by Mohan Hasan, High School Student History Intern
On April 7, 1921, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) Board of Trustees convened a luncheon to officially appoint Mrs. Samuel Thorne, Jr. as head of its Women’s Council, a new branch of the Institute that would focus on fundraising and organizing cultural events for seafarers at 25 South Street. Additionally, a network of women’s volunteer groups from churches all over the New York metropolitan area came together under SCI’s Central Council to donate knit clothes and ditty bag items for distribution to seafarers. Many women joined this network because they had family members at sea. Others were inspired by the United States merchant marine’s heroic contributions during World War I.
SCI’s Women’s Council grew exponentially over the next two decades. During World War II, the Council organized an effort that collected 12,381 sweaters, socks and other woolen articles for American merchant mariners at war. Additionally, the “Women’s Crew” made 5,736 sets of linens for the 1,600 beds at 25 South Street. SCI also received and distributed donations of Christmas boxes, care packages, games, books and overcoats.
In addition to collecting and distributing knit items, SCI’s Women’s Council also had a big role in developing fundraising events that featured New York City’s many cultural charms. Among its many fundraisers, the Women’s Council sponsored a production of “My Fair Lady” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ on June 6, 1964, to raise money for a chapel at SCI’s new center in Port Newark, opened in 1961. The play starred Michael Evans and Margot Moser, selling tickets priced between $2.03 and $4.90.
In 1965, the Women’s Council sponsored an exhibit of the work of artist Woldemar Neufield, featuring his paintings of the East River. Among many esteemed guests, the Bishop of New York, the Rt. Rev. J. Stuart Wetmore, and his predecessor the Rt. Rev. Charles F. Boynton attended. In 1970, the Council held a benefit luncheon on Governor’s Island with more than 200 people in attendance. Back at 25 South Street, the women organized a “Nautical Bridge Party” for which the building was decorated to look and feel like the hull of a ship.
Events like these have been a staple of SCI for many years. This November, SCI will host its annual Gala and Auction at the New York Yacht Club to support the Christmas at Sea program. For more information, email [email protected] or visit seamenschurch.org/special-events