Thursday, November 1, 2018


Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart

Today is All Saints Day, and, in honor of those who’ve inspired our faith we recognize both ancient and recent family saints. I could probably drum up a list of women who have led me, intentionally and otherwise, into religious inquiry and active church work, but the most notable ones were two who were included in my second book entitled Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women. Those profiles deserve a revisit today.

The first woman was, of course, my mother, Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart, and in Their Adventurous Will, I wrote: “One of her greatest legacies to me was a love of the Anglican Church to which she was deeply devoted after her conversion as a teenager. She single-handedly attempted to establish a mission church in my hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana with its predominantly Baptist population. The Episcopal church was never built, although a sign advertising the mission stood for a long time on a vacant lot which she had coerced an old family Franklintonite to donate. She didn’t convert enough Baptists, Methodists, or Roman Catholics to build the church and congregation but she did accomplish some consciousness raising about Anglicanism. While she was working on the project, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana introduced her to someone as that ‘woman with the red hot poker who gets people moving.’

“When I went home for her funeral, some of her friends and family members said to me: ‘She was too good.’ She probably wouldn’t have liked that remark; she didn’t think of her life as role playing or as some kind of martyr’s legend. She simply believed in St. John the Divine’s words: ‘Absolute self giving is the only path from the human to the divine.’ Friends and family also told me: ‘She was proud of you.’ I know she was. I am proud of her. She gave me the ability to perceive ‘tongues in trees,’ the sight to see ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stone and good in everything.’ She also gave me a love of nature, music, humor, and imagination…”

Dora Runnels Greenlaw

“My great-grandmother, Dora Runnels Greenlaw, who died the night I was born and executed a literary and religious transfer to me (according to family members), was also a visionary who felt her life purpose to be that of a missionary and who spread the Gospel from a horse-drawn buggy of the kind used to transport country doctors to their house calls. Like the American poetess, Emily Dickinson, Dora Runnels was semi-reclusive, spending days writing verse in a back room of the old Greenlaw home in Franklinton and mysteriously appearing in the afternoons to venture forth on her missionary calls. The record of her talents can be found in a few pamphlets of verse which her son Edward published on a small printing press he owned and in a booklet which I discovered in the Louisiana Room of the Louisiana State Library entitled Memoirs of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Washington Parish Association, published in the early 1900’s. 

“Like many of the subjects in Their Adventurous Will, Dora met with considerable opposition when she attempted to make her contribution to society…One day in 1908 she set out in her buggy drawn by faithful Nell. A female companion accompanied her and ‘kindly piloted her over the six miles from Franklinton to Spring Hill, over mud holes and through the beautiful pine forests.’… En route, the zealous women passed a Baptist minister who was traveling to Franklinton. The minister had been informed about the two women’s mission, and Dora expected a show of cordiality as he passed. She slowed her horse but the stone-faced pastor merely tipped his hat as the two buggies passed one another. Dora was hurt, puzzled, but suppressed her feelings and drove on toward Spring Hill. Finally, she turned to her companion, who knew the pastor well, and asked for an explanation of the minister’s behavior. ‘He does not believe in the organization of women. None of our pastors nor laymen do. They are sincere in their belief that women must keep silent and leave the work to men.’ At that time, Dora did not express her disapproval of the pastor’s attitude, but she later wrote in Memoirs of the Baptist Missionary Union: ‘The opposition of pastors was the mountain to be removed. The enormity of it strengthened my purposes.’ Following this incident she accelerated her missionary efforts and spearheaded the formation of missions in sixteen communities, serving as the superintendent of the Women’s Missionary Union in Washington Parish from 1908-1920. Her summation of the missionary effort was: ‘God had prepared the way and bidden his people to Go Forward.’”

In Their Adventurous Will, I attempted to portray “saints,” Louisiana women who took great leaps of faith and, in all cases, made something so that had been envisioned as impossible, moving their ideas from conception to being with extraordinary fervor and faith. The epigram in this book was taken from Sonnet 67 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and is deserving of space here: 

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame,
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song;
forget the epitaph.

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