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Lyman Stewart's legacy, 1920-1923

Biola’s founders were successful in embedding fundamentalism into the city’s commercial life when they targeted the city’s substantial middle class, white-collar workforce as a source of students. Headquartered at the center of Los Angeles’s civic and commercial district, the Institute was a prominent landmark on the city’s expanding skyline. Their alliance with conservative commercial ideals allowed Biola’s leaders to freely deploy the language and tools of modern business methods to participate in, rather than challenge, the prevailing financial culture. The Bible Institute garnered some support from commercial and civic elites; the Los Angeles Times, for instance, enthusiastically endorsed the school. But Lyman Stewart’s fellow Los Angeles business elite did not seem all that eager to join him in investing in fundamentalism. Biola’s building bonds were difficult to sell, and that should have served as a warning that financing spread of the fundamentalist creed would not be easy. At the ver)' least, the costs - financial and personal - borne by Lyman Stewart should have prompted a serious internal debate among Biola leaders over methods of financing. Stewart, and his millions, would not be around forever. Of course, if their premillennialist hopes were realized, the fact that Biola’s funding base was limited and reliant on risky financial maneuvers would be irrelevant. But as a long-term strategy, it was unsustainable. Nevertheless, Biola’s leaders relentlessly pursued institutional growth, spurred by premillennial urgency and with little heed for financial consequences.

However, the burning of Biola’s mortgage notwithstanding, all was not well with the Institute’s finances. The difficulties the Stewarts had faced in financing fundamentalism in Los Angeles foreshadowed the challenges the movement was to face in the next decade. The number of fundamentalist institutions in the city was soon to grow, competing for the limited local support that did exist. For all their premillennialist fears for the future, Los Angeles fundamentalists never questioned America’s economic growth during the first few decades of the twentieth century. They assumed that it would continue unabated and when the Depression struck, the Institute faced bankruptcy. These financial troubles were directly rooted in the actions of the school’s founder. Before he died in late 1923, Stewart left the school stock in the Western Machinery Company, a firm with loose ties to his oil interests but not particularly profitable. Stewart never lost hope that the companies’ fortunes would turn around, and, as one of last acts as president authorized a S500,000 loan to funnel into the school’s ailing “asset.” In mortgaging the Institute’s Hope Street headquarters, Stewart set his successors a dangerous precedent of unsustainable borrowing in the face of economic common sense.66 Lyman Stewart made Los Angeles the West coast bastion of fundamentalism. But he also left his successors some dangerous legacies - the practice of mixing modern financial methods with fundamentalist theology and the substitution of premillennial faith for economic reality.


  • 1 Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, September 14, 1911.
  • 2 Darren Dochuk highlights the need to examine Stewart’s fundamentalism as a product of “his attachment to the volatile, high-risk, boom-bust realities of his economic location.” What Dochuk and others have left unexplored is how these economic realities adversely affected Stewart’s religious plans.
  • 3 Although focused on the 1920s, Jules Tygiel describes the all-consuming enthusiasm Angelenos had for speculative financial schemes from the late nineteenth century onwards in The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal During the Roaring Twenties (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996).
  • 4 Lyman Stewart, October 30, 1912.
  • 5 Lyman Stewart to Amelia Starkweather, October 27, 1920.
  • 6 Stewart pioneered, for example, the use of oil as a marine fuel.
  • 7 Note that these two works have slightly different interpretations of the respective motivations of Stewart and Bard. Unsurprisingly Taylor and Welty (1950), writers of a rather celebratory company history of Union Oil, emphasize Stewart’s long-range investment strategy. Hutchinson (1965, vii), who describes his subject Thomas Bard as “a splendid human being,” instead portrays Bard as the model of fiscal responsibility, constantly attempting to rein in the wild schemes of Stewart and only reluctantly extracting himself from Union Oil. The truth lies, one suspects, somewhere in between. For a more detailed view of the relationship from the perspective of the Stewart papers, see Krivoshey (1973, 111-162).
  • 8 Lyman Stewart to W.G. Hughes, November 17, 1906.
  • 9 On Lyman Stewart’s premillennialism, see Edmonson (1969, 112) and Krivoshey (1973, 103-104). Brendan Pietsch notes Stewart’s attendance at the 1894 Niagara Bible Conference as pivotal (2013, 625). On the importance of millennial beliefs to the fundamentalist movement, see Ernest Sandeen (1970, 183). Gloege (2015, 104) also notes that differences of opinion existed within the conservative Christian community as to the finer points of this doctrine. For a recent account of how fundamentalism in general is a movement defined by eschatological beliefs, see Matthew Avery Sutton (2014).
  • 10 On the origins of biblical literalism, see Sandeen (1970, 103-131).
  • 11 Lyman Stewart to John Balcolm Shaw, November 8, 1913.
  • 12 Lyman Stewart to Occidental Board of Trustees, July 26, 1905. See also “Statement made by J.A. Gordon to Board. Occidental Board Meeting Minutes,” n.d.
  • 13 Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, April 23, 1913. As Virginia Brereton (1990, 62) notes, this quest for practical training, delivered in the most efficient manner, was very much the educational Zeitgeist of the times.
  • 14 Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, August 9, 1905.
  • 15 Lyman Stewart to W.H. Frost, August 1, 1907.
  • 16 W.H. Frost to Lyman Stewart, September 16, 1907.
  • 17 As Krivoshey describes, these classes were designed not only instruct club members in the Bible but in evangelization techniques.
  • 18 Lyman Stewart to John Balcolm Shaw, November 8, 1913.
  • 19 Lyman Stewart to Giles Kellogg, April 17, 1907 and April 24, 1907. Merrill, Frost, and Rust were all supporters of Stewart’s Pacific Gospel Union Mission (C.S. Mason to Thomas Bard, August 16, 1895).
  • 20 For a detailed account of how Biola developed ideologically from T.C. Horton’s and

Stewart’s original plans and the scope of its operations between 1908 and 1910, see Krivoshey (1973, 224-231).

