Will D. Curtis and wife

Photo courtesy of Adventist Heritage Centre, Australia.

Curtis, Will DeForest (1851–1907)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: September 1, 2020

Will DeForest Curtis, pioneer missionary to Australia, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on May 10, 1851.1 His father, who became a Seventh-day Adventist, raised him, but Will resisted his father’s faith until about 1884.2 Some evidence suggests that Will married the daughter of a minister of another faith about 1879 and that she either died or abandoned him in 1884.3

The first mention of Will Curtis in SDA publications identifies him as a licensed minister in Ballard Falls, Kansas, in 1885.4 During his work in the Kansas Conference he met Lucinda “Lou” Kirby, a Bible instructor in Wichita. Lou had trained and taught in the Kansas public education system before attending Battle Creek College to study to become a Bible instructor.5 They married in Sedgwick, north of Wichita, on November 13, 1886.6 Eleven days later General Conference officials in session appointed Will and Lou to Australia for evangelistic work.7

Sailing across the Pacific Ocean, Will and Lou broke their journey at Hawaii for two months in the interests of mission activities and again at Auckland, New Zealand, to assist Arthur G. Daniells for one month. They arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on May 9, 1887.8 During the southern summer months of 1887-1888 Curtis conducted three series of tent meetings in Melbourne. He reported that 62 members of his audiences had signed a covenant to keep the Saturday Sabbath, raising the membership of the infant Melbourne church to 150.9 In the winter months Will conducted indoor meetings in Ballarat and seven converts signed a church covenant before he moved on to Geelong to spend a few days with a small company of believers.10

On August 30, 1888, delegates from the four Australian churches met in Melbourne and formed the Australian Conference with 266 baptized members. The session granted ministerial credentials to Mendel Israel, George Tenney, and Will Curtis, the only ordained SDA ministers in Australia at the time. It is unclear exactly when Curtis received ordination.11

During the southern summer of 1888-1889 Will transferred to Adelaide, South Australia, opening a tent series in Parkside, one of the suburbs.12 A Sabbath School of 45 members soon formed.13 Later he moved the tent to Unley to repeat the series.14

That year a highly public spat erupted between Curtis and a minister of another Protestant faith. Challenged to a public debate about the Sabbath issue, Will agreed for it to take place in Melbourne. Correspondence between the two men appeared in the Australian Christian Standard with the opposing minister exhibiting much bravado and bluster. From the safety of Auckland, New Zealand, the itinerant clergyman published a fictitious debate between himself and a nameless Seventh-day Adventist minister, the latter, of course, made to look silly. In reply, Curtis provided a supplement page in the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, giving a full account of the exchange and accusing the minister of never really having serious intentions to meet him in a public debate, because the individual was on his way to Fiji and Great Britain.15 However, the debate did take place in Melbourne during October 1890. The independent moderator apparently either declared it to be a drawn contest or one not in Curtis’s favor, for the church press concluded by saying, “We doubt the utility of such disputations.”16 A few months earlier Curtis became involved in a similar debate in Adelaide, believing that any public discussion of the Sabbath, no matter how combative, would arouse interest in the topic.17

Curtis continued to lead the Adelaide mission throughout 1891, conducting another tent series toward the end of the year.18 Leadership voted a transfer back to Melbourne for 1892.19 He had scarcely settled there when he announced that he and his family would be returning to America to educate their children.20 Their five-year stay in Australia had seen the birth of their three youngsters: Will DeForest, Jr. in Adelaide21 and Florence22 and Mabel in Melbourne.23 Mid-1892 the family sailed from Melbourne to Auckland and boarded the Pitcairn on its first return voyage. They proceeded via Pitcairn Island and Tahiti, arriving at San Francisco on October 8.24 The voyage took more than three months with Will and Lou caring for their youngsters, all being under the age of 4.

Back home in America, Curtis served first in the Illinois Conference as superintendent of education. Later he transferred to the Indiana Conference where he held the same position25 and also as vice-president of the conference for a period.26 In 1904 he became Sabbath School and education secretary for the Lake Union Conference,27 a role cut short by a sudden heart attack at his home in Berrien Springs on Sabbath November 23, 1907.28 After a service in the Emmanuel Missionary College chapel, Will Curtis was laid to rest in the Rose Hill Cemetery, Berrien Springs.29

After Will’s death, Lou returned to her profession, teaching in the Normal Department at Emmanuel Missionary College and specializing in Latin studies.30 She also became the first editor of the Lake Union Herald, a position she held for 25 years (1908-1934).31 She enjoyed three years in retirement, passing away on August 11, 1937, and was laid to rest beside Will in the Rose Hill Cemetery.32

Sources

Burman, C[harles] A. “Lou Kirby Curtis.” Lake Union Herald, September 21, 1937.

Curtis, Will D. “Adelaide.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, February 15, 1889.

Curtis, Will D. “Adelaide, South Australia.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, April 1, 1889.

Curtis, W[ill] D. “Adelaide, South Australia.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 16, 1889.

Curtis, Will D. “Australia.” ARH, August 21, 1888.

Curtis, Will D. “Meetings at Ballarat and Geelong.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1888.

Curtis, W[ill] D. “Mr. Hammond and the Australian Christian Standard: A One-sided Affair.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1, 1889.

“Discussion in Adelaide.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, 1890.

District of Adelaide. Birth Certificates. Government of South Australia Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Adelaide, South Australia.

District of Melbourne. Birth Certificates. Government of Victoria Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Melbourne, Victoria.

“Frances Prentiss Homer.” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/KCTR-ZNG.

“Mabel Curtis Romant.” ARH, August 5, 1965.

Mastheads. Lake Union Herald, vols. 3-26, 1911-1934.

[Moon, Allen]. “Elder W.D. Curtis.” Welcome Visitor,” December 11, 1907.

Moon, Allen. “Will D. Curtis.” ARH, December 19, 1907.

Read, A[lbert] J. “The Work in the Islands.” Bible Echo, December 1, 1892.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1885.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1904-1907.

Tenney, G[eorge] C. “Australian Conference Proceedings.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888.

“Tent meetings are now in progress…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 15, 1891.

“The Conference in Melbourne was followed…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1892.

“The many friends of Bro. W. D. Curtis…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 15, 1892.

“The minister appointed by the General Conference…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 1887.

“The Sabbath question was lately discussed…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1, 1890.

Twenty-fifth Annual Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Minutes of the Seventh Meeting, November 24, 1886.

“Will DeForest Curtis.” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/1:1:FD5V-HR6.

“Will DeForest Curtis.” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/MXHZ-YLB.

“Will DeForest Curtis.” Find A Grave, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1537/memorial-search?firstName=will&lastName=curtis.

Notes

  1. [Allen Moon], “Elder W. D. Curtis,” Welcome Visitor, December 11, 1907, 3.

  2. Allen Moon, “Will D. Curtis,” ARH, December 19, 1907, 23.

  3. “Frances Prentiss Homer,” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2020, accessed March 22, 2020, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/KCTR-ZNG.

  4. “Kansas,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1885), 6.

  5. C[harles] A. Burman, “Lou Kirby Curtis,” Lake Union Herald, September 21, 1937, 10.

  