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Emma Dryer, the daughter of John and Lucinda Dryer of Victor, New York, was born in Massachusetts in 1835. Her parents died quite early and an aunt adopted her from whom she received a sound Bible background and a new last name Cobh. Dryer was converted while young. She graduated in 1858 from Ingham University at LeRoy, New York, a women's college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. There she taught astronomy and mathematics for two years before moving to Knoxville, Illinois, to become the principal of the recently chartered Ewing Female University, later known as St. Mary's School. In 1864 she began teaching grammar and drawing at the Illinois State Normal University, now known as Illinois State University, in Bloomington, where she stayed until 1870.
In 1870, while boarding in a home in Chicago, she attended the services at the Illinois Street Church of her friends Rev. and Mrs. William H. Daniels. Rev. Daniels was pastor of the First M.E. Church where she met the pastor William J. Erdman, who convinced her of the doctrine of premillenialism. Premillenialism is an eschatological view that claims that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will occur literally before He begins His reign on earth for one thousand years. It was a doctrine that drew many evangelical protestant adherents from all over United States and gave impetus to evangelism and missionary work.
Miss Dryer brought Scripture to inmates during her visits to many local jails with Sarah Clarke. Mrs. Clark and her husband, Colonel George Clarke, founded the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. After the 1871 Chicago Fire, Dryer organized relief work in the city and eventually became the superintendent of YWCA. She was also involved in evangelistic work at Moody's Tabernacle, where she successfully led mother's meetings and organized industrial schools. In 1872 she also worked as a representative agent of the Christian Union magazine, and in 1873, she became the secretary for the Women's Aid Association.
It was through Dryer's missionary friends, Mrs. Sarah Cleveland and Miss Alice Miller, life members of YWCA, that D. L. Moody came to know about her. After meeting Dryer in the summer of 1870, Moody was impressed with her educational background and knowledge of the Bible. In May 1873 the Chicago Avenue Church, formerly the Illinois Street Church, hired Dryer as a Bible teacher and superintendent for its Bible school. During this time, she occasionally mentioned to Charles Blanchard, then the pastor of the Chicago Avenue Church, that she desired to develop a Bible Institute that would train persons for ministry tasks. Mr. Moody encouraged her to resign her position at Illinois Normal so that she could devote her time developing her Bible institute in Chicago. Therefore, she played a strategic role in creating a full-fledged Bible worker's training Institute.
On a Sunday morning during the winter of 1873, Moody happened to meet Dryer on the on the way to the Tabernacle. He encouraged her to stay in Chicago, to unite with his church, to get into the Chicago work, and stay with it the rest of her life. With an initial contribution of five hundred dollars provided by Nettie Fowler McCormick, Dryer organized Bible work in the spring of 1873. As she was beginning this work, Moody and his song leader Ira Sankey left Chicago for highly publicized revival meetings in Britain and parts of the United States.
Dryer traveled to New York City in 1876, where Moody was conducting the great Hippodrome Revival, to further her case for the establishment of a permanent school in Chicago. In July of that year, Moody made an early plea for the establishment of a Bible Institute during a meeting of the YMCA. Also, in 1876, the Bible Work of Chicago (BWC) had become a successful operation supported by voluntary contributions. The day-to-day operations of the BWC were the responsibility of the Chicago Bible Society (CBS), which was a branch of the American Bible Society.
Dryer employed seventeen people in her Bible Work of Chicago in 1878. Workers lived under the supervision of Dryer while instruction and training were given by pastors, evangelists, physicians and others. The workers-in-training made house-to-house visits with Bibles always in hand. Early autumn 1879, at the urging of Moody, Dryer traveled to England and spent a year in Mildmay where she attended Bible conferences and observed the Christian work of the London Deaconess House. She also attended meetings of the Central YMCA and studied the church work that was occurring among the urban poor.
Moody raised hopes for the establishment of a training school. Dryer herself looked for more solid support. She spoke to the president of Wheaton College (Illinois), Charles A. Blanchard about the characteristics of the proposed Institute and its subsequent work. She felt "trial-sessions" of Bible Institute type classes should be conducted, and if they were a success, D. L. Moody could be persuaded to enlarge the Bible work in Chicago in the direction she had foreseen. President Blanchard contacted Moody's regular supporters, and immediately raised $500 for that work.
Dryer did her part by recruiting teachers, including William G. Moorehead, a Presbyterian minister at Xenia Theological Seminary. Professor Moorehead was to become consistent lecturer at the Institute for years to come. Dryer also promoted the Institute by advertising it in "Notes for Bible Study" and in many religious papers. The Institute was first located on the West Side at 100 Warren Ave. Later it was moved onto Ada St., where it was named "Bible Worker's Home."
It was in 1883 that Dryer inaugurated the May Institute as a part of the Chicago Bible Work. She planned for these to be "trial sessions," with the objective of training of people as evangelists, pastoral helpers, missionaries and other types of religious workers. About fifty regular students were registered for the first winter session held at the YMCA. The second session was held in the winter of 1884-5. It attracted seventy-five regular students and brought forth a response from Moody.
The May Institute was located in the Bible Work room of the YMCA building at 150 Madison St. until April 1889. On 5 February 1887, Moody met with Dryer, Cyrus McCormick Jr., Nettie Fowler McCormick, John Farwell, N. S. Bouton, E. G. Keith, and other interested parties to found the Chicago Evangelization Society. The Women's Bible Work became the Ladies Council of the Society with Nettie Fowler McCormick as honorary secretary.
