A Cautionary Tale and an Inspiration? The “Life of Quaker Service” of Annice carter

Finishing the new book Annice Carter’s Life of Quaker Service, my first query was: What if Annice Carter had ever learned to make bagels? Could that have changed history in the Middle East?

Annice in Middle Eastern dress.

She had the training and experience. With her college degree in Home Economics, cooking, including for large groups, was one of her many skills. And she was well aware of the implications of food for building community in diverse cultural settings.

Besides being a cook, Annice was a teacher, then Jill-of-(almost) all-trades, and later Principal of the Friends Girls School in Ramallah Palestine (started by New England Friends in the 1880s, and established as an elite  school for Palestinian students).

She also had the opportunity: she first arrived in Ramallah 1929, just when the town was caught in the  growing conflict between Palestinian residents and Jewish refugee settlers, fighting each other and both fighting their provisional British rulers. Britain had been granted a mandate after World War One to manage Palestine on behalf of the British and French empires (with the rising USA in the background).

This is not a short story, so for an answer to my missing bagel query, we’ll have to come back to it. Meantime, we’ll take note that when Annice’s brother Walter Carter was asked by an unnamed grandson (would his first name have been Max?) about old rumors of a hushed-up Carter family scandal, the response was: “There are some things you’re better off not knowing.”

Better off or not, Walter’s mantra echoes through this book’s pages. That’s despite the fact that Max Carter and co-authors Betsy Alexander and Sarabeth Marcinko had more than 2000 letters from their great-aunt Annice Carter to work with, plus many articles and columns, memories and interviews. Withal, much about Annice remains – not exactly a mystery, but definitely unknown, or unsaid.

Hidden among the first of these gaps of silence are her motivations.

An initial suspect is simple escape: the authors acknowledge that after  being born in 1902, she had a “somewhat constrained youth,” on a farm in the mid-state village of Russiaville  Indiana, pronounced “Rooshaville” (population then about 600; double that today).

“Somewhat” may be an understatement: Family roots run deep in “Rooshaville”; but in the first decades of the 1900s, variety and fun, maybe not so much:

What passed for a social life for young Annice consisted largely of school and church-both in Russiaville, a mere half mile from the farm.

And there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two! Many of her teachers and her classmates were also Quakers. Religious activities in the public school were common, and although there were Quaker, Baptist, Christian Church, and Methodist congregations in town, they all shared a basic Protestant culture that was seamless between home and school.

Church made up the third ‘leg’ of Annice’s childhood experience.”

The Carter family wasn’t “poor,” but physical work was a family constant, starting with “chores” for children. Electricity was a generation away; horsepower for farm labor didn’t refer to diesel engines. And:

“The Carters’ home life was deeply influenced by the family’s adherence to the strict tenets of the [Indiana] Religious Society of Friends at the time. That meant morning devotions at the breakfast table, Bible reading at night, and family hymn singing. There would be no card playing with ‘face cards,’ as that was too closely associated with gambling. No going off to dances or other ‘Worldly’ amusements, either. And on Sundays, the ‘Sabbath’ was strictly observed. It was necessary to care for the animals, as on any day, but no other work was to be undertaken on the Lord’s Day. . . .

The “constraints” did not end with high school graduation: available paths for adult women were narrow: marriage/children headed the list; teacher; nurse; or missionary were the other acceptable options, unless one were to become a rebel, quit the farm and move to the big city, like Indianapolis.

Annice was not a rebel; well, not exactly. While always close to her family, she did cross off marriage from the list, which was a biggie. Early on she also wanted to be a nurse, but when her mother said a firm “No,” that was that.

Yet both her desire for nursing and its quashing are worth pondering: as a farm girl, Annice would have been familiar with the hospital-like sights of blood, birth, illness and death which are part of farm routine and its hazards. Maybe Annice saw more drama in that than the other paths. And did she grieve when that door was slammed in her face? There’s no sign of it in these pages.

