The Salvation Army's peculiar wedding vows in 1904

Morning Oregonian August 6, 1904

Dispassionate And Calm Wedding Of Salvationists.
Couple Promise to Subordinate Matrimonial Ties and Affection to Religious Work.Phoebe Mitchell

"In the name of God and the Salvation Army, I pronounce you husband and wife."

Before the draped flags of the Salvation Army and the United States, before hundreds of people in the little Salvation Army Chapel at 235 [sic] Davis street, Sergeant-Major Phoebe Mitchell and Treasurer Peter Vanderkelen were last night bound in the bonds of holy wedlock, Brigadier-General Mrs. Stillwell officiating.

It was a picturesque crowd that jammed the chapel to the doors. It was composed of people in all walks of life. Some of those in attendance had dropped in from the streets out of curiosity, the odor of the saloon still about them; others were people whose names are household words in Portland. There were saints and sinners, priests and profligates. Army members turned out in force, and prohibitionists were there in abundance.

At 7:30 o'clock the wedding procession, minus the bride and groom, formed in front of the chapel, and marched up Third street to Burnside where the usual open-air meeting was held. The procession was headed by the Army band, followed by 10 little girls dressed in white and carrying lighted lanterns to represent the Ten Virgins. There were almost 100 members in line.

After the open-air meeting the procession reformed and marched back to the chapel, which was filled to the door with a crowd that waited impatiently for the service to begin. The chapel was decorated with evergreens, roses, wedding bells and flags. A solid bank of white and green was before the altar. Above, a huge wedding bell of flowers was suspended.

Before the ceremony Mrs. Stillwell addressed the audience and told some of her experiences when first she came to Portland 18 years ago. Then, while the Army band played the wedding march, the bridal couple entered and took seats on the platform amid the applause of the crowd.

Miss Mitchell was in the dress uniform of the Army, with a white silk sash about her waist and shoulders and a white bow on her hair. Aside from these simple distinctions, she was garbed as simply as any other Army woman in the house. Mr. Vanderkelen wore the conventional uniform of the corps.

The flag of the Army and the flag of the United States were carried to the center of the platform before the altar and spread so as to form a background. Before this the couple and Brigadier Stillwell took their stand. Mrs. Stillwell then read the marriage vow of the Salvation Army: "We do solemnly swear that we seek this union not alone for our own happiness, though we hope that through it it may be advanced, but because we believe we will be better fitted to carry on the work of the Salvation Army. We will in no way let this union come between us and the work of the Salvation Army. We will each of us not object to anything the other may desire to do to further the work of God through the Salvation Army."

"If you desire to become husband and wife on these terms," said Brigadier Stillwell, "stand forth."

Miss Mitchell and Mr. Vanderkelen immediately advanced to the altar, and there, through the ceremony of the Salvation Army were made husband and wife. After concluding the ceremony Brigadier Stillwell congratulated the pair, and the members of the Army in the hall shouted their approval of the union. The bride sat on the platform smiling happily, and the groom smiled back with the air of a soul-satisfied man.

The bride had more nerve than most brides. After being married she advanced to the front of the platform and addressed the audience for the space of several minutes. She stated that she recognized the importance of the step she had just taken, and intended to always live up to the vow of the Army, never to let the union come between her and the Army's work. The groom followed with a brief address, and Brigadier Stillwell closed the meeting with a few appropriate remarks after which a flashlight picture was taken of the crowd.

Mrs. Stillwell will conduct a meeting at the barracks at 128 First street this evening, and there will also be another wedding there on August 25.


Oregon Daily Journal August 6, 1904, pg. 3
There were rich and poor in the crowd that packed the little mission at 265 Davis street last night to witness the marriage of Sergeant-Major Phoebe Mitchell to Treasurer Peter Vanderkelen of the Salvation Army. Society people were there to witness the event; the other world also crowded into the place to observe the ceremony.Phoebe Mitchell

So dense was the crowd that packed the army mission that both bride and groom were forced to brush their way to the decorated altar. At 9:30 they emerged from the small room to the rear of the auditorium near the entrance of the place. At once there was the deep accompaniment of a drum and the jangling rattle of a tambourine that joined in a march.

Accompanied each by a comrade they walked down the aisle between curious guests and paused beneath the flag that waved above the altar. The ceremony was performed by Mrs. Brigadier Stillwell, the veteran of the ranks. It was the second time in the history of Portland that a wedding ceremony was performed by a woman.

