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Catherine Garber Laine: The Role of Her Lifetime (Redux)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 24, 2008

Catherine Garber was born in Ohio in 1851, the middle of eleven siblings who remained close friends all their lives. As a young woman Catherine became a stage actress, joining troupes that traveled from town to town, playing for a day or two before traveling on to the next town for another short stay.

Catherine soon became such an accomplished actress that she progressed from the rural Midwestern circuits to the larger cities of the east coast. She adopted the stage name Kate Andrews and was managed by Rhea, Janansbek, Peel and Duff – names that are now forgotten but who were among the brightest stars in the theatrical world of their day.

Catherine also worked behind the scenes in the wardrobe department, serving as wardrobe mistress for several large British companies touring the U.S.

She married John H. Laine, a veteran of the Civil War, who worked as a theatrical advance agent – the man who traveled ahead of an acting troupe to arrange for theaters, dates, and advertising. Among John’s clients was the great American bandmaster John Philip Sousa.

Theatrical life had its glamorous side, with footlights, fantasy, and the applause of audiences. It could also be difficult, with constant travel, seedy boarding houses, and the relaxed moral atmosphere of the theatrical world. For Catherine and John, there was the additional hardship of separation, with John usually working one or two towns ahead of Catherine. And except for the biggest stars, there was little financial security.

In the late 1890s, Catherine retired from the stage. John had died a few years before, and with her small pension as the widow of a Civil War soldier Catherine wanted to settle down to a more traditional life. With her sister Helene Garber Davis, also a widow, Catherine invested her savings in a boarding house at 202 West 23rd Street, Brooklyn, New York.

And that is where LDS missionaries found Catherine, and where she discovered that, far from quietly retiring, she was only beginning the real work of her life.

Until 1899, missionaries had avoided New York City’s boroughs in favor of the rural towns of New York State. But scattered rural members could not participate in regular church activity and tended to fall away. In 1899, Mission President E.H. Snow concentrated on large cities where permanent branches could be established. Catherine was among the first to respond; she was baptized on 10 May 1900.

With her baptism, Catherine began a new career as a missionary and active Latter-day Saint. The Garber sisters’ boarding house became the center of LDS life for members and missionaries in Brooklyn and Manhattan. It became the preferred New York City stopping place for Utah businessmen, Salt Lakers en route to Europe, and Mormon students.

Until there were enough Saints in New York City to justify the renting of a hall, the small branch met at the Garber sisters’ boarding house, making it the first LDS meeting hall in New York City in the modern era. Weekly Sacrament meetings and monthly Relief Society and M.I.A. gatherings were held there, as well as frequent cottage meetings to introduce friends and investigators to the Church.

The president of the New York Relief Society was a young actress whose work frequently took her out of town. More often than not, first counselor Catherine Laine served as acting Relief Society president for a busy group of sisters engaged primarily in missionary work, most of whom were originally from Utah and had far more Church experience than Catherine had. Catherine ably filled the role “with a cheerfulness that inspired all who came near her,” according to report.

Before long, Catherine developed a desire for temple blessings. Unable to afford a vacation-like trip to a Utah temple, Catherine secured a position as matron in the Ogden asylum for the blind, allowing her to work for her support while attending to temple ordinances. From late 1902 until 1915, Catherine lived in Utah, first in Ogden and later in Salt Lake City. Then doctors recommended that she seek a lower altitude to relieve heart disease. Catherine returned briefly to New York City, then moved into the home of a brother, Edward Garber, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Catherine became active in the Pittsburg branch. Her home there was always open to missionaries and old friends, until Catherine’s death in 1919.

This story was posted at Times and Seasons in October 2006.



4 Comments »

  1. I’m glad you re-post these. A paragraph or two in I remember them from the earlier posting, but otherwise it’s as if I had completely forgotten.

    You wrote: “In 1899, Mission President E.H. Snow concentrated on large cities where permanent branches could be established.” What sort of documentation supports your reading of President Snow’s intent?

    I observe a similar pattern in the Central States Mission (some years later). So far, I’ve found a few mentions in missionary and mission president diaries of factors that support the rural-to-urban shift. These include, for example, running out of potential rural converts who haven’t alreay met and rejected missionaries, the difficulties of traveling, the decrease in organized hostility that kept Elders out of cities, and the decrease in emphasis on purse-less and scrip-less preaching. However, I have not found any record of explicitly “strategic” thinking wherein someone lays out the pros and cons of rural vs. urban work and concludes that efforts should focus on cities. If President Snow did so, it would move my research along.

    Comment by Edje — May 25, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

  2. Edje, I’ll contact you off-line.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  3. I love hearing stories like this. Having also attended Church in NYC (the only single’s ward available when I lived in NJ), it was interesting to hear where meetings first were held.

    I also think it’s interesting how involved these sisters were in missionary work. We hear much about men’s involvement through the first century of the Church’s history, but not as much about the women.

    Comment by m&m — May 26, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  4. Ardis, what I love most about these stories is that they show the profound nature of “normal” lives, lived by normal people. They are truly inspirational.

    Comment by Ray — May 26, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

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