And why was her mother so opposed? Perhaps just because it was too close to the outside world, its blood, heedless mating and other follies? Are there stories here that evoked in the authors the echo of Walter Carter’s advice, “There are some things you’re better off not knowing”?)

In any event, Annice instead soon enrolled in the newly opened Ball Teachers College (now Ball State University) in Muncie, about sixty miles from Russiaville. Her degree, awarded in 1927, was in Home Economics,  a major subject in those times. (When this reviewer enrolled at Colorado State University in 1960, that campus also had a College of Home Ec, with its own dean, building, programs — the whole nine yards. It lasted til 1982, then was rebranded “Human Resource Sciences”; not the same.)

From there, Annice taught school in elementary grades, mainly in the tiny farm village of Bloomingdale, near the Illinois state line; and circumstantial evidence points to her wanting to see more of the world than that.

Or maybe there was something else too: during Annice’s years in college, Muncie was caught smack in the middle of the heyday of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan—the state’s chapter was then the country’s largest, with peak membership estimates of up to half a million. Klansmen ran the city of Muncie (& others) and the state government for several years in the 1920s.

Poster for the 1923 July 4 KKK rally in Kokomo, near Russiaville, Indiana; the largest on record.

For that matter, her hometown of Russiaville was but a few miles from Kokomo, where over the fourth of July weekend in 1923, the Klan staged a multiday rally/festival– the largest on record– with a climactic rally attracting a crowd estimated at over 100,000. (Another Klan rally in Muncie itself reportedly drew 30,000.) A Muncie newspaper editor, George Dale, was bravely crusading against the Klan. He had to fend off boycotts, trumped up arrests, and a murder attempt for his efforts.

Muncie Post-Democrat Editor George Dale, who crusaded against the Klan while Annice was in college neaaeby.

Even closer, the head of the far-flung, Women’s Klan auxiliary was a well-known Indiana Quaker preacher, Daisy Douglas Barr. Friend Barr was not the only Hoosier Quaker pastor involved; the Klan made a point of giving free memberships and public donations to sympathetic pastors, often delivered mid-service by masked delegations in full regalia.

Which is to say, life in 1920s central Indiana meant Klan hoods could be glimpsed daily, in all directions. And more notoriety was to come:

In April 1925 (Annice was still in college), the Hoosier Klan’s Grand Dragon was one D. C. Stephenson. He had bragged of hobnobbing with presidents Harding and Coolidge, and loudly trumpeted his devotion to strict “family values.” But that month he was arrested and charged with kidnapping, raping, and murdering a young secretary, Madge Oberholtzer.

D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan, convicted murderer, scandal-monger.

Stephenson went on trial in Noblesville (forty miles from Muncie) In November; the case was sensational, lurid national news. Convicted and sent to prison, Stephenson soon began telling reporters about bribing state officials with KKK cash and other crimes, which loosed a years-long flood of scandal across the Indiana state government from the Governor’s office on down.

Quaker historians appear to have taken an oath of omertá about Indiana’s Klan saga and its many close Hoosier Quaker-Klan connections during Annice’s formative years. Thus there is not a word about any of all this pervasive background in this book. Yet one more point needs mentioning: the Klan’s1920s agenda  promoted white supremacy, but its major operational targets were Catholics, Jews, and other immigrants.

Daisy Douglas Barr, who was taunted as “Chief Kluckeress”: by anti-Klan editor George Dale. She also pastored at six Friends churches in Indiana.

Are readers today supposed to assume that all this went completely unnoticed in the area Friends churches? (One thinks not: chief Kluckeress Daisy Douglas Barr pastored for six of them in the state.) Or left ungossiped about in the Home Economics hallways at Ball Teachers College? (Unlikely, with a Klan member in one-third-to half of Hoosier households in those years.) Indiana state records show that there was even a Klan unit in sparse Parke county, where Annice taught school at Bloomindale.

