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Black Stockings by Tom Schroeder

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B.S. by Tom Schroeder

The following is about the “BLACK STOCKINGS” that the female population of the worker’s system were forced to wear between the years of 1908 when the Sunday morning meetings were first started until about 1950, when the “BLACK STOCKING RULE” came to an end.

George Walker wrote a letter (perhaps sometime in the 1960's as he did not date it) in which he stated, “I favored black because it was furthermost from the flesh color that many of us believed was unbecoming to ‘women professing godliness’  At no time did I say black was the only modest color.  I spoke against the wearing of it being a Condition of Fellowship.  I did not, and I do not, believe using pressure on people, to make them go beyond what is in their heart, or to do what they are not convinced in their minds they should do, is profitable to them or to The Lord’s work.”

Now, he could just as well have said that it was unbecoming for women to wear Tan Stockings and go to meeting and take part. If any woman would have put on Tan Stockings in our area of Wisconsin back in the 1930s and 40s, she would have been subject to some form of harassment by the head worker in charge, and this would have sent a clear message of warning to all other women in that area. 

Notice that George says he does not believe in pressuring people to make them go beyond what is in their heart, or to do what they are not convinced in their minds they should do.  Now, remember this statement by George, as I will be writing later about the pressure that was put on a woman worker named Hilda Blaue.

Workers told us years ago, that back in the 1940s, George Walker wrote to hundreds of professing boys in the service.  However, it seems he didn’t find it necessary to send this letter about Black Stockings to every woman in his flock. George wrote:

“Over seventeen years ago, a man who did not profess and with whom I was not acquainted came to me at a special mtg, and complained that his wife, who had recently professed, was wearing Black Stockings at the advice of the sister Worker she had professed through.  Previous to this I had given little thought to the color of hosiery worn by our sisters.  I knew when long dresses were worn it was considered all right to wear different colors.”

I also find it strange that the husband who did not profess tried to wake George up 17 years earlier about Black Stockings. Surely the man's wife was not going to go to a man worker and complain about having to wear the Black Stockings.  She would have been afraid of the consequences, and no doubt she told her husband if it bothered him so much, then he could go and talk to the workers. So when George found out after the workers’ meeting in Canada that some workers were circulating a letter, he got busy and wrote this one to let them know he was still in charge.

Now, when Adam and Eve saw that they were naked, it says that coats were made for them out of skins.  The way I understand it, this took place only a matter of days since they were created. So I wonder where the skins came from? They must have been the same color and the same material for male and female.  Now, is it fair for me to wonder that if George Walker would have been in charge of that project, would he have ordered a BLACK coat for Eve that fit from head to toe so that Adam would not have to look upon her flesh colored skin?

Now, if George was thinking that it was better for women to walk around by day wearing Black Stockings, would he also think that they should go to bed at night wearing their Black Stockings, so their husbands would not have to look at their flesh colored legs?  So I think it was only a male worker's problem.  Oh, what fools us mortals be!!

If my Mom were alive today and could read that letter George Walker wrote back in the 60s, I think she would say, "I believe their brains are calloused." When my Mom got past 50 and her hair started to turn gray, she would gather BLACK walnuts from the trees and use the walnut husks to make a nice light brown dye and she used that on her hair the rest of her life and she lived to be 91. One day, a professing lady asked my Mom if she didn't feel guilty using that dye she made to color her hair light brown. “Not at all.” Mom said. “I used BLACK dye for years to make my White and Tan Stockings BLACK to keep the workers happy, so why should this be any different?”

Terry and Signe Ricter professed in 1932 in a mission held by two sister workers, Hilda Blaue and Ellen Johnson. Hilda was in one field for 17 years and she was a very strong and forceful speaker. From the information that I can gather, she started in the work around 1924.  She was never in the area or field where I grew up so I only saw her at convention time or special meetings.

I married Geraldine Ricter in 1954, and the Terry and Signe Ricter became my in-laws.  From then on I got to know more about Hilda, and from what I heard, Hilda was a very strong believer in wearing the Black Stockings.  Later, I found out why. Someone told me that Hilda used to take BLACK shoe polish and put it on her shoes and then take the shoe and rub it up and down on the Black Stockings that she was wearing.  She said that she never needed a shoe brush because the Black Stockings were good to polish with and no one would ever know the difference.

It was probably around 1970 that Hilda was moved from Wisconsin to lower Michigan to preach. My wife and I and our three kids would take our camper and go to Michigan to visit her, and she would be so happy to see us.

