Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Portrait of Victoria Demarest, ca. 1943. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPortrait of Victoria Demarest, ca. 1943. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

On January 1, 1946, Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest wrote to the Reverend A. Edwin Keigwin requesting his endorsement of her evangelistic ministry: “. . . I have no church or church body behind me, no one to boost, to open doors, to promote, to prepare the way and opportunities are growing less and less,” she explained. At the time of her appeal, she was 56 years old. Years of “irregular and undependable work” in America sharply contrasted with her upbringing by a family of accomplished evangelists. Born in Paris, France, in 1899, Demarest was the granddaughter of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and the daughter of Catherine Booth Clibborn, who organized religious revivals in England, France, Germany, and Holland.

In 1918 she immigrated to the US to launch her own “evangelical campaigns.” Soon after arriving she married Cornelius Agnew Demarest of Louisville, Kentucky—a widower, businessman, organist, choirmaster, and field representative for the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church. Over the course of their marriage, which lasted until his death in 1959, the Demarests raised six children, two of whom died while young. The couple cowrote hymns and sacred music, and led the 1934 America for God Crusade and other evangelical campaigns. Her husband served as both her manager and musical accompanist. Following the tragic death of their son David at age 20, while serving in World War II, Demarest was inspired to form the World Association of Mothers for Peace (WAMP), Inc.

World Association of Mothers for Peace brochure. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryWorld Association of Mothers for Peace brochure. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryAlthough the couple discussed the concept of the organization for some time, it did not fully crystallize until Demarest became inspired while delivering a 1946 Mothers’ Day sermon. The organization was officially launched several days later with the Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington, serving as headquarters. In an effort to avert future wars, and to call attention to the dangers of the atom bomb, WAMP focused on the virtues, influence, and appeal of mothers. The organization consisted of a board and local chapters and developed a system of tiered memberships. Gold Star Memorial Life members represented the mothers, stepmothers, or grandmothers of young men killed in action. Members were strongly encouraged to put aside racial and religious differences to achieve unity. They held prayer meetings for the nation’s political leaders. The organization also attempted to generate humanitarian aid for families impacted by war, but had limited success. Some chapters participated in nonpartisan political work that included organizing protests against the Ku Klux Klan.

In its infancy, the WAMP attracted thousands of women and supporters from across the country, including Eleanor Roosevelt. However, by 1950, several factors contributed to a steady decline in membership. Although Demarest was a self-described “born leader,” she was driven by strong religious convictions rather than organizational skills. She also attempted unsuccessfully to limit growing competition by merging with other groups. The organization’s official demise came in 1951, two years after her 1949 ordination in the Congregational Church (the United Church of Christ) and her acknowledgement that she could not handle the demands of WAMP, her ministry, and recurring family and health issues. She continued her ministry for many years at the Broadway Tabernacle Congregational Church in Manhattan and authored many inspirational books, including The Shade of His Hand (1962), King David, A Drama (1964), and Sex and Spirit: God, Woman, and Ministry (1977). Demarest eventually relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she remained active until her death at the age of 93. The collection is being processed and is currently closed. A preliminary finding aid is available online at Harvard University’s OASIS website: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:RAD.SCHL:sch00549

"We, the Mothers of the World," hymn written by Demarest for the World Association of Mothers for Peace. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library"We, the Mothers of the World," hymn written by Demarest for the World Association of Mothers for Peace. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library