Madison School: Difficulties on the Road

Madison School: Difficulties on the Road

Madison School faced difficulties because the idea of an independent school, which was not under church control and ownership, raised suspicions. Some people tried to make harder the beginnings of the school, but God protected its founders and gave them victory instead of the difficulties and the suspicions they faced.

Church leaders like Prescott and Daniells visited the school very soon after its start to ask for clarifications. That independence was not something they really liked about the school. They didn’t like also the fact that Magan and Sutherland were travelling to raise funds for this independent ministry which was not under their control. Very soon Daniells asked all the ministers to stop any funds raising and sending to Madison School. In 1907 Magan told Ellen White about this obstacles:

On May 7 of 1907 Magan wrote:

“Talked with Sister White regarding attitude of General Conference toward us. Mrs. Sara McEnterfer and Lillian present. Told Sister White about the administration [attitude] that we had no right to go and get money unless we were owned by the conference.

She replied: “You are doing double what they are. Take all the donations you can get. The money belongs to the Lord, and not to these men. The position they take is not of God. The Southern Union Conference is not to own or control you. You cannot turn things over to them.” Magan diary,  May 7, 1907

Many obstacles have been placed in the way of the pioneers at the Madison school of a nature to discourage them and drive them from the field. These obstacles were not placed there by the Lord. In some things the finite planning and devisings of men have worked counter to the work of God.

Let us be careful, brethren, lest we counterwork and hinder the progress of others, and so delay the sending forth of the gospel message. This has been done, and this is why I am now compelled to speak so plainly. If proper aid had been given to the school enterprise at Madison, its work might now be in a far more advanced stage of development. The work at Madison has made slow advancement, and yet, in spite of the obstacles and hindrances, these workers have not failed nor become discouraged; and they have been enabled to accomplish a good work in the cause of God.
The Lord does not set limits about His workers in some lines as men are wont to set. In their work, Brethren Magan and Sutherland have been hindered unnecessarily. Means have been withheld from them because in the organization and management of the Madison school, it was not placed under the control of the conference. But the reasons why this school was not owned and controlled by the conference have not been duly considered.
The lack of interest in this work, by some who should have valued it highly, is decidedly wrong. Our brethren must guard themselves against the repetition of such experiences.
The Lord does not require that the educational work at Madison shall be changed all about before it can receive the hearty support of our people. The work that has been done there is approved of God, and He forbids that this line of work shall be broken up. The Lord will continue to bless and sustain the workers so long as they follow His counsel.
Brethren Sutherland and Magan are as verily set to do the work of the Lord at Madison as other workers are appointed to do their part in the cause of present truth. The light given me is that we should help these brethren and their associates, who have worked beyond their strength, under great disadvantages. Let us seek to understand the situation, and see that justice and mercy are not forgotten in the distribution of funds.

The leaders in the work of the Madison school are laborers together with God. More must be done in their behalf by their brethren. The Lord’s money is to sustain them in their labors. They have a right to share the means given to the cause. They should be given a proportionate share of the means that comes in for the furtherance of the cause.” (Sp TB11, 31-32)

In a letter to Magan, Ellen White wrote the following encouraging words:

“Dear Brother Magan,

I bear positive testimony that you and your fellow workers in Madison are doing the work that God has appointed to you. There was at first in your mind a question regarding this, but as you have advanced, you have been able to see the way of the Lord more clearly.
The attitude of opposition or indifference on the part of some of your brethren has created conditions that have made your work more difficult than it should have been. You have not received from some many words of encouragement, but the Lord is pleased that you have not been easily discouraged.
Some have entertained the idea that because the school at Madison is not owned by a conference organization, those who are in charge of the school should not be permitted to call upon our people for the means that is greatly needed to carry on their work. This idea needs to be corrected. In the distribution of the money that comes into the Lord’s treasury, you are entitled to a portion just as verily as are those connected with other needy enterprises that are carried forward in harmony with the Lord’s instruction.

The Lord Jesus will one day call to account those who would so tie your hands that it is almost impossible for you to move in harmony with the Lord’s biddings. “The silver and the gold is mine, saith the Lord, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”  {SpM 411}

Magan, one of the founders of Madison School, received a proposal to move to the General Conference and become Secretary of the Negro Work, a new department invented so they could put him in charge of it. Haskell met him at the train and told him not to do it. He asked also Ellen White about how she thinks about this and she advised him to refuse the offer.

“June 8: Met Daniells, Olsen, Westworth, McVah, et al. They laid their plan before me. I declined. Talked with Sr. White, who told me not to bring my family to Washington. She told me that ‘they have separated themselves from you and you from themselves. There will be a division.’ ”— Magan diary entry for June 8, 1909
The plan was to get Magan, an important fund-raiser, out of Madison, so the work there would be weakened and eventually fold. (The previous year the General Conference had sent him an urgent call to become superintendent of the Korean Mission.)
As she usually did, Ellen White followed up her conversation that same day with a letter, not only to Magan but also to Sutherland:
I am instructed to say to you, Be careful as to what moves you now make . . You need now to be careful that you do not take one step in a path where He is not going before you and guiding you. You should not leave your present field of labor unless you have clear evidence that it is the Lord’s will for you to do so.”— EGW to Sutherland and Magan, June 8, 1909; Unpublished Testimonies, p. 447.

