Skip to main content Skip to main navigation

John Howard Melish, William Howard Melish and Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity collection

Call Number



1904-1985, inclusive
; 1947-1958, bulk


Melish, William Howard
Melish, John Howard
Mason, Anna May
Touchet, Francis H.


8 Linear Feet in 16 manuscript boxes

Language of Materials

English .


The Rev. John Howard Melish (1874-1969) was pastor at the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, New York (1904-1949), while his son, the Rev. William Howard Melish (1910-1986), was associate rector at the same church from 1938 to 1957. The bulk of this collection covers 1947-1958, a period of time during which the two clergymen, with the support of parish congregants, struggled to remain attached to the Church of the Holy Trinity despite efforts by the church vestry and the Episcopal Bishop of Long Island to remove them. In the midst of the Cold War era, the Melishes' removal was sought because of, at least in part, the son's role as Chairman of the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship. The bulk of the collection consists of clippings maintained by William Howard Melish, but also includes correspondence, notes, and other documents from Melish and his supporters, including congregant Anna May Mason. The collection also includes an audiotape of William Howard Melish's remarks at the 1963 memorial service held for W. E. B. Du Bois in Ghana.

Biographical note

John Howard Melish was born in Milford, Ohio in 1874; attended the University of Cincinnati, Harvard Divinity School, and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass.; became associate rector of Christ Church in Cincinnati in 1900; and came to Brooklyn to serve as the rector for the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1904. In 1915-16, he gained some fame within the church for his efforts to give women the right to vote in the annual parish meetings of the Episcopal Church. He was also a fraternal delegate to the Central Trades Labor Council of Greater New York and Chairman of the Brooklyn Committee for Better Housing.

His son, William Howard Melish, was born in Brooklyn in 1910; attended Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, Jesus College at Cambridge University, and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass.; began his ministry at Christ Church in Cincinnati in 1935, and joined his father as assistant rector at the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1938. At various times he served as the Chairman of the Cincinnati Forum Committee, Vice-President of the Kings County American Labor Party, and Chairman of the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship. It was this last position in particular that led to the famed "Melish Controversy."

The Attorney General of the United States in 1948 labeled the National Council for Soviet-American Friendship a subversive organization. Soon after, the vestry sought to persuade the elder Melish to dismiss his son from the position of associate minister because they considered "that certain outside activities of the Assistant Rector were most detrimental to the interests of Holy Trinity Church." The elder Melish declined, and the vestry attempted to remove them both. The ensuing battle involved the parishioners of Holy Trinity church and Bishop James Pernette DeWolfe, the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Long Island, and wound up going to the New York Supreme Court twice in the course of the ensuing decade. Increasing conflict between the bishop's new rector and some parishioners brought about the closing of the church in 1957, by order of the Bishop.

After a few years spent in an effort to re-open Holy Trinity, William Howard Melish was called to be the rector of Grace Church, in Corona, Queens. Holy Trinity was eventually re-opened by the congregation of St. Ann's, and was henceforth known as the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. John Howard Melish lived in the rectory of Holy Trinity Church until his death in 1969.

A significant portion of the material in the collection came from Anna May Mason, who was a longtime parishioner in the Church of the Holy Trinity and active in its committees. Among these was the Trinity House Committee, of which Mason was Chairman during the 1950s, responsible for overseeing the operation of a co-ed residence sponsored by the Church. Mason was born in 1876 and baptized in Holy Trinity, and when she died in 1969, her funeral was held in the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. During the period of the Melish Controversy, she was the most senior member of the parish and a supporter of the Melishes. She was a co-defendant or co-petitioner with the Melishes in at least some of their court cases.

The Church of the Holy Trinity, now known as the Church of Saint Ann's and the Holy Trinity, is located in Brooklyn Heights at 157 Montague Street. It is well known in architectural circles for its Gothic Revival style and stained glass windows by William Jay Bolton, thought to be the earliest stained glass windows in the United States, circa 1822.

Arrangement note

The collection is organized in the following nine series:

Series 1: Church of the Holy Trinity Materials, 1933-1957.

Series 2: Trinity House Records, 1950-1959.

Series 3: Melish Family Materials, circa 1950s-1969.

Series 4: Anna May Mason Materials, 1947-1969.

Series 5: William Howard Melish Clippings, Ephemera, Correspondence, Notes, 1939-1958.

Series 6: Francis H. Touchet Clippings, Ephemera, Notes, 1904-1980.

Series 7: Anna May Mason Clippings, 1947-1969.

Series 8: Publications, 1913-1985.

Series 9: Court Records, 1949-1979.

Scope and Contents

The scope of the collection principally includes material related to the Melish controversy, centering on the period 1948-1958. Most of the material is files of newspaper clippings maintained by William Howard Melish, focusing on Communism, United States-Soviet Union relations, and the Melish controversy and related court cases. The collection also includes clippings and other documents collected by Francis H. Touchet in connection with his research on the Melish matter and materials compiled by Holy Trinity parishioner and Melish supporter Anna May Mason.

