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Synod Youth Conferences of the 1930s-40s

November 2012

The summer months on the Presbyterian College campus are not as quiet as one might imagine.  These days we host Girl’s State, Business Week, Montreat’s Junior High Conference, band and various sports camps, and four weeks of our own CHAMPS program.  All this activity keeps the college staff busy until the return of our students in August; however, summer programs are not new to our campus.  Last month, a question about an old photograph found among the papers of a Summerville woman brought the Young People’s Conferences of the 1930s and 1940s to our attention.

By the summer of 1935, the country was beginning to show slow progress in recovery from the Great Depression.  Emerging from those dismal days, Presbyterian College hosted the first Young People’s Conference sponsored by the Synod of South Carolina in June of 1935.

As stated by Ben Hay Hammet in The Spirit of PC,

Synod youth conferences staged at Presbyterian College were among the most popular summertime activities for South Carolina high schoolers.  In a rather restricted society before the era of youth mobility, these well-supervised programs offered week-long opportunities for boys and girls to stay in college dormitories and use the recreational facilities in a summer-camp type fellowship that also included religious instruction.  Many lifelong friendships were formed at these conferences which attracted up to 300 youths each year.  In addition, the program also introduced PC to many future students.

Young People’s Conference at PC’s Old Bailey Memorial Stadium, June 11, 1936
Young People’s Conference at PC’s Old Bailey Memorial Stadium, June 11, 1936

In 1936, Doris Mae Singletary of Charleston attended the second annual Young People’s Conference held on our campus.  Doris later married David T. Anderson, Sr. of Summerville who graciously allowed us to use the photograph above. It was found among Doris’s papers after she passed away this summer.  The family wanted to know if the photograph was taken on the Presbyterian College campus.

Most PC folks will recognize the location in the photograph as the stands of the Old Bailey Memorial Stadium at the center of our campus, now serving as PC’s lacrosse field.  The Clinton Chronicle from June 20, 1935, provided additional information about these conferences stating that an intermediate conference preceded the youth conference and that “enrollment reached 325, the very largest it is possible to comfortably accommodate on the campus.  The conference offers to young people a week of fine fellowship, inspiration and recreation.  Its aim is to lead young people into an intimate relationship to Christ and loyal service to Him.

Doris Mae Singletary, age thirteen, third row center, circled
Doris Mae Singletary, age thirteen, third row center, circled

The headband worn by each child in the photograph above displays the name of a Native American tribe.  Further information from the Clinton Chronicle of June 18, 1936, states, “the conferences, for purposes of administration and development of leadership, are divided into ‘tribes,’ each bearing an Indian name.

Close inspection shows the Choctaw, Mohawk, Catawba, and Oconee tribal names; although not politically correct by today’s standards, this would not have been unusual in the 1930s.  In addition, the back of Doris’s old photograph shows signatures and hometowns of fellow campers, a young girl’s summer keepsake from an enjoyable week at Presbyterian College.