Now, my wife’s brother Gilbert, the Ricters' oldest son, went into the work in 1948.  He was 12 years in the work in Minnesota, and then he moved on to become the head worker of New Mexico where he was for 25 years.  Then he was moved to North Dakota in 1985. Now, Hilda often talked to us about how glad she was that Gilbert could be in the work, and if she had never come down that muddy road and invited the Ricters to her meetings in 1932, well that may never have happened.

Signe used to come down to our house often and sometimes stay a month or more.  Gilbert would often come through Chicago and stay in our house for several days also. Sometimes Gilbert and his mother would be at our house at the same time.  Now, it may have been around 1975 that Gilbert and his mother were at our house at the same time and they had a very serious conversation going on.

Signe was telling Gilbert that Hilda was put out of the work.  She was told to leave and she had nowhere to go, except to stay with her unsaved sister in Nebraska. Now, the reason she was sent out of the work was that she was still wearing the Black Stockings.  Her younger companion said that it was very embarrassing when they stood up to preach, since she wore Tan Stockings and Hilda was still wearing Black Stockings. Why, how would this look to outsiders that would come to the meeting?  Why, it would scare them away.  The companion had tried to get Hilda to get rid of her Black Stockings and put on the Tan Stockings, as this was the middle 1970s, and Hilda would not do that.  So some said it was Hilda's own fault that she was put out of the work.

Well, Signe told Gilbert that back in the 1920s when Hilda went out into the work and people were complaining about having to wear Black Stockings, that Hilda had made a vow to God that she would never complain and that she would always wear the Black Stockings until the day she died.  Hilda had said that she wanted to die "in the harness," which means that she would not retire or go live with somebody, but that she would keep right on preaching up till the day she died.  Well, Hilda argued the point that a vow is a vow to God and she could not change or break the vow she had made to God.  So they put her out of the work.

Now, as I heard it, Hilda had asked Signe to talk to Gilbert and see if he couldn't do something to get her back into the work, and Gilbert said he would not touch that issue at all.  Now, we read in George Walker's letter where he wrote "if all sisters were satisfied in their minds that their wearing Black Stockings was pleasing to the Lord, would their doing so hurt the Lord's work?” I expressed my opinion that it would not.  Now, Hilda was satisfied that her wearing BLACK was pleasing to the Lord, but Hilda's companion expressed her opinion that Hilda wearing Black Stockings would hurt the Lord's work.

Now, George Walker would've been about 94 when this took place, and we don't know if it was even brought to his attention.  So the Black Stockings issue went full circle.  Back in the 1940s if you would have put on the Tan Stockings, you were in deep trouble, and could be put out, and in the 1970s, if Hilda didn't take off the Black Stockings and put on the Tan Stockings, well she was in deep trouble, and put out of the work.

Well, my wife would call Hilda quite often in Nebraska and listen to her cry, and try and cheer her up and I know Signe kept in touch with her the rest of her days.

I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin and we had a lot of woods, so every spring before the snow was gone we would go to the woods to tap the maple trees and cook around 300 gallons of maple syrup. My Mom never learned to drive a car, so she asked me to drive her to Evanston, Illinois to visit her sister Esther on the north side of Chicago, which was about 230 miles away. Now this was in 1948 and my Mom was 50 years old.  She had professed in 1922 and had been wearing Black Stockings for 28 years.  Before we left, Mom told me to load up the trunk with a lot of jars and cans of maple syrup, so that while we were at her sisters, we could go into the suburbs and go door-to-door selling maple syrup to pay for our trip.

My Aunt Esther had never professed and we didn't get to see her very often.  When we arrived and went into the house, my Aunt Esther said to my Mom, “Oh Lucy you are still wearing those Black Stockings! You know every time I see the black crows flying in the backyard, I am always reminded of you still walking around in those Black Stockings.” Now my Aunt Esther was a very jolly happy person, and my Mom and I quickly put the embarrassing black crow story behind us.

So we visited a few days and Mom told my aunt that we were going to spend about three days going door-to-door selling maple syrup.  My aunt suggested I drive north one mile from there where there was a more wealthy suburb.

Now as I was driving along I looked over to Mom and I noticed that she was taking off her Black Stockings.  I said, “Mom what are you doing that for?” Mom reached into her big black purse and pulled out a package of a pair of light Tan Stockings, showed them to me and proceeded to put them on her legs. Now I became very frightened and I said, “Mom if the workers and friends find out about this, we will get kicked out of the truth and we will both go to a lost eternity.”