Before the wedding there was a picturesque parade. Ten little girls marched at the head of the procession through the streets, bearing red flambeaux and tiny bells. They took no part in the ceremony at the church because it was decided yesterday afternoon that their appearance would savor of a demonstration.

A fee of 10 cents was collected at the door from all who entered. There were four who represented society's elite that refused to pay and were turned away from the door. Another crowd from the north end slums followed shortly after and each paid the sum. One grimy hand reached out as if to pay, but tried to snatch the dimes that were collected.

"He stuck his hand in the tambourine and made a big grab, but I saw him first," said Mrs. Comrade Myerhams, who stood at the door and collected the admission fees. "He tried to steal at the wedding, but that is no new occurrence with us. We meet all kinds."

Daily Oregon Statesman July 31, 1904, pg. 9
Treasurer Vanderkelen And Serg-Maj. Phoebe Mitchell Of Local Salvation Army Corps Will Wed On Friday Night.
He is treasurer of the local army and a loyal soldier as ever wore the red and blue or told the story of his faith to a doubting sinful crowd. She is a Salvation Army lass, young and pretty, and as driven in the faith as any girl who ever donned the quaint poke bonnet of her creed.

She is sergeant-major of the local force and for many years has tramped bravely behind the banner that waves in every city on the globe. For eight long years they both have labored here with wicked men, telling them to follow that light which they themselves have found.

God of War Yields.
But the marital glamour of the god of war has grown quite dim, and in its stead has come the captivating wiles of the little god of love. Dan Cupid has played havoc with the army corps and has put to rout two of its bravest officers, who until they met had never a thought save only to recruit its ranks.
Salvation Army circles in the city are agog over the approaching wedding. Mrs. Brigadier Stillwell will perform the ceremony next Friday night that will unite in marriage Treasurer Peter Vanderkelen and Sergeant-Major Phoebe Mitchell. It will occur at corps headquarters, 265 Davis street, and will be a joyous time.

Twelve little girls will march at the head of a procession immediately after the ceremony and proceed through some of the principal streets of the city. Attired in pure vestments, each will ring a tiny bell, whose peals shall join in the clamor of the drum and tambourine. The bride and groom will march behind the little girls.

Devote Life to Cause.
It is a peculiar vow which each will take when they reach the altar. And after it is over no rice will be thrown upon the wedded pair or anything be done that is frivolous in its nature. The law is plainly told in a book that is kept by each army corps in which the marriage vows and regulations are concisely laid down.

"We do solemnly declare," each will say before the assembled comrades of the faith, "that we have not sought this marriage for the sake of our own happiness or interests only, but because we believe that this union will enable us to better please and serve God, and more earnestly and successfully to fight and work in the Salvation Army.

Both Vanderkelen and his promised bride are well known in army circles in this city. She is 23 and he is two years her senior. When scarcely more than an infant she was thrown upon the world and sought shelter from its cruel stings behind the great red banner. An ardent and devoted worker for the cause, she labors industriously while not preaching or singing on the streets. By laborious work and thrift she has supported herself and a younger brother. And besides she contributes generously to the cause."

The groom is also a sacrificing soldier. During the day he toils in the city, while at night he exhorts the people upon the streets. Both have been stationed in this city for many years and are two of the most trusted and respected officers. She holds the highest position in the city aside from the staff of field officers.

At every meeting in the city the announcement is being made each night that a wedding will occur next Friday night, but the names are a profound secret. All the officers and soldiers of the city will be there, and many besides who are interested in the army.

Evening Telegram (Portland) 8/3/1904

Wedding Will End In Folds Of Flag

High Salvation Army Officials Will Be Married Friday Evening


With all the pomp of the Salvation Army ceremonies, Sergeant Major Phoebe Mitchell and Treasurer, Peter Vanderkelen, two of the highest officials of the local division, will be married at the chapel at 265 Davis Street at 8 o’clock Friday evening. Mary Stillwell


Brigadier-General Mrs. Stillwell, the pioneer officer of Oregon, will officiate. Mrs. Stillwell was the first Portland officer and her visit to Portland is looked upon as more than an ordinary event.


