I have been obsessed with Ida Gage for two weeks now. My husband is telling me I have to stop digging. I am never going to uncover every fact about this woman’s life, and what is more important is to construct her rhetorical history through her sermons and speeches at conferences. Yet, these early Free Methodist women keep pulling me back into their history, their lives. They have become my friends and my heroes, who I really wish I could meet. Archival research is very complex, especially when you are trying to piece together the lives of women who have been almost completely forgotten. No one has thought it important enough to go back and track the personal histories of these evangelists, and more importantly to look at how they influenced early Free Methodism.
Tuesday I spent four hours scrolling through film of the Wood County News. I found four references to the Free Methodist Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. In 1892 the Free Methodists began holding meetings in Bowling Green. They rented the hall over Cooley’s Grocery (61 N. Main Street) where they held services on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. However, to find this location is not an easy task. Street maps have changed since 1892. I’m going to have to find old maps of city plots and try to piece together where this building was located. Perhaps, it doesn’t seem important to find the location of the church, but this was Ida’s first appointment. I don’t have many photos of these women and their ministry. I want to find it, record it and preserve this tiny piece of Ida’s life. It’s ironic as I research Ida I keep finding that geographically our lives have been lived in very similar ways. She lived in Lucas County, preached in Bowling Green where I’m working on my doctorate at Bowling Green State University, and prior to moving to California in 1908 she served as a matron at Spring Arbor Seminary. Spring Arbor Seminary is now Spring Arbor University, where I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In addition, her daughter Edith married a man who was born in Holland, Ohio. I now want to track down Holland Free Methodist Church membership rolls and see if he was a member at that church. Holland Free Methodist is one of the oldest in the Ohio Conference, so I hope the records for the church exist from that long ago.
So, Ida’s life is slowly being pieced together. For two weeks I searched death certificates, birth certificates, any sort of records I could find in my free time to figure out who she was. I’d be watching TV in the evening and suddenly think of another place I could look for information, but I kept hitting dead ends. Today, I had a break through. Although, I can’t take credit for it. I was e-mailing back and forth with the archivist at Spring Arbor University and she found Ida’s obit for me in the May 25, 1915, The Free Methodist.
So, here is more information on who Ida Gage really was:
She was born Ida Loretta Harley in Geauga County, Ohio (Northeastern Ohio) March 30, 1861
She married Charles R. Gage in Michigan, July 8, 1879, at age 18. He was 27 and a farmer. They lived for a time in Maple Valley Township, Montcalm County. They were married by a justice of the peace. A.J. Harley and Sarah Harley were witnesses (Possibly her parents?). It appears Ida’s family was living in the area, having moved from Ohio to Michigan.
She didn’t convert to Christianity until she was 23 and then she joined the Free Methodist Church.
She felt called to preach at 25, two years after her conversion.
She served the Free Methodist Church for 23 years – five years in Michigan; 15 years in Ohio; and a few years in California.
Her obit notes that her constant travel as a circuit riding preacher was difficult on her family life. She had two daughters – Edith (birth date 1882) and Almeda. Almeda was more than likely named after the pastor who led her to Christ –Rev. Almeda McShay
Her daughter Edith Gage married Nelson Eugene Tingley in 1900 in Lucas County, Ohio. Nelson Tingley was born in Holland, Ohio and Edith Gage was born in Stanton, Michigan. She was 18 when she married. Her husband’s age isn’t listed. So, Ida Gage began her ministry around 1892 in Ohio. Her daughter Edith would have been old enough to help with household work while her mother was traveling and preaching, but Edith left home and got married about half way through her mother’s time in the Ohio Free Methodist Conference.
For 2 years prior to moving to California in 1908 she served as a matron at Spring Arbor Seminary.
In 1912 she married Jesse Wood in California. We can assume Charles had passed away by this time, but I still have to find a death certificate.
She was in good health until 1915 when she fell ill suddenly and died enduring great suffering on March 23, 1915. The exact illness is not listed.
So, while some things are still unclear, we now can create a better picture of who was Ida Gage. She was a strong woman who rode out on her own around Ohio ministering to small congregations. As she noted in her 1890 address, she appears to have had a complicated first marriage. It’s understandable, married at 18 and then converting to Christianity at age 23. She had two daughters at a home, a husband, and a call to ministry. Those are not easy things to balance. Yet, despite complications in her personal life, which are alluded to in her obit as well as her 1890 address, she didn’t give up on her call, and her ministry prospered because of her passion and commitment.
I think I can now take a break from Ida for a few weeks. I have a better sense of who she is. Now, I just want to find the location of the Free Methodist meeting house in Bowling Green. The great archival hunt continues….