A Chorus of Four-Thousand Voices

Isabella Alden was deeply involved in the Christian Endeavor movement that took root in America and swept around the world in the late 1800s. She regularly contributed to the Christian Endeavor newspaper; and she wrote about Christian Endeavor in of her novels Chrissy’s Endeavor, Her Associate Members, and others.

E-book cover of Chrissy's Endeavor by Isabella Alden.
Image of e-book cover of Her Associate Members by Isabella Alden.

Isabella’s family was involved in Christian Endeavor, as well. Her niece, Grace Livingston Hill, served as president of a Christian Endeavor chapter. One of Grace’s early novellas was a Christian Endeavor story called “The Parkerstown Delegate;” and with her husband Grace published a guide for Christian Endeavor leaders that was widely used by C. E. chapters.

Cover of paperback edition of The Parkerstown Delegate by Grace Livingston Hill.

The Christian Endeavor Society held regular annual conventions in the U.S. that were very well attended by people from all over the country; but in 1896 the society held an international convention in Washington D.C. Thousands of Christians of all ages, nationalities, and denominations, descended upon the U.S. Capitol for five days of non-stop meetings, worship services, training classes, and Bible studies.

Image depicting American woman with Bible open in her lap speaking to people dressed in attire Africans, Middle Easterners, and Native Americans. "World Wide Endeavor" is written above the drawing. "Christian and Moslem" is written below the drawing; and below that "Mission Work Discussed at the Morning's Meetings in the Tents."
Newspaper headline about the convention, from the Evening Star, Monday, July 13, 1896.

Isabella knew Washington, D.C. very well. She and her family lived there for three years when her husband served as assistant pastor of The Eastern Presbyterian Church, located just blocks from the Capitol building (read about her D.C. home here). In early 1896 the Aldens moved to New Jersey, just a short train ride away from Washington; so it’s entirely possible the Aldens attended all or part of the international convention that year.

The convention opened on Thursday, July 9 and ended the following Monday. Convention attendees were given a schedule of events and a map to help them travel from venue to venue, most commonly by foot.

The Christian Endeavor Society distributed this map of Washington, D.C. to conventioneers in 1896.

Attendees braved the heat, the humidity, and the stifling crowds of fellow Endeavorers that thronged the mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building.

Sepia photo of a crowd of people packed tightly together.
“The Army of the King.” Christian Endeavorers crowd Washington, D.C. in 1896. From the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

On The Ellipse, located between The White House and the Washington Monument, enormous tents were erected where meetings and lectures were held.

Black and white photo of two large tents set up at the base of the Washington Monument.
A newspaper photo of the meeting tents, with the Washington Memorial in the background.

Each tent was designed to hold hundreds of people, but some evening gatherings drew enormous crowds. At times there were so many people, and the interiors of the tents became so hot, the tent sides had to be raised to allow fresh air to circulate.

Drawing showing oval shaped tents. On one end is a stage flanked by two rows of chairs. Behind the stage and in front of it are tightly placed rows of seating for audience.
A tent interior layout, printed in the Evening Star on Wednesday, July 8, 1896.

But of all the activities that took place over the five-day convention, there was one event that stood out and was talked about for months afterward.

On Saturday evening, July 9, a patriotic service was planned to take place on the east front of the Capitol Building.

The east front of the United States Capitol building, photographed in 1904.

The service was described as “a great song service” of patriotic songs and hymns led by a chorus of four thousand voices.

There will be afternoon meetings today. At 5 o'clock there will be a great song service at the eastern steps of the Capitol building, with music by a chorus of four thousand voices and by the Marine Band. This will be followed by a march of the Army in Tent Endeavor.
An announcement of the service in the Evening Star on July 11, 1986.

A photographer captured this image of the chorus assembling on the steps of the Capitol:

A large crowd of people fill the steps of the Capitol Building.

One newspaper enthusiastically wrote that the patriotic service was “grand music to listen to, and something to remember.”

At the conclusion of the service, the chorus, the Marine band, and the audience left the Capitol steps to march down the National Mall to the Ellipse, where they gathered at Tent Endeavor.

Map showing the streets around the National Mall. The Capitol Grounds and The Ellipse are circled in red to show their locations and distance.
The Ellipse and the Capitol Grounds shown on a map published in the Evening Star.

The song service was a tremendous success! While there was no official count, attendees believed there were just as many singers among the audience as there were on the Capitol steps.

If that’s true, there were over eight thousand people at the service, all raising their voices together in songs of praise!


What do you think it was like to sing hymns with thousands of other people?

Have you ever participated in an outdoor sing-a-long where your voices could be heard for blocks?

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