Mom said to me, “I will tell you why I'm doing this.  We will each have our large canvas shopping bag to carry the syrup and you will be walking up one side of the street and I will be walking up on the other side.  How would I look with a black hat on my head to cover up my bun, my dark blue dress and Black Stockings from my knees down to my big black shoes?  When they see me coming up to their door, they will think it's the bag lady coming, and they're not going to answer the door bell.  And they might even call the police because this is a wealthy neighborhood.  Now with these Tan Stockings on at least I look halfway presentable.”

Well, we got through the day all right and as I was driving back to my aunt's house, Mom started taking off the Tan Stockings in the car.  She said, “I don't dare let my sister see me in these Tan Stockings, so I have to put these Black ones on again. Now, don't drive so fast as we are almost there.” She was having trouble with the first stocking and the hooks or snaps not working right.  Finally she got one Black Stocking on. By this time we were getting near to my aunt's house.  Mom said for me to stop right there and give her time to put the other black stocking on. I said, “Mom you can stay in the car and change that one right out there in front of her house.” Mom said, “No, Esther could be right out in the front yard and come over to the car and open the door to help me out of the car and there I’ll be standing with one Black Stocking on and one Tan Stocking on, and I would never hear the end of that from her.” So I stopped where we were and she put the other black stocking on.

The next morning after breakfast we went out again to sell maple syrup.  In the car along the way, off came the Black Stockings and on went the Tan Stockings.  We sold maple syrup all day and nobody called the police.  Going back to my aunt’s house, the procedure was reversed.  The third day we went out again and the same thing was done again, and that was the end of our business venture.

After several days when we were back in the car and on our way home again, Mom said to me, “Let's keep this a secret.  You don't tell anybody, because if this gets back to the workers, it will be like we sing in that hymn ‘Only remembered by what we have done.’ "

Then about two years later, a great change was sweeping over the country.  Women and girls were telling other women and girls that they didn't have to wear the Black Stockings anymore.  It was OK to get rid of them and put on  Tan Stockings.

The next Sunday after meeting a lady my mom's age came up and said to Mom, “Did you know we don't have to wear the Black Stockings anymore?” Mom asked her if the workers made an announcement that it was okay now.  The lady said, “No, it seems like the workers don't have anything to say about it.  It's out of their hands.  People are changing all over the country.” She asked Mom if she was going to change into the Tan Stockings too?  Well my Mom looked at me and then said to her, “I've already got a pair. I've had them for two years and I've been praying for this to happen.” Well, this lady said to Mom, “You know it's going to seem so strange walking around town with Tan Stockings on and the people we know are all going to stare at us.” Mom said, “Let them stare--I couldn't be happier.”

I remember my mother, sisters and other women at the meeting we went to, were so happy that the Dark Ages were over for them. After several months had passed after the big change, Mom told me that she heard a story about what happened that brought the downfall of the BLACK STOCKING CURSE. I was never content with the ending of the story because it seemed to leave one hanging in limbo.  I wondered if the workers really blew it or did they look the other way and say, "Well, you win some and you lose some," and let it go at that. No, I think that is not how a head worker's mind works.

I was talking on the phone to a gentleman that used to be in the work for a good number of years and just on a whim, I asked him if he ever heard anything about the Black Stocking story when he was in the work. He then told me the rest of the story which I had pondered over for years.

I don't know who they were or who sent them, but three women workers from America were sent to Ireland around 1950 as visiting workers to preach in the conventions there. A few days before convention the sister workers were walking around on the grounds.  They noticed that they were the only ones walking around wearing BLACK Stockings.  All the women there, including the women workers, were wearing TAN Stockings.

The TAN and BLACK Stocking workers soon got into a discussion about their stockings.  Of course, each side said they were on the right side about the issue. Then, the dispute became even greater when they brought heaven and a lost eternity into the picture. The BLACK Stocking workers told the TAN ones that any women found wearing TAN Stockings back in America would be put out of the meetings and could also go to a lost eternity.

The argument was still going on into the evening and finally, a TAN Stocking worker went to summon the old Irish head worker to come and straighten out the BLACK Stocking workers from America.  The TAN Stocking women workers asked him, "How will this look and what will the crowd think when they see these American women workers standing on the platform preaching in their BLACK Stockings?” And, the American women workers said, "What will the workers in America say if they should see us come back there with TAN Stockings on?”