In fact, after Stephenson’s spectacular public fall – its fallout continued to the end of the 1920s — most actual Klan members fled the organization (while retaining the basics of its political agenda, which reigns in Indiana until today). Is it far-fetched to speculate that Annice might also have wanted to get as far away from all that scandal and embarrassment as possible? It seems likely to this reviewer.

But where? Where was the refuge?

Simple: The mission field; it was very far away from the burning crosses. It was also an opening to the larger world for  a respectable single woman in those decades, as well as married couples.

And so it was:  Midwest Quaker mission work, both on-site in Palestine and Kenya, then around its Indiana headquarters, made up the substance of Annice’s career. She first arrived in Ramallah in 1929, at the Friends Girls School there (founded in the 1880s); and ultimately served five terms as staff and principal, extending to late 1967, almost forty years later.

She later recalled the early scene as the good old days. From a 1950 article:

“I would like for you to know some of our Palestinians today. The majority are Moslems and Jews. Before World War I they lived together in peace and harmony, and had friendly business dealings with each other. As time went on great numbers of Jewish immigrants poured into Palestine and tensions developed that tended to separate friends. A spirit of nationalism developed in each group.”

(Missing here is any reference to a generation of bloody anti-jewish pogroms spreading from Russia, which killed many and made two million or more European Jews refugees; those who “poured into” Palestine (many more went to the USA and the UK) were not on a lark, or vandals bent on wrecking the area’s peace and quiet, but trying to save their lives.

Their “nationalism” grew from generations of such persecutions. The Palestinians too had their own experiences of invasions and imperial oppression, plus long attachment to the Islamic faith which also sprang from the region. Annice  was right that it was a volatile mix.)

“Sometimes riots were instigated by the Jews,” Annice went on, “at other times by the Arabs. At last Jews and Arabs had no dealings together in the land that is dear to the heart of every Jew, Christian, and Moslem.

Palestine has been torn asunder and we Christians have understood so little of the problems of its peoples that we have allowed it to become a victim of political maneuvering. It is costly not to know our neighbors today.”

Costly indeed; and as one tiny molecule of this long-term tragedy, Annice seemed to have learned little about her new Jewish “neighbors,” beyond thoroughly and vocally rejecting their Zionist nationalism.

Her trajectory in the Middle East was interrupted three times: first by a brief stint (1932-34) teaching at Pacific College (now George Fox University) in Oregon. The authors speak of her low pay and a heavy workload there. (Not that mission pay was high or the work burden light in Ramallah!) But after 1933, Pacific College dealt with fallout from the Great Depression by withholding 40 percent of the already skimpy paychecks.

Annice was back in Palestine by 1937. Within a year she was writing home to say the local (and international) situation was “a boiling cauldron.” She was right, and the cauldron soon spilled over into the second world war.

The war did not deter her. But a family call did. She cut short her second tour in 1941, to answer a summons to care for her aging and infirm parents in Russiaville.

When she boarded a ship for the states, she became an unwilling floating speck on one of World War Two’s most titanic and dangerous fields of combat, the Battle of the Atlantic.

That struggle went on through the entire war. Pitting submarines and bombers against navy and merchant ships, the vast ocean became the graveyard for 3500 merchant ships, sunk along with almost 800 submarines. Its casualties exceeded 100,000.

Annice’s ship zigzagged warily to evade German submarines and their deadly torpedoes. They made it — with what are called in Kenya “traveling mercies.”

My guess: on the trip, Annice prayed a lot.

Her caregiving period lasted til the mid-1950s; her widowed mother passed in 1955. Then she returned to Ramallah in 1959, and except for a two-year reassignment in the Quaker mission in western Kenya, was there until 1967. (For space reasons, we regrettably must give the time in Kenya short shrift here.)

By then she was worn out, and often spoke of being fatigued.

The workload had always been strenuous; yet maybe Annice was also tired of war: in 1929, widespread massacres and fighting had broken between Palestinians and Jews; the conflict was still simmering when she first came. Her 1941 wartime voyage home was harrowing.

