Melish, John Howard, 1874-1969

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John Howard Melish was born in Milford, Ohio in 1874; attended the University of Cincinnati, Harvard Divinity School, and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass.; became associate rector of Christ Church in Cincinnati in 1900; and came to Brooklyn to serve as the rector for the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1904. In 1915-16, he gained some fame within the church for his efforts to give women the right to vote in the annual parish meetings of the Episcopal Church. He was also a fraternal delegate to the Central Trades Labor Council of Greater New York and Chairman of the Brooklyn Committee for Better Housing. His son, William Howard Melish, was born in Brooklyn in 1910; attended Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, Jesus College at Cambridge University, and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass.; began his ministry at Christ Church in Cincinnati in 1935, and joined his father as assistant rector at the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1938. At various times he served as the Chairman of the Cincinnati Forum Committee, Vice-President of the Kings County American Labor Party, and Chairman of the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship. It was this last position in particular that led to the famed "Melish Controversy."

The Attorney General of the United States in 1948 labeled the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship a subversive organization. Soon after, the vestry sought to persuade the elder Melish to dismiss his son from the position of associate minister because they considered "that certain outside activities of the Assistant Rector were most detrimental to the interests of Holy Trinity Church." The elder Melish declined, and the vestry attempted to remove them both. The ensuing battle involved the parishioners of Holy Trinity church and Bishop James Pernette DeWolfe, the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Long Island, and wound up going to the New York Supreme Court twice in the course of the ensuing decade. Increasing conflict between the bishop's new rector and some parishioners brought about the closing of the church in 1957, by order of the Bishop. After a few years spent in an effort to re-open Holy Trinity, William Howard Melish was called to be the rector of Grace Church, in Corona, Queens. Holy Trinity was eventually re-opened by the congregation of St. Ann's, and was henceforth known as the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. John Howard Melish lived in the rectory of Holy Trinity Church until his death in 1969.

A significant portion of the material in the collection came from Anna May Mason, who was a longtime parishioner in the Church of the Holy Trinity and active in its committees. Among these was the Trinity House Committee, of which Mason was Chairman during the 1950s, responsible for overseeing the operation of a co-ed residence sponsored by the Church. Mason was born in 1876 and baptized in Holy Trinity, and when she died in 1969, her funeral was held in the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. During the period of the Melish Controversy, she was the most senior member of the parish and a supporter of the Melishes. She was a co-defendant or co-petitioner with the Melishes in at least some of their court cases.

The Church of the Holy Trinity, now known as the Church of Saint Ann's and the Holy Trinity, is located in Brooklyn Heights at 157 Montague Street. It is well known in architectural circles for its Gothic Revival style and stained glass windows by William Jay Bolton, thought to be the earliest stained glass windows in the United States, circa 1822.

From the guide to the John Howard Melish, William Howard Melish and Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity collection, Bulk, 1947-1958, 1904-1985, bulk 1947-1958, (Brooklyn Historical Society)

Brooklyn's Church of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1840. Its distinct Gothic Revival building, designed by noted church architect Minard LeFevre, opened for worship in 1847 at the corner of Montague and Clinton Streets in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. Over the course of the next century, the Church was regarded as one of Brooklyn's esteemed Episcopalian institutions. However, in the late 1940s, controversy erupted surrounding the Church's Head Rector, John Howard Melish, and his son, Assistant Rector William Howard Melish. The controversy began when, in light of the onset of increased political tensions between the United States and the communist Soviet Union, members of the Church vestry became suspicious of William Howard Melish's supposed involvement in communist activities. The vestry urged John Howard Melish to dismiss his son as Assistant Rector, and when the elder Melish refused, the vestry attempted to remove them both. The conflict escalated over the next decade and was even taken to the New York State Supreme Court. It ended with the closing of the Church in 1957 by order of the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Long Island. After the Church's closing, its building remained vacant for over a decade until 1969, when it was purchased by the congregation of St. Ann's Church, the oldest Episcopalian parish in Brooklyn. Upon reopening the building, St. Ann's renamed itself as St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and as of 2010, St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity continues to serve the Brooklyn community at this location.

Sources: Brooklyn Historical Society. "Collection Highlights." Accessed November 12, 2010. http://brooklynhistory.org/library/collection_melish.html National Park Service. "Listing of National Historic Landmarks by State." Accessed November 12, 2010. http://www.nps.gov/nhl/designations/Lists/NY01.pdf St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. "Our Building." Accessed November 12, 2010. http://saintannandtheholytrinity.org/history.html

From the guide to the Church of the Holy Trinity collection, 1851-1958, (Brooklyn Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Cutler, Wolcott, 1891-1965. Papers, 1901-1964 (inclusive). Harvard University, Divinity School Library
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Guide to the Daily Worker and Daily World Photographs Collection, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Church of the Holy Trinity (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.). Records, 1928-1969. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Church of the Holy Trinity collection, 1851-1958 Brooklyn Historical Society
creatorOf John Howard Melish, William Howard Melish and Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity collection, Bulk, 1947-1958, 1904-1985, bulk 1947-1958 Brooklyn Historical Society
referencedIn Cutler, Wolcott. Papers, 1901-1964. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
Brooklyn Heights (New York, N.Y.) |x Intellectual life
Brooklyn Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Church history
Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x History |v Archival resources.
Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Church history
Subject
Anglican church buildings
Anglican church buildings
Anti-communist movements
Church anniversaries
Church controversies
Church controversies
Church controversies
Church finance
Church management
Church membership
City churches
City clergy
Cold War
Cold War
Cold War
Episcopalians
Episcopalians
Episcopalians United States
Religious institutions
Stained glass windows
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1874-10-12

Death 1969

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