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Guide to the John Howard Melish, William Howard Melish and Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity collection ARC.050

Brooklyn Historical Society
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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Gabriel Farrell and Leilani Dawson, with additional description and input to Archivists' Tookit by Jesse Brauner and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on January 15, 2021
eng using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical note

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.