Before the wedding ceremonies there will be a street parade, which will be led by 12 flower girls and from that on the ceremonies will continue until they are closed by wrapping the happy couple in the Salvation Army Flag.


Morning Oregonian (Portland) 8/5/1904 p7

Wedding In The Army

Salvation Army Soldiers To Be Married Tonight. Brigadier-General Mrs. Stillwell Arrives to Conduct Ceremony and Holds First Rally.


Brigadier-General Mrs. Stillwell, the pioneer officer of the Salvation Army who opened the work of the organization in Oregon and Washington over 18 years ago, and who is now located at Los Angeles, is in Portland. She comes to perform the impressive ceremony that will unite in the bonds of matrimony Sergeant Major Phoebe Mitchell and Treasurer Peter Vanderkelen, formerly of Belgium, both of whom are members of Portland Corps No. 1, whose barracks are located at 265 Davis street.


If there was any apathy in the local corps, if the members had begun to lose interest, they were alert and active now. With her wonderful personal magnetism, Brigadier Stillwell has completely transformed the spirit of the Salvation Army in the few hours she has been in the city. Last night their meetings were more enthusiastic than they have been for some time in the past, and under the able leadership of the Brigadier the members of the corps who appeared at the open-air meeting at the corner of Third and Burnside streets conducted themselves with such evident sincerity that the usual crowd was swelled by twice its number. Many were there out of curiosity to see the Brigadier, who years ago took up the work of the army in Portland under great difficulties. The meeting at the barracks on Davis Street was also well attended.


In the crowd that surrounded the Salvationists at their open-air meeting there was an intoxicated individual with a desire to cause confusion,

“Hi, there, Mrs. Stillwell,” he cried.


“That is my name, body and soul,” quickly replied the Brigadier, “and I knew you when you were a lot better man than you are now.” She looked at him carefully while he made an attempt to force his way through the crowd and get away. “Yes, I know you,” she said, “and if I wanted to do it, I could give this audience your name. Your looks tell me that you have wandered far from the straight and narrow path. There are others in the crowd that I know too, but I am not going to give them away. You are perhaps now ashamed of yourselves as you would be were I to point you out. There are several men here before me that were better once upon a time, when I lived in Portland and knew you all.


This evening Brigadier Mrs. Stillwell will perform the marriage ceremony of Phoebe Mitchell and Peter Vanderkelen at the barracks at 265 Davis Street. The impressive ceremony of the Salvation Army will be uses, and before the Brigadier wrapped the flags of America and the Army, their hands upon the Bible, the betrothed pair will solemnly swear that they seek the union not altogether for themselves, but that they think that as man and wife they can better work in the interests of the Army and advance the work of God. The ceremony will not be abbreviated, but will be conducted by the Brigadier in its entirety. The public will be admitted to the wedding.


The experiences of Mrs. Stillwell have been many and varied.


“When I first saw the Salvation Army I stood on the outside of the crowd and wondered at it all,” she said. I then professed to be a Christian, but when the Army leader asked those in the crowd who were Christians to testify I was afraid. The Army made me ashamed of myself. I determined to overcome timidity, and did so, with the result that I entered Army work and advanced in it, and am in it today, and shall be until the Master calls me away.


When Mrs. Stillwell first introduced Army work in Oregon and Washington over 18 years ago, she was exposed to insults and ridicule, even stoned from the streets. Rough characters of whom there were more in the country then than now, spat upon her as she kneeled praying in the streets; men devoid of manhood even struck her, and she often turned her bruised face toward them and blessed them for their blows because they strengthened her determination. Such a character won out in the end. The better class began to think there was something foreign to religious fanaticism in such devotion in the face of such odds. The Army gained members; it swelled in numbers; it built homes and barracks; it began its great work in the Pacific Northwest. Mrs. Stillwell went from Portland to Seattle, Tacoma and other cities. There she experienced the same insults, the same degradations--though she did not call them degradations--that she triumphed. She was advanced in rank, and now she is a Brigadier, almost next in rank to Consul who met death on the cars last year.


Of the trials she passed through in those early days, Brigadier Stillwell will not talk now. She converses of the end, not of the beginning, and holds the trials and troubles as nothing, since she has conquered. She is now located in Los Angeles, where she is engaged in active Army work.


(The article below this “Democrats Not Hopeful. Concede That Oregon Will Go Heavily Republican.)

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