He listened to their arguments and they waited for him to tell them who was right. He told them that this was a very difficult issue for him to decide upon.  He said he did not have an answer for them right then.  He said he would go back to his cabin and pray to God about the womens’ Black Stocking problem and that he would meet with them again the next morning after breakfast and would have an answer for them then.

I am sure that wasn't easy for him as that was a very extraordinary thing that he had to pray for. What I mean is, that a man worker sure doesn't get the privilege to pray for a woman's Black Stockings every night. This was a once in a lifetime event; and he was sure that he would have an answer for them after breakfast the next morning.

So, the next morning, the old Irish head worker met with the sister workers again, and he told the American women workers, "You may remove your Black Stockings and we will get some Tan Stockings for you, so you don't need to wear the Black anymore.”

Now, my friend that was in the work for many years filled in that missing gap for me. He told me that in 1966, he was a companion to Murray Keene and they were sitting and visiting in the home of Adolf Breitzman in Milwaukee.  Mr. Breitzman was a sharp man and he used to have a lot of workers come in and through his home, and he knew a lot about what went on in the worker's system. Now, sitting there that day, he talked to Murray Keene and my friend about how George Walker handled the Black Stocking issue back around 1950 when those women workers came back from Ireland wearing their Tan Stockings.  He told about George Walker calling a Worker's Meeting up in Canada, and in that meeting, George agreed with the other workers to make the change. But when he left there, George never implemented it or spread the word to other head workers throughout the country and actually, for almost a year, George Walker resisted the change.

Now, my feeling about the situation is this.  The Black Stocking issue had become a monster in the worker's system--a much despised and hated monster.  After that meeting up in Canada, perhaps George, felt that he was the last one trying to hang on to it because the workers themselves had brainwashed themselves into believing that the Black Stocking issue was a salvation thing. There George Walker was the King of the worker's system and the Great Shepherd of the sheep, and he was too stubborn to issue a statement, and he just let it go as it will, and the sheep had to tell one another, and the big change happened.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” So, with the women having to wear Black Stockings for years and years, would George Walker think that it was a light burden or an easy “yoke”? Or did he think “where there is no pain, there is no gain?”

George Poole, a worker from Canada stopped in the Chicago area to visit people he knew for a few days before going to the convention at Seneca. Well, he called me to have me meet him Sunday evening in someone else’s home and he told me the people of the home would be gone so it would just be the two of us.  George asked me what I was in disagreement with in the truther system. So I told him about all the baggage we have put up with for years.

I told him about the Black Stockings that my mother and all the professing women in America had put up with until around 1950 and then it was finally all right to change to Tan Stockings. Then he said that the Black Stockings were never an issue in “the truth.” Why, women could have put on Tan Stockings anytime they wanted to, but they didn’t do it because they loved to wear the Black Stockings. Now, isn’t that simply amazing???? Sometimes, I wonder just how much workers really know.

George asked me if I still believed in convention and what it’s for. I told him yes I do, and I told him what it’s all about. Fifty percent of convention is nothing more than family reunion, because in this church all your relatives are professing and they are there. Thirty percent of the convention is reunion with your professing friends that you have come to know over the years.  And I told him that if he thinks that all these people standing out there on the grounds visiting between the meetings are talking about what they heard preached on the platform, he has another guess coming, because they are talking about their jobs, vacations, their kids, etc. The last 20 percent of convention is hurry to the dining tent doors and waiting to get in there to eat, and then going into the machine shed to listen and take notes, or take a short nap and worrying about what kind of testimony you can give to please the workers.

I asked George what did he think would happen if he stood on the platform on Thursday afternoon and told the crowd that back in 1910s, 20s, 30s and 40s, that all the women had to wear Black Stockings. And what if he told them that if it was good in those days and the women loved to wear them, well, it would be good today to go back to those times.  So that evening after supper, they were all to go into town to the stores and buy Black Stockings.  And he told them that tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock when the women come into the machine shed, he wanted to see Black Stockings on all the women.  I asked him, “What do you think they would tell you if you told them that?” I answered for him, “Well, George, they would probably tell you to get lost and we’re going home.”


 

This next BLACK STOCKING STORY is imagination of a dream and real humor and just sort of entertaining, something to lighten us up and put a smile on our face.

Now, we don't know what the "Old Irish" head worker prayed that night over in Ireland, about the black stockings and we don't even know if he got an answer to his prayer. But, we do have to give him credit for making the right decision the next morning after breakfast when he talked to those women workers.