In addition to the extensive clippings, the collection also includes significant correspondence, notes by William Howard Melish, press releases, court filings, and other material related to the Melish case. Further, the collection includes sermons, writings, and talks by the Melishes. Among these is a set of reel-to-reel audio tapes of a memorial service held in Ghana in 1963 for W. E. B. Du Bois at which William Howard Melish spoke. With the principal focus of the collection on William Howard Melish during the 1940s and early 1950s, earlier and later years of his career are only lightly represented in the collection. His father, John Howard, is represented in the collection through some printed matter and correspondence, as well in the clippings files.

Other than the Melish controversy, the collection holds committee minutes, financial statements, and other useful material concerning Trinity House, a co-ed residence house sponsored by the Church of the Holy Trinity. The collection includes correspondence between William Howard Melish and author Ralph E. Wager regarding Bouck White, with related photographs, and between Melish and Rev. Joseph F. Fletcher of the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1950s. The collection holds a small amount of material concerning the history, architecture, and other aspects of the Church of the Holy Trinity itself. Periodicals in the collection include Holy Trinity's Parish News (1946-1959) and the journal The Churchman (1948-1963), among others. Other publications in the collection include Father and Son, a pamphlet written by Arthur Miller in support of the Melishes.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); John Howard Melish, William Howard Melish and Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity collection, ARC.050, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Custodial History note

John V. Mason, the nephew of Anna May Mason (1876-1969) and the executor of her estate, donated to the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1969 a collection of materials that included Church of the Holy Trinity Materials, Trinity House Materials, Anna May Mason Materials, and various newspaper clippings, publications, and legal papers. Anna May Mason was a Holy Trinity congregant and partisan of Melish father and son. She was also a co-defendant or co-petitioner in certain of the Melish court cases. These materials were designated as accession number 1977.326; folders in the collection with material received from Mason's estate are noted as such with this number. These are found primarily in series 1, 2, 4, and 7.

Folders with accession number 1985.010 include materials received from one of three sources: a) William Howard Melish in 1983, b) Francis H. Touchet in 1985, or c) Mary Jane Melish (1913-1999) in 1987. The material from William Howard Melish includes newspaper clippings, notes, etc. contained in Series 5, as well as publications, correspondence, and the obituary of John Howard Melish. Francis H. Touchet donated his doctoral research materials on "the Melish Case," which consisted of the materials in Series 6 and some correspondence and publications. Mary Jane Melish, who was William Howard's wife, was responsible for the reel-to-reel tapes in Series 3, along with a few publications.

Related Materials

Related materials available at the BHS library include:

The Social Gospel and the Cold War: A History of the Melish Case, Doctoral Thesis of Francis Henry Touchet, 1981. Library of Congress Classification: BX5995.M44.

Records of the Protestant Episcopal Church Diocese of Long Island at the Brooklyn Historical Society (accession 1985.088; unprocessed collection).

Related materials not at BHS include:

National Council of American Soviet Friendship Records, 1919-1990, at New York University's Tamiment Library.

Wolcott Cutler Papers at Harvard Divinity School Includes articles and clippings about the Melish Case.

Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers at Harvard University Includes correspondence with William Howard Melish.

Mary Elisabeth Dreier Papers at Harvard University Includes correspondence with William Howard Melish.

International Labor Defense Correspondence with Wanda Gag at the University of Pennsylvania Includes correspondence with William Howard Melish.

Collection processed by

Gabriel Farrell and Leilani Dawson, with additional description and input to Archivists' Tookit by Jesse Brauner and Larry Weimer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:20:02 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: English

Processing Information

This collection was initially organized and described in 1985 and 1987, and consisted of materials received between 1983 and 1987 (accession 1985.010). The materials from the estate of Anna May Mason, accessioned in 1977 and originally titled the Church of the Holy Trinity Records, were released from restriction and incorporated in the spring of 2006 (accession 1977.326). The full collection was processed at that time by Gabriel Farrell, an intern at the Brooklyn Historical Society in the Pratt GATEWAI program. Dr. Pettit edited the text, May, 2006. Minor editing to the finding aid was done in November 2008 by Chela Scott Weber, BHS Archivist. In August 2010, volunteer Jesse Brauner and Project Archivist Larry Weimer input the finding aid content to Archivists' Toolkit, expanding or modifying the original description in part during that process. Also, photos previously separated to BHS's photograph collections were reintegrated into the collection.

In December 2011, the tapes of the W. E. B. Du Bois memorial service were digitized. The work was done by George Blood, LLC. Digitization was made possible through the generosity of William Coleman, a Brooklyn Historical Society trustee.


Brooklyn Historical Society
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201