector and the film to present the project for Zion Chapel.
She convinced the church leaders that showing the film “in God’s house” would in no way be suggesting that the church was “condoning movies in general.” (p 33, Heart of the Hill). She also narrated the scenes of the silent, black & white film while it played on the screen to many women’s missionary groups.
“[A]nother project of the women of the Church under the leadership of one who was several decades ahead of her time in terms of equality of the sexes, had been accomplished. The Scandinavian-inspired temple with its Medieval-Klintian architecture, its corbie-gables (which a visiting missionary once depicted as “stairsteps to heaven” which were traversed by Bethphage’s guardian angels) and its red tile roof was now in actuality the heart and core of Bethphage – the geographic center of the campus, and the symbol of the love which radiates from Christ through the arms of those who tenderly care for the very special people of Bethphage.” (p. 36).
You can read more about Emmy Evald here.
Or order the recently published book, Power, Passion, and Faith: Emmy Carlsson Evald, Suffragist and Social Activist, written by her great-grandaughter, Sharon M. Wyman, to get “a personal perspective on this important Swedish American female activist.” 2
- Heart of the Hill: A collection of vignettes about Bethphage Mission, by Robert A. Turnquist, p. 33.