Now, as "Old Irish" walked back to his cabin, he felt a big load on his shoulders.  Coming into his cabin, he walked over to sit down in his big overstuffed soft chair.  On the side table someone had brought a pot full of hot tea and a big plate of scones. The scones had a good helping of red jam on them and a dab of whipped cream. After he put away about half of the scones, he relaxed with his hot tea and leaned back in his chair and was soon fast asleep. Very soon in his dream he heard a voice that he had never heard before, and he didn't know if it was speaking to his mind or to his heart. The voice asked, "Old Irish, why are you so tired and exhausted tonight?"

Old Irish thought, "Oh my, is this ever good!" I have never heard this voice before and I almost have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming.  “Yes, I have been very tired the last several weeks here.  There is so much stuff to look after and just three more days and this convention will start.  And to top it off, we have visiting women workers here from America who got into a big argument today with our women workers, and I thought some were really acting out of place. You see, the American workers will be preaching on the platform on Thursday morning and our women workers think they are not wearing the proper colored stockings.

“Now, they wanted me to tell them who was right and who was wrong.  So I told them that I would have to pray about that to get the right answer.  I hardly have time for that, as it seems all I have time for is work, eat and sleep. I know it's not good to get way behind on praying because I heard an old worker preaching on the platform here years ago that these are Holy grounds and people believed everything he said. And I have wasted a couple of days just thinking, are these grounds Holy all year or just the four days we convention here?

“Then, I did some more thinking and the thought came to me: Them Catholics don't have too much over on us as they have holy water but we have holy ground. Now, you ask me why I am so tired?  Well, I will give you a little history of what we do even before we get here for preps. In May, we finish the special meetings with the professing folk and then, it takes about a week to get back to our field, then it may take a week or more to find an opening.  Then, we preach gospel meetings and the friends usually bring two or three outsiders with them and then, there are the Friends’ kids.

“Well, after about four weeks of this, we end the gospel meetings to prepare to go to preps. But, we always tell the outsiders that we will be back in about three months. Now, I am sure the outsiders worry about what if they should die before we get back to get them saved. We have learned not to let that bother us as we must follow in the footsteps of William Irvine, because he set up this convention system at the turn of the century and convention is very important to us. So we try to get here at least five weeks before the event to do carpentry work on the machine shed and the dorms, the kitchens and dining area and the toilets and to get this place ready. Now, there's one thing I don't understand either and that is, Jesus was a carpenter and HE also preached the gospel and not once do I read where HE built machine sheds or dorms or kitchens and toilets and I never read anything that says HE had convention for four days. But, in this system, we do what we were taught by William Irvine and his followers.

The voice said, “Now, Old Irish, earlier you called this an event and now, you call it convention. Tell me more what convention is all about.”

Old Irish says, “Well, at the turn of the century, William Irvine had convention lasting three weeks long.  In the machine shed, all the females sat on one side and all the males sat on the other side.  There were separate eating areas for the males and females and separate sleeping areas for the males and females.  I heard that when convention was over a lot of husbands and wives had to be reintroduced to each other, so that could be why they cut it down to four days.

“One more thing about convention that is so nice, you should see what we have on the worker's table. For breakfast, we have fried lamb liver, coddled eggs, raisin toast and tea. At noon, we have lamb chops with buttered carrots and peas and all the desserts we could ever eat. And for supper, we have leg of lamb and Irish potatoes.  Now, the rest of the members get grits, macaroni and cheese, sliced sausage and bread.

The voice said, “Now, Old Irish, I want to ask you something.  If this Jesus you claim to know, came to your convention as a visiting worker, do you think HE would feel comfortable sitting at your worker's table beside William Irvine, your founder and all the rest of you workers, eating leg of lamb and Irish potatoes; or do you think he would be sitting way over there in the crowd with some poor mother eating macaroni and cheese and talking and laughing with them? And all you workers would be whispering one to another, asking, ‘Does anyone know the name of that poor mother with the seven kids sitting over there, that Jesus is talking to and  enjoying so much??’

Old Irish replied, “Well, my worries right now, are getting an answer for those Black Stocking sister workers because I am to meet them right after breakfast in the morning.”

“Well, Old Irish, I have noticed that you workers seem to know it all, but have you ever seen a BLACK cotton field? Have you ever seen a BLACK rainbow?”

Click Here to read George Walker’s complete letter

Click Here to see photos of Hilda Blaue wearing Black Stockings

Click Here to read Tom's Life Story