By The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections Staff
Primary Creator: Chicago Sunday Evening Club (1908-)
Extent: 26.0 boxes. More info below.
Arrangement: The collection is arranged by series with folder level control.
Date Acquired: 00/00/1992
Administrative records comprise a large portion of this collection. Minutes from the Board of Trustees meetings extend from 1936 to 1982, and Audits from 1910 to 1991. By-laws, lists of Officers and Trustees, Committee Reports, long-range planning, annual reports, and financial reports, 1987-88, further augment this section. Also present are administrative and personal correspondence from 1904 to 1980, mainly for the years 1960-1980.
A small collection of photographs represents various presidents and trustees of the Sunday Evening Club as well as slices of life--men and women attending evening meetings at Orchestra Hall.
A substantial section of publications features programs from 1908 to 1981, which includes information on audience size, speaker, and the amount the evening's offering. Included are ad cards from 1908 to 1945, which publicized upcoming speakers. A few published sermons and remarks come from the 1973-74 season and newsletters stretch from 1988 to 1992. Programming schedules advertise television broadcasts from 1970 through 1988 and pamphlets further offer description and viewer response to the televised service.
Manuscripts and correspondence about Steven Vitrano's book An Hour of Good News along with a paper written by President Dave Hardin, called "The History of the CSEC," supply details about the club's beginnings and history. This series contains speaker lists, correspondence, and typescripts for the program segments entitled "Living Philosophies" and the "Statement of Faith." A list of principal speakers, a list from 1979-80, as well as address transcriptions from 1951 to 1956 may be found. An alphabetical file furthermore provides correspondence, typescripts, transcriptions, and photographs which pertain to the principal speakers of the Sunday evening programs, 1960-1980. The series also includes presider information sheets and scripts (1984-88) for the television productions. Additionally housed in this collection are reports, memorandums, and correspondence with WTTW which range from 1953 to 1975. A WTTW time schedule and a National Religious Broadcasters Award are also located here.
Among the secondary material may be found news-clippings, articles, and advertisements may be found. Further items of interest include a logo die, and samples of Chicago Sunday Evening Club stationery.
This collection contains a Bible, which served as the pulpit Bible while using Orchestra Hall, as well as a bound dissertation and book written by Steven Vitrano. Vitrano's dissertation, titled "The Chicago Sunday Evening Club: A Study in Contemporary Preaching," led to a book which was published by the Sunday Evening Club in 1974, entitled An Hour of Good News.
The Chicago Sunday Evening Club was formed by Clifford Barnes as an organization of Christian business leaders to promote the moral and religious welfare of the city and has been a spiritual forum and source of inspiration throughout the Chicago area since its founding. The first Sunday evening service was to be held in Orchestra Hall, February 16, 1908.
The Chicago Sunday Evening Club began as a non denominational religious activity intended for business persons traveling through Chicago by train. Chicago was one of the nation’s rail capitals with thousands of passenger trains coming to or through Chicago. Many trains were idled on Sunday leaving many individuals in the city until Monday.
Barnes and other leaders worked hard to develop a strong reputation for interesting speakers and well performed music, so much so that it began to attract Chicago residents as much or more than business people passing through. It was not unusual for the Club to average 2000-2500 people at Orchestra Hall every Sunday night. There was a different speaker every week, but some speakers were invited to return year after year. In those early years, some of the best-known names in American religion and public life were speakers on the programs, including social worker and reformer Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Booker T. Washington, and Reinhold Niebuhr. By the middle 1960's Martin Luther King was there on occasions.
In 1922, a powerful new means of communication tool was added to expand the Chicago Sunday Evening Club's audience. On Christmas Eve, the weekly programs began radio broadcasts live from Orchestra Hall. Overnight, the Chicago Sunday Evening Club gained a national presence, earning it the title of "The Nation's Pulpit." Estimates of listeners in the 1920s and 1930s often ran into the hundreds of thousands each week, allowing dynamic speakers like George A. Buttrick from Harvard University, Henry Sloane Coffin from Union Theological Seminary, and W.E.B. DuBois from Atlanta University, to reach an ever-widening national audience. WLS radio carried it first with WBBM having it for several years. While WBBM broadcast the Sunday Evening Club it was carried over the Columbia Broadcasting System to the nation. Sometime around 1950 station WIND (560 AM) took it over.
Weekly programs continued in Orchestra Hall with few interruptions, even after Clifford Barnes' death at the age of 80 in 1944. He was succeeded as President of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club by investment banker, John Nuveen, Jr. (serving from 1944-1955), and then by Joseph O. Hanson, the former President and CEO of Swift International (serving from 1955 to 1969).
With the rapid growth of television in the middle fifties this new medium seemed like the next logical step. Unfortunately, when the Chicago Sunday Evening Club began to be broadcast on WTTW in March of 1956 attendance at the Orchestra Hall meetings began to dwindle. This was hastened by the deterioration of downtown Chicago which began about 1960. Even though the Club continued having an impressive list of speakers, including names like Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Tillich, Ralph Sockman, and Elton Trueblood, the last three years of Orchestra Hall programs saw average attendance in the range of 200-300 people. This put financial strains on the Club’s resources because a long-term lease had been signed. In 1968 when the lease expired the Club ceased its meetings there. With the move from Orchestra Hall to WTTW the Club took advantage of new color television technology, but retained the original format of its program. The transition from the Hall to WTTW coincided with the Club’s transition in leadership with C. Bouton McDougal, a retired R. R. Donnelley executive, taking the helm until 1974.
The Chicago Sunday Evening Club was WTTW's earliest paid sponsorship program, which the station needed in its early days. The Club is the station's oldest continuing program. In the early 1990s, the Chicago Sunday Evening Club created a half-hour version of its hour-long broadcast in Chicago called 30 Good Minutes for the cable television market. This cable format brought about the development of new format for the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in which stories and personal reflections were added.
As the Chicago Sunday Evening Club approaches its 100th Anniversary the Club continues to feature some of the leading voices in religion, as well as the stories of everyday people whose lives reflect the rich tapestry of religious life in America.
Access Restrictions: There are no specific restrictions on this collection.
Use Restrictions: Duplication may be restricted if copying could cause damage to items.
Acquisition Source: The Sunday Evening Club deposited its records with Wheaton College in 1992.
Acquisition Method: Gift
Preferred Citation: Chicago Sunday Evening Club Records (SC-47), Wheaton College Special Collections, Wheaton, Illinois.
Other Note: The Wheaton College collection of Chicago Sunday Evening Club materials, measuring over 9 linear feet complements a collection housed at the Chicago Historical Society (1908-1975, primarily speaker files from 1940-1960). While largely comprising corporate records, the collection also includes publications, speaker's addresses, broadcasting information, correspondence, and a small amount of secondary information.
Other URL: http://www.csec.org/