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June 2016

With this first posting of the month, I want to, once again, mention another Koreshan, but in this case, the post will be a bit disconnected becasue, ironically, this person seems to have been lost to most Koreshan history. Or, perhaps she “left” Koreshan history…

Mary Mills, secretary to “Victoria” an early Koreshan was very active in the early days of the Unity. She was one of the women who accompanied Dr. Teed to Florida to search for land for the New Jerusalem.

Lyn Millner, in her book The Allure of Immortality talks about Mary Mills dedication to Victoria in the early Chicago days, but there is very little about her after this. She wrote:

Mary Mills (Courtesy of Florida Memory)

Mary Mills or Elizabeth Robinson? (Courtesy of Florida Memory)

More trouble among the women came to a head that winter, when Teed was out of town. Most of the women accepted Victoria’s leadership, though some did so grudgingly Others openly defied her. The question that came up at a meeting while Teed was away was a theological one: was Victoria divine? Two women believed she was—that the spirit of God had already entered her body. They were Berthaldine Boomer and Mary Mills. Boomer claimed to have had a private conversation with Teed on this very issue and that when she asked about Victoria’s divinity, Teed had bowed his head and told her it was so. But most of the women—even those who obeyed her, as Teed commanded—did not believe Victoria was divine. Teed had taught that she would not become divine until after Teed’s translation or theocrasis. Jennie (Andrews) knew this, but she also knew that Victoria was powerful, and she had seen what happened when women defied her. Jennie diplomatically suggested that the women wait until Teed returned so that he could solve the question for them. Victoria did not want to wait. At the next meeting of the women’s mission, Victoria presided as the mission’s president. One can imagine her, tall and poised in the dark Victorian clothing she favored, her wavy hair swept into a low chignon, surrounded by the more plainly dressed women. Mills and Boomer testified to her divinity. Jennie, who was expected to say something, arose and diplomatically told the group they should honor Victoria as their empress because she was appointed by Teed. At the end of the meeting they stood together and prayed; Jennie wrote that it was like a Methodist prayer meeting except that “the Lord God Almighty’s name was left out and another one substituted. But after the meeting, things got ugly. Boomer and Mills insisted that the ascending spirit of the Lord Jesus was in Victoria. Jennie hadn’t wanted to cause trouble, but someone needed to speak up, and it fell to her. She told Boomer and Mills that if Victoria were divine, it went against everything she had ever heard Teed teach. Mills, normally graceful and refined, became enraged. “[She] turned furiously with arms outspread and eyes blazing” and told the women that a devilish spirit was trying to defeat Victoria and eat away at their Unity. “You may eat yourselves up if you want to,” she said, “but don’t you dare to lay a hand on her.” The disagreement continued for two months, a crisis in their history, Jennie wrote. “It seemed to be a resistless tide that would carry all sense and reason before it . . . and if not checked would do great harm.” When Teed returned, he did not answer the question of Victoria’s divinity in words. Instead, there was a ceremony at Beth-Ophrah during which he crowned her with a wreath of laurels and said that her leadership represented an important era for the world: the age of womanhood and the power of women. One Koreshan read a paper she had written about the importance of obedience to Victoria. Then, in April for Victoria’s birthday, the Koreshans held a “coronation” for her at Beth-Ophrah. This was the first Lunar Festival, what became an annual celebration of Victoria’s birthday, the counterpart to the annual Solar Festival held to commemorate Teed’s birthday. There were music and speeches, and the Koreshan drama troupe performed the trial scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Souvenir programs were printed in gold and blue, held together by gold cording. The front of the program showed a delicate crown with “coronation” printed across the headpiece.
From the Park Archives

From the Park Archives

One Koreshan described this as the most solemn and impressive occasion in the history of the movement to that point. He recorded what transpired: everyone gathered in the parlors of Beth-Ophrah to witness Teed’s confirmation of Victoria’s position as “Pre-Eminent.” Teed explained that she was the head over all orders. He bestowed upon her a new last name, Koresh, making her official name Victoria Gratia Koresh. He also formalized the appointments of the women of “The Triangle”—Victoria, Berthaldine Boomer, and Mary Mills and he created “The Planetary Group,” seven leading women in the movement. He told these women, “Stand by Victoria at all hazards as her cabinet.” He cautioned the other followers not to criticize the appointments, as they were made from the throne of Almighty God, with Teed simply as the messenger.“

So, Mary Mills was a member of the so-called “Triangle” and she certainly demonstrated her allegiance to Victoria. Note the two photos above. The first comes from the the Florida Memory Project, and is identified as Mary Mills. However, this photograph looks nothing like the photograph that we have identified in the Park Archives. The Florida Memory photo looks more like Elizabeth Robinson.

After the return to Chicago, there is no evidence that Mary went back to Florida. Other researchers have found census records which show a Mary Mills living in Chicago. Perhaps she remained a Koreshan believer, as did many, without living in the Unity. After that, all we can find is a death record for a Mary C. Mills in Chicago in 1921.

    Name Mary C Mills
    Event Type Death
    Event Date 27 Sep 1921
    Event Place Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States
    Address 9832 Charles Street
    Gender Female
    Age 79
    Marital Status Widowed
    Race White
    Occupation at home
    Birth Date 11 Jun 1842
    Birthplace Brooklyn, , New York
    Funeral Home W. C. Walsh
    Burial Date 01 Oct 1921
    Burial Place Chicago, , Illinois
    Cemetery Oakwoods
    Father’s Name David Collier
    Mother’s Name Catherine Davidson
    Informant’s Name M Foster

Why did Mary Mills not return to Estero? Or, did she return? Why is she not mentioned in virtually any of the published material that has been collected? Did she have a change of heart?

Categories: Monthly Feature.

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