Lyman Stewart to C.I. Scofield, July 21, 1908.

Probably the publication of the Fundamentals has received the most scholarly attention of all the Stewart projects. Edmonson (1969, 191-242) devotes a largely descriptive account of the points of doctrine covered in the project. More recently, Gloege (2015, 162-192) provides a more sophisticated analysis of the motivations behind the projects and in Gloege’s view is the apogee of the process of applying late nineteenth century business and promotional methods to conservative evangelical religion. On Lyman Stewart’s initial motivation, refer to Gloege (2015, 167).

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, October 26, 1910.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, April 4, 1902.

“Has Faith And Spends Money: Union Oil Company Believes In Improving ...” 1910a. For Stewart’s involvement with the Outer Dock and Wharf Company, owned by Union Oil, see Taylor and Welty (1950, 118-119, 147-148).

“The Story of the School,” 191 Id.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, July 29, 1911.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, July 29, 1911. See Edmonson (1969, 123) for statement on Torrey as lending a rare scholarly gravitas to the fundamentalist movement.

Lyman Stewart to T.C Horton, September 14, 1911.

Lyman Stewart to E.O. Emerson, April 8, 1912.

Lyman Stewart to W.E. Blackstone, September 25, 1913; “The Strategic Point,” 1912;

“A Letter from Dr C.I. Scofield,” 1913.

Lyman Stewart to E.O. Emerson, April 8, 1912.

R.A. Torrey to Lyman Stewart, July 2, 1913.

Lyman Stewart to James Gray, Februar)' 6, 1911; Lyman Stewart to A.F. Gaylord, February 23, 1911.

Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, September 14, 1911.

Lyman Stewart to R.A. Torrey, July 25, 1913.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, July 29, 1911; Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, July 24, 1912.

Kings Business, “Institute Items, Faithful Work by Faithful Followers,” 1911b.

Lyman Stewart to Chamber of Commerce, October 14, 1921. Although, as Fogelson notes, “industrial freedom reigned supreme” and the political left failed to make any real gains in the city during this period. Lyman Stewart remained a member of the Chamber of Commerce until 1921, just two years before he died.

Lyman Stewart to Charles Stimson, April 12, 1912.

Lyman Stewart to O.T. Johnson, November 18, 1910; Lyman Stewart to W.E. Clark, March 12, 1920. Gregory Singleton argues that Stewart was motivated primarily by a need to preserve a Protestant social order, controlled by civic associations and by good government. However, he somewhat overstates his assessment of Los Angeles’ transformation to a “secular metropolis” in the 1920s. He implies that fundamentalist Protestantism became one of many fringe religions, such as Theosophy and Christian Science, that assumed a particularly intense form in the city.

Kings Business, “Evangelistic Work,” 1911a.

Kings Business, “Outdoor Evangelism,” 1911c; C.E. Sebastian to Dr Horton, 1912b and 1914. For Los Angeles’s street politics in the early twentieth century, see Wild (2005, 148-175). Jeffrey Stansbury's work explores labor unrest in this period (2008, 182). For Huntington’s open-shop proclivities, see Friedricks (1992, 135-146).

Lyman Stewart to R.A. Torrey, June 19, 1913. Edmonson (1969, 129) notes Torrey’s previous backing by Crowell in Chicago and Wanamaker in Philadelphia.

R.A. Torrey to Lyman Stewart, July 2, 1913. For the financial involvement of McCormicks with MBI, refer to Gloege (2015, 64, 122).

California has long had a reputation for being particularly attractive to alternative spiritual belief systems. Carey McWilliams first made this assertion (1946). Later, Sandra Sizer Frankiel (1988) similarly argued that migrating Anglos turned towards inward looking, mystical, and self-affirming alternative practices that placed little emphasis on social action and rather greater emphasis on impersonal divine principles, such as spiritualism, New Thought, Theosophy, Christian Science, and Seventh Day Adventism.

Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, October 22, 1912.

Lyman Stewart to T.C. Horton, July 2, 1915 and July 10, 1915.

Even Ralph Smith, head of the Bible House (a Los Angeles based organization closely associated with the work of Biola) and long-time recipient of the Stewart’s gifts, at one point joined the chorus of Biola’s critics (Lyman Stewart to Ralph Smith, March 11, 1915).

Lyman Stewart to Messrs Andrews & Toland, July 12, 1913.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, June 27, 1913.

Lyman Stewart to Milton Stewart, July 5, 1913.

For example, when writing to W.C. Faucette Stewart asserted with all his borrowing he still couldn’t get enough funding for Biola (Lyman Stewart to W.C. Faucette, February 3, 1914).

Lyman Stewart to W.E. Blackstone, September 6, 1912.

R.A. Torrey to Lyman Stewart, April 7, 1914.

R.A. Torrey to Lyman Stewart, July 2, 1915.

Lyman Stewart to R.A. Torrey, July 2, 1915.

Lyman Stewart to May Martin, November 18, 1913.

Lyman Stewart to J. Henry, December 1, 1913; Lyman Stewart to O.H. Churchill, November 20, 1913.

King’s Business, “For Special Prayer,” 1912c.

King’s Business, “Bible Institutes,” 1912a.

King’s Business, “Bond Advertisement,” 1915.

Lyman Stewart to W.R. Bradshaw, February 12, 1912.

Lyman Stewart to Frank Keller, August 20, 1919; Kings Business, “In Los Angeles Churches Tomorrow,” 1919.

Biola Board Meeting Minutes, 1923.

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