In February of 1888, Dryer's Bible Work was incorporated into the Chicago Evangelization Society. A committee was appointed by the board to recommend a location for the buildings. The charter members of the Chicago Evangelization Society included those who had previously supported the Bible Work. They were Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, John Farwell, N. S. Bouton. D. L. Moody was president. Together they recommended that the open lots west of the church and the property to the north could be purchased. In April 1889, the May Institute was transferred to the Chicago Avenue Church.
On May 12, Emma Dryer along with Moody, met with Scottish friends at the home of Mrs. Guerdon S. Hubbard on Locust Street to discuss the immediate plans for the Institute building. When Dryer asked about his plans for the school, Moody answered, "I intend to keep the school going, red-hot, all the time!" Emma Dryer was highly educated, an organizer, and very meticulous regarding details. She waited patiently to start the school, which she and Moody had been discussing for many years. She never let Moody forget the need for a Chicago training school and his original hopes, aspirations, and plans.
New directions from the establishment of the Chicago Evangelization Society and differences of opinion led Dryer on 16 May 1889 to separate from the Chicago Evangelization Society and soon after to merge the Bible Work with the Chicago Bible Society. Moody had great respect for Dryer that prompted him to say, "Emma Dryer was the best teacher of the Word of God in the United States."
To Emma Dryer goes much credit for the founding of Chicago Evangelization Society. For sixteen years she encouraged D. L. Moody to start a training school and supported this encouragement with her faithfulness and dedication in directing the Chicago Bible Work. During the early years, Moody provided the encouragement and motivation; Dryer and her staff did the work. It was through her educational know-how, organizational ability, and untiring dedication to the work that laid the foundation for the Chicago Evangelization Society, which later became known as the Moody Bible Institute.
When the Chicago Bible Society incorporated in 1889, Dryer's Bible Work became one of its departments. The Chicago Bible Society's Annual Report of 1901 printed an activity report of the Bible Work Department that showed Emma and her thirteen workers had made 13,324 home visits, had held or addressed 1306 meetings, and had brought 140 persons to regular Bible Study. In 1901, the Chicago Bible Society's Women Council noted that her efforts had met the needs of the poor, sick and needy via house visits. Her methods were models in the teaching of the Bible, its doctrines, its historical and geographical facts, and had made the Bible's vital truths practical for the family setting.
Dryer retired from active service in 1903 after supervising the Bible work for nearly thirteen years. She found new involvement in the China Inland Mission, and she actively supported the mission and its missionaries. She was also elected Superintendent Emeritus with the privilege of residence at the Bible Workers' Home. Dryer's Bible Work was eventually affiliated with the American Bible Society. Emma Dryer provides a portrait of an evangelical woman who faced the challenges of urban ministry work. On 16 April 1925 Emma Dryer had a stroke and died at 11 p.m. The funeral service was held in her home 4124 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, officiated by Charles Blanchard then president of Wheaton College. Her body was buried in Wheaton, Illinois. In 1977, Moody Bible Institute named a newly acquired building "Dryer Hall" in her honor.
Blanchard A. Charles. President Blanchard's Autobiography: The Dealings of God with Charles Albert Blanchard, for Many Years a Teacher in Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. Boone, IA: The Western Alliance Publishing Company, 1915.
Caldwell, Thekla Joiner. Women, Men and Revival: The Third Awakening in Chicago. Thesis (Ph. D. in history), University of Illinois at Chicago, 1991.
Dryer, Emma, to Charles A. Blanchard, January 1916. Transcript in the hand of Emma Dryer. Biographical file of Emma Dryer, Historical Collection, Henry C. Crowell Library, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago.
Dryer, Emma, to Mrs. Waite, 18 July 1924. Transcript in the hand of Emma Dryer. Biographical file of Emma Dryer, Historical Collection, Henry C. Crowell Library, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago.
Rausch, Rosemary, and Chris Synder. "Three Women in the Life of D.L. Moody, 7 October 1981" Historical Collection, Henry C. Crowell Library, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago.
Schultz, Rima Lunin and Adele Hast. Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: a Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Sixty-Second Annual Report of the Chicago Bible Society for the Year 1901. By Charles H. Mulliken, president. Chicago, 1902.
Dryer's Life Timeline
Born in Massachusetts.
Graduated from Ingham University at Le Roy, New York, a women's college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
Taught Grammar and drawing at the Illinois State Normal University (now Illinois State University) in Bloomington.
Met D.L. Moody at the office of the YMCA.
Conducted Chicago Bible Work for members of Illinois Street church, held mothers' meetings, and sewing schools for girls.
Worked as an agent of the Christian Union magazine.
Became the secretary for the Women's Aid Association.
Mr. Moody encouraged her to stay in Chicago, to get into the Chicago work for the rest of her life.
Inaugurated the May Institute in YMCA.
May Institute attracted seventy-five regular students.
1886, January 22
Moody spoke at Farwell Hall to supporters who wished to establish an institute.
1887, February 5
Met with D. L. Moody, Cyrus McCormick Jr., Nettie Fowler McCormick, John Farwell, N. S. Bouton, and E. G. Keith to found the Chicago Evangelization Society.
1889, May 16
Resigned and took her Bible work to the Chicago Bible Society.
Retired from active service after supervising the Chicago Bible Work for thirteen years and was elected as the Superintendent Emeritus.
1925, April 16
Suffered a stroke and died.
MBI named the building at 930 N. LaSalle Blvd. "Dryer Hall" in her honor.