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100 years ago: Strange goings-on in New York; Judge’s concern for chorus girls

22 December 2023

December 21st 1923 and December 28th 1923

ENGLISH bishops have their troubles with the rebellious, but the greatest of those troubles may appear small beside those with which the Bishop of New York is now afflicted by some of his clergy. Lately there appeared in the American papers lurid accounts of Egyptian ritual in a New York church, including invocations of Ra. There succeeded in the same church exhibitions of Greek dancing, presented by inadequately attired damsels, who illustrated the rector’s theme that it is necessary “to adapt to present-day religion some pagan ritual, in order that everyday acts may be suffused with Nature-worship,” whatever that may mean. No sooner had Dr Manning called upon the rector to answer the “shocking and scandalous reports” to which these gymnastics gave rise than he was denounced by the American Modern Churchmen’s Union for calling to trial a minister on the charge of denying the Virgin Birth. A battle is joined between those who still believe the ancient creeds and those who repeat and deny them. There seem to be “Churchmen” in New York who desire to realize Fr Ronald Knox’s dream of Reunion All Round, and to build upon the ruins of the American Church a new temple, into which admission will be gained by the taking of an oath of unfeigned disbelief in all the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

December 28th 1923

CERTAIN societies which are concerned to maintain the interests of the dramatic profession have rendered very valuable service by action which Mr Justice Russell has approved by a decision in the Chancery Division. The case concerned a touring theatrical company in which the chorus girls received a guaranteed minimum salary of 30s. a week, were bound to a week’s rehearsal without pay, and were under a “no play, no pay” clause. His lordship found it difficult to speak with restraint of the condition of things to which this hard bargain gave rise. He said that the societies concerned in the action, which tried to put an end to this state of things, would have the sympathy and support of decent men and women, and that if justification for the action they had taken did not exist in this case he could hardly conceive a case in which it would be present. They owed a duty to their calling, and to its members, and — his lordship added — to the public also, to take all peaceful steps to terminate the payment of this insufficient wage. The story told of the touring company was a squalid one. The evidence given in the case showed that no young girl could live on less than 50s. a week. The company and its members were living a hand-to-mouth existence, and the absence of a living wage was a direct inducement to immorality. The decision will have a far-reaching and beneficial effect, not least in its challenge to the theatre-goer to consider his share of moral responsibility for those who provide him with recreation.

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