And not least, her last trip to Ramallah came in the wake of the devastating “Six Day War” in June 1967 (and Israeli capture of the West Bank, including Ramallah). Her call then was specifically to help the Friends Girls School recover from war damage and resume classes, if possible. (With Annice there, it was.)  And she was to help manage adjustment to the occupation.

Such ”adjusting” took many forms. A story now legend (two versions occur in the book; this is the more colorful) describes an encounter on a troubled autumn night when (according to narrator Donn Hutchison):

“an Israeli jeep screeched through the gate, and the soldiers started firing their guns into the tree tops, a show of force meant to intimidate the recently occupied.

Annice went out on the upstairs veranda in a flaming red robe . . . and asked what they wanted. When they declared that they were firing their guns into the trees, she told them, ‘I know that! Now stop it! You’re scaring my girls.’ She told them to turn around and leave, adding, ‘And close the gate after you!’

And they did.

When I asked her later how she had summoned the courage to confront heavily armed soldiers, she said that she did what she had to do, but her knees were knocking under her bathrobe.”

More than her knees were knocking in the darkness. Indeed, for ten-plus winters they (and the rest of Annice) had shivered through freezing Ramallah nights in damp unheated stone buildings. (Thank God, she said, for hot water bottles.)

By 1967, she was also 65; between the wars, the winters and the endless work, she was entitled to be tired. And warm.   Besides, after so many years of unconscionably exploitive mission salaries, she needed to find some regular employment at home for long enough to qualify for social security.

And not least, by then the times and the culture had changed, even for sheltered Ramallah schoolgirls.

The authors report that one of Annice’s first letters to the Friends Mission Board on this final  assignment declared she had never “been more disheartened there, about the Girls and Boys School than she was then. But this discouragement wasn’t about the very trying times under military occupation [after the Six-Day War]. Annice was upset that one of the new teachers was wearing a mini-skirt, the principal of the Boys School was serving alcohol in his home, and staff were doing laundry on Sundays.” (Rumor had it the Boys principal had also obtained a fancy hi fi record player. It is unconfirmed whether he was playing rock and roll on it.)

But laundry on Sundays! 

Annice had often said she had been born fifty years too soon. So yes, it was time to go home. Back in Indiana, Annice helped manage a Friends retirement center, before finally becoming a resident in one. She remained active in mission support work as well, until her death at 86, in 1988.

At a revival in her late teens, we are told, Annice had come forward and “consecrated her life” to “Christian service.” Her long career in missions was more about home economics than theology: cooking and teaching cooking. Sewing and teaching sewing. She wrote numerous articles for mission publications. Yet while staunchly “Christian,” she didn’t write about theology or doctrine, matters which were stirring squabbles among many pastoral Friends back home.

Indeed, the authors more than once say that despite all the available materials, they had difficulty in detecting what Annice’s religious views may have been, or how they might have evolved.

Perhaps so; and I’m pretty sure her brother Walter would here pipe up to repeat, “There are some things you’re better off not knowing.”

But when it comes to the Middle East, Walter, Arab and Israeli, Muslim and Jew, I don’t think we are better off not knowing.

My reasons are as near as the morning newspaper  headlines  or a  glowing cellphone screen. Annice and Walter (and some other Friends) may not have been interested in all that theology — but as the saying goes, those theologies (and their fierce advocates) were interested in them. And us.

Theology involves ideas; and ideas have consequences. In the Middle East, these consequences were part of the terrible wars that dogged Annice’s steps there; above all the clashes between advocates of divergent forms of Jewish and Islamic theology.

And Annice Carter, while no theologian, had theological convictions about them.

For one thing, as she made plain, she did not like the ideas behind Zionism. As the authors note:

“Annice was disappointed to encounter fellow Friends and Christians in the United States who supported Zionist policies. In one letter she wrote: “I believe that Jews are a part of God’s creation and have the same opportunity to become God’s children through faith and works as have all other people.”

