Presbyterian history buffs and researchers now have access to a wealth of archival materials available for the first time at the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) here.

The newly available historical materials ― the result of a grant project designed to reveal “Hidden Collections” in a number of Philadelphia archives ―  include personal accounts of Presbyterian mission work in the Congo, Latin America and Korea; religious media in the United States from the early 1800s to the 1990s; and the life and work of Maggie Kuhns, a Presbyterian who founded the “Gray Panthers.”

Funding for the massive project came from the Mellon Foundation and was administered by the Council of Library and Information Resources. Dan Cavanaugh, a library school student at Drexel University and Devin Manzullo-Thomas, a public history student at Temple University, worked with David Staniunas and Bill Brock of PHS and other members of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) to process the “hidden collections.”

In a talk to PACSCL, Manzullo-Thomas described how the Congo papers “underscore issues of race, gender and justice in the Congo. The collection documents the lives of Presbyterian missionaries Lachlan Vass I, Lachlan Vass II and Winnfred Kellersberger Vass. Various Vass family members served in the Congo from 1898-1910 and 1940-1970.

The collection includes photographs and letters to describe the efforts of Lachlan Vass II and others “to end atrocities committed against Congolese workers by the colonial regime of Belgium’s King Leopold II.

Other missionary collections prepared by the grant team include the Crane Family Papers, documenting the missionary work of Paul S. Crane and Sophie Montgomery Crane in Korea from 1947-1969; the Stanley Rycroft Papers from his tenure as secretary for Latin America for the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. from 1950-1966; and the papers of Philip Sheeder Landes, who served as a missionary in Brazil from 1915-1954.

The “Hidden Collections” grant project also improved access to the Converse Family Papers and the Donald Grey Barnhouse Papers.

The Converse materials document the personal and professional lives of the family dynasty that published America’s oldest religious weekly, The Christian Observer, from its inception in 1840 to its closure in 1976.

The Barnhouse Papers document the career of a leading Presbyterian preacher and author who pioneered religious radio broadcasting. Barnhouse served as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1927-1960.

The largest collection processed by the grant project team ― more than 600 cubic feet of materials ― was the Religious News Service (now Religion News Service or RNS) Records from the 1930s to the 1990s. Because RNS has always been committed to bias-free reporting on the entire religious landscape in the U.S., the collection “contains a wealth of information about Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Orthodox events and trends in this country and around the world,” said PHS in releasing the materials.

The grant project improved access to the papers of southern pastor, evangelist and artist McKendree Robbins Long and social activist Maggie Kuhn.

Long (1888-1976) served former Presbyterian Church in the U.S. congregations in North Carolina and Georgia before becoming a full-time evangelist in 1925. He became renowned for employing his early training as an artist to illustrate or “illuminate” many of his writings and presentations.

Kuhn (1905-199), who pioneered social justice advocacy in the church, was most famous for founding the “Gray Panthers” at age 65 after the Presbyterian Church forced her to retire from the denomination’s Division of Church and Race in 1970.

To learn more about PHS’s “Hidden Collections,” contact the historical society’s reference staff or visit the project’s website.

This story was based from a longer article in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of “Presbyterian Heritage,” the newsletter of the Presbyterian Historical Society, which is related to the Office of the General Assembly.