In 1913 the situation worsened. In spite of EW counsels, Madison School is criticized, its leaders are called heretics, people make jokes about the education offered there and about their simple lifestyle.

In 1913, Magan met with several physicians and high-ranking church leaders in Nashville:
“February 6: [After listing those who were present] . . Charges preferred vs. [against] E.A.S. re. article in Life Boat [Paulson’s Chicago journal] on organization. Wight fears ‘A Kingdom Within a Kingdom’ . . Wight has ‘suspicioned’ us not being true to organization . . Wight said there was no place for us to conduct a school within the denomination. Says leading educators criticize our work. Accused E.A.S. of belittling Berrien [Springs] and Graysville [a Tennessee conference academy]. Don’t like our conventions. We accused him and General Conference of violating their pact made at the last General Conference. His Wis. [Wisconsin] Speech. His telling Waller that we were of the devil and Testimonies n.g. [no good].”— Magan, Diary entry February 6, 1913

Madison School – beginning of its decline and the last years

In 1915 Magan accepts the call to go to the newly established College of Medical Evangelists, in California. Sutherland was heartbroken and said, “This is like tearing asunder bone and marrow.” They had been together some thirty years. Ellen White’s warning of June 8, 1909, quoted earlier, had been forgotten. Magan had been lured away from Madison.

After Percy and Lillian permanently left for California in 1915, Sutherland and his associates gave consideration as to what should be done next. Magan’s earlier repeated assertions that, if he were at Loma Linda he would help them obtain full accreditation for their physicians’ course, stuck in Sutherland’s thinking. “Could it be,” he thought, “that Madison could obtain full accreditation for a nurses’ training program?” With his usual vigor, he set to work examining the possibilities. So Sutherland started out on a path which would eventually destroy Madison.

“From Berrien Springs, some of us, as you know, went down to Madison, Tennessee, by the counsel and advice of Ellen G. White, and there we planned a school which would never give degrees or cater to worldly courses of study.”— Percy T. Magan, letter to Warren Howell, January 13, 1926.

Unfortunately, over the years, Madison diverged from the blueprint in two ways; both of which combined to destroy this large, successful independent ministry. First, Madison decided to follow along the pathway approved by the accrediting associations.

Second, the other way in which Madison diverged from the blueprint was in yielding to the temptation to go into debt. This is how it happened: In order to meet the ever new and changing accreditation requirements, Madison was faced with a dilemma: either go steeply into debt or have the accre-di-tation agencies close down their nursing program and hospital. Madison decided to go into debt in order to provide new and upgraded facilities. But the large amount of money needed to pay off that debt was so massive, that the school, alumni, and other friends could not raise enough of it. So the entire institution was lost.

In 1917 Madison School receives accreditation. In 1919 they started a three years accredited program for nurses. In the next few years some other programs were accredited. In 1933 the 4 years college program was accredited too.

Accreditation, always a will-o’-the-wisp, ever calling for more equipment, buildings, and
library upgrades, had finished off the institution.
A fund-raising letter by Lida Scott in 1929 provides a hint of how much money had to be kept pouring into the many improvements needed to meet accreditation agency demands:

“In order to meet the standard of a senior college, we are seeking financial assistance. Our requirements are a library of 10,000 volumes, an Agricultural and Home Economics Building, Science Building, Liberal Arts Building, and a Normal Building with some additional student cottages. It will cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 to equip the buildings and provide additional necessary facilities.” — Lida Scott to G.F. Peabody, December 16, 1929.

Despite the strength of the food business during the early 1940s, the school experienced hard times during what came to be known as “The Fateful Forties.” Enrollment dropped to a low of 154 in 1944-45. In 1946 Sutherland, age 81, resigned as president to become secretary of the Commission on Rural Living; he had been president of Madison for 42 years. In 1954 the school celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. It now consisted of over 800 acres (mostly farmland), 27 self-supporting student-run industries, and a 220-bed sanitarium using natural healing methods. One year later, in 1955, E.A. Sutherland died suddenly of appendicitis at age 90.

In February 1963 ownership and operation of the college and sanitarium (renamed Madison Hospital) was transferred to the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. In November 1963 the State of Tennessee withdrew its accreditation for the nursing education program at Madison, largely due to the faculty’s “academic inbreeding.” This coupled with the heavy debts of the school and sanitarium, caused the school to close in September 1964.


One thought on “Madison School: Difficulties on the Road

  1. My mother took a Bible class under William Grotheer at Madison College in 1964. We lived in the area then, and were members of the Madison SDA church. I’ve read and reviewed “God’s Beautiful Farm”, and noted basically the same thing you have in this post – Madison went down because it compromised with the world.

    When it was pure, it had great influence, even becoming a household name in America in the late 1930s thanks to articles in Reader’s Digest, among others. It is said that Gandhi even reprinted that whole article. Think how the fate of over a billion people in India could have turned out better if Madison had stayed true to God’s plan for it.

    But thank God that it did do a great work for several decades, and many of the self-supporting institutions in the southern part of America owe their existence directly to Madison, and the self-supporting work in general in the SDA church basically got its origins in God’s Beautiful Farm.

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