Besides building a church and school in Chicago, Moody secured property in Northfield, Massachusetts. With the help of his prosperous supporters, the increasingly famous evangelist bought land and erected buildings near his birthplace where Mother Moody lived until her death a few days before her ninety-first birthday in 1896.
Because Dwight and Emma Moody and their three children lived humbly and frugally in Chicago or with Mother Moody in Massachusetts, there was never a hint of Moody personally profiting from these funds. Always careful to spend as little as possible and thereby use more resources for “the work,” funds materialized and able directors helped Moody launch three schools in Northfield. First came the Northfield Seminary for Young Women. Moody’s desire was to provide college preparatory education for lower-economic-class girls in New England, who, on their own, would never be able to get the quality education required to attend a New England college. By autumn 1879 the seminary opened for young women who were given scholarships from funds provided by philanthropists. At the Northfield Seminary, young women studied liberal arts and sciences from a decidedly Christian worldview that was enriched by classes in Bible, church history, and theology.
The Northfield School produced so many able young women—most of whom headed to college and the mission field—that the vision expanded to offer a similar school for young men. In the early 1880s, Mount Herman opened its doors for boys, and the dormitory and classes were filled with socially and economically disadvantaged young men. What became a remarkable distinctive of both the Boys’ School and Northfield women’s seminary were their racial diversity. Black, brown, and yellow-skinned men and women attended these schools, and Christian speakers and preachers—black, white, and Asian—ascended the pulpits and podiums of both schools. Such diversity was unknown in most schools in the United States at that time.
To complement the Chicago Bible School and the two preparatory seminaries in Northfield, Mr. Moody felt constrained to launch one more school. During his preaching tours all over New England and the northeast in the late 1870s and 1880s, Moody discovered a class of women he wanted to help. Typically they were rural women with little or no formal schooling. They had committed their lives to Christ and his kingdom at one of Moody’s meetings and soon thereafter felt called to foreign or home missions. To be sure there was a growing demand for women to serve in foreign missions, and there was a pressing need for women to minister in America’s growing cities. Countless urban churches were calling for women to do evangelism and house-to-house personal work among the urban poor. Moody wanted to connect the women called to serve with the cities needing workers.
The Northfield Seminary was no option for these women, many of whom were barely literate; furthermore, because they were already in their twenties, thirties, or forties, they would never have meshed with the Northfield Seminary culture. The Chicago Bible Institute was certainly an option, but it only had room for 250—and it was [always] full. Also, it was a thousand miles away from most of the women seeking help.
Moody often prayed and said, “Lord Jesus I wish I could look into your face and ask you what I should do. Please help me equip these folks you have selected as ‘chosen vessels.’” Invariably the faithful evangelist and disciple maker would get a nudge or an illumination. This time he felt led to go to the manager of “The Northfield,” a hotel where well-to-do Christians went for summer holidays and Bible conferences. “The Northfield” remained vacant during the tourist off season, from October to March. Moody asked the manager if he could rent the three-story, red-brick structure that was graced on three sides with lounging verandas overlooking large lawns and gardens. The spacious hotel with its well-appointed rooms, complete with large windows, draperies, beds, writing desks, and comfortable furniture, was only used between April and September.
The manager of “The Northfield” knew Mr. Moody well. Likewise he shared the preacher’s desire to see disciples trained who could reach unchurched people. Soon an arrangement was finalized, and in October 1890 fifty-six women from eleven states and seven Christian denominations arrived for six months of in-depth training in English Bible, Christian doctrine, and practical theology, as well as music, nursing, cooking, sewing, and hygiene. By the time of Mr. Moody’s death in 1899, more than seven hundred women had completed one to four terms at the Northfield Bible Training School, a Bible and vocational institution. There they were prepared to do personal work that included teaching Scripture to adults and children. They also learned to pray, make clothes for the needy, and prepare food for the sick. Quite astonishingly, this was done without purchasing a building or establishing an endowment. Instead, people of means were asked to help underwrite the hundred dollars per term that the students were charged, because few, if any, had the means to fully pay their own way.
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