Note: “part of God’s creation” with “the same opportunity to become God’s children through faith and works as have all other people.”

That’s a theology, Friends, in sum, its basic outline is: Jews are God’s “creatures,” but not God’s “children.” But they can become that, via faith and works, which means, in the evangelical-influenced stream, by accepting Christ and becoming Christians.

In this frame, Jews were once God’s children (in the “Old Testament”, where they looked for a “Messiah”). But, the founding Christian theologians said, when the Messiah actually came (Jesus), the Jews as a religious group rejected him; and even, in the longstanding mainstream version, killed him. As a result, God had rejected Jews and Judaism and made Christians his new “children” and chosen people.

Scholars call this “supercessionist theology”: Christianity and Christians have superceded (i. e., replaced) Judaism and Jews as God’s true “children” and chosen people.

The sentiment is as old as the “New” Testament, stated both by Jesus and Paul:

John 8: 37 . . .47: “I know,” John has Jesus say, “that ye are Abraham”s seed: yet ye seek to kill me… I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye also do the things which ye heard from your father… Ye are of your father the devil…”

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:14: You suffered the same persecutions from the people of your own country as those churches did from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and who have persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God. They are enemies of the whole human race 16 because they try to keep us from telling people who are not Jewish how they can be saved. The result is that those Jews always commit as many sins as possible. So at last they are receiving ⌞God’s⌟ anger.

[There are many more similar quotes.]

Most of Annice’s comments in the book referring to Arabs and the Arab settlements in Palestine reflect or presume this supercessionist frame. It was also behind her stock retorts to those, either Jewish or supporters of Jewish settlement (so-called “Christian Zionists”) who believed the state of Israel fulfilled biblical prophecies:

“When she would be confronted back in the U.S. about her sympathy for the Palestinians and told that ‘God gave the land to the jews,’ Annice would inevitably respond, ‘It came with conditions that have not been met!’”

(What were the “conditions”? One suspects they can be summed up as: “Justice flowing like water, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Amos 5:24; echoed by Martin Luther King Jr.)

Or, “She would be asked whether she believed in prophecy, and answered that if, indeed, the prophecy about the jews’ return to Palestine were correct, she didn’t think the time had yet come for its fulfillment.”

These were snappy comebacks, biblically literate and apt, especially when made to shift the focus to the many injustices suffered by Palestinians. But for Annice they meant more. She acknowledged  that, “I do not wish to give the idea of being anti-Jewish, although I am definitely anti-Zionist. . . . I believe that a political movement such as Zionism has no place in religious activities.”

This  last is particularly unpersuasive: “political movements” were (and are) all around Israel/Palestine, clad in the garb of at least three major, active and competitive religions.

Annice may not have wished to give the idea her views were anti-jewish; but it poked through the supercessionist tropes and quotes. And while one can’t claim proof from silence, it is eerie that in this account of five tours of dedicated work over nearly four decades in a land torn by conflicts between Arabs and Jews, one looks in vain for anything about the very live history of antisemitic persecution during much of her tenure that gave rise to the Zionist impulse.

After all, the 1929 riots, whose aftermath Annice witnessed, were very much a result of waves of violent persecution of Jews in Europe, which made millions refugees. And in her 1938-41 term, there is no mention of the persecution in Germany and other fascist countries which sent ever more refugees in all directions. And then, when back again in 1957, not a word about the Holocaust that came out of that “boiling cauldron.” Just like the silence about the Ku Klux Klan; nothing about Jewish persecution as a factor in the agonies of Palestine.

And No, Walter, we are not better off not knowing here.

There is also no explanation as to why, as the authors note, “even after her many years of service in Palestine, she knew only a minimal amount of Arabic, and little about Islam. When Jordan insisted, during her tenure as principal in the ’60s, that Muslim students be taught Islam at the school. She adamantly opposed it . . . .” She even argued vigorously that Quakers should close the schools rather than do so. [Nevertheless, the Schools stayed open and Islam began to be taught.]

All of which brings me back to my cryptic mention of bagels: Annice prepared and presented scores, perhaps hundreds of community meals in her mission years, for the schools, and many conferences, including international gatherings. She understood their importance, not only for nutrition, but as community-building events; heck, didn’t Indiana Quakers invent pot luck suppers??

This feature was as real within the Arab cultural frame as the Jewish or Christian ones, all in close proximity. But then why didn’t she learn about it, and use it in an interfaith way in Palestine?

Bagels might be a trivial item. But the point is not. By this book’s account, Annice did not learn much if anything about Judaism, especially not anything which took her outside the confines of the supercessionist theology which historians have shown to  be one of the deepest roots of the ancient curse of antisemitism.

Indeed, In 1980, in her last decade, she took a long international retirement trip, one of the highlights of which was attendance at the famous Passion Play in Oberammergau Germany. The play draws enormous crowds, and has been performed once a decade since 1634 – and for centuries, it has numbered among modern European history’s most virulently anti-Semitic texts.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey: a scene from Oberammergau, 1900.

“Hitler, who attended in the 1930s, said: “It is vital that the Passion Play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the times of the Romans.” Recognizing the play’s enormous propagandistic value, the Nazi leader even considered underwriting a Germany-wide tour “so that the whole country could be inflamed against the Jews,” reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time.

As late as 1980, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, then the American Jewish Committee’s interreligious affairs director, called Oberammergau’s Passion “one of the most anti-Semitic presentations anywhere in the world.”

Since 1980, after Annice’s visit, the passion play has been substantially revised to remove many of the antisemitic elements while staying true to the crucifixion story.

For that matter, even the Catholic church, which for centuries was a major font of antisemitic hate, has repented substantially. As Pope Francis put it in a major statement of 2013:

We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.

— Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (2013)

But then, Annice was who she was; she did her best. I don’t claim I would have done any better; I hate sleeping in unheated buildings, and can;t make a bagel either. So  as the authors say, her story is “both a cautionary tale and an inspiration.”

And the life and death dramas of antisemitism and the Palestinian cries for justice (and the clashing cries for Jewish elimination) continue to play out, and take their heavy toll.

How do we speak and act to slow and stop the deadly cycle of hate and religious violence from continuing  another turn?

That’s something else, Walter, that we’d be much better off knowing about.

3 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale and an Inspiration? The “Life of Quaker Service” of Annice carter”

  1. Hi Chuck. a comment about the Klan in Indiana..NOW we see the Klan ONLY as anti-Black, with cross burnings and lynchings common. At the TIME, the Klan had other hooks to encourage membership and attendance at rallies. Anti-immigrant rhetoric was couched in “saving good American jobs for Americans.” There was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment expressed as pro-Prohibition, as protestants (mostly) used grape juice & Catholics real wine for communion. Poor farmers were supported when banks tried to foreclose; the Klan was active in supporting the farmers. Anti-Jewish messages centered around “Christian Nationalism.” And since Jews were also considered by most to be non-white and aliens, these messages merged into one another. Anti-black messages were mostly: these folks will be coming up north to take your jobs and lower everyone’s wages. Since most small town midwesterners had never seen a black person, the hooks other than anti-black sentiment were more important in spreading the Klan message in these rural communities.

    1. Thanks, Roena, you’re quite right about how the 1920s KKK spilled more of their bile against Jews, Catholics and other immigrants than they did against Blacks (tho the Klan did indeed also uphold white supremacy). I homed in on this in a 2016 blog post, here: https://wp.me/p5FGIu-1SB which featured a 1920s KKK cartoon showing their version of an anti-immigrant WALL (remember “Build The WALL”?) which was shown to be blocking a Catholic bishop, an Irishman, and a “Red” (aka Jew) — but not a Black person. This history needs to be better known (PS. Alas, lots of Quaker connections with the 1920s Klan too. There’s a post about that here: https://wp.me/p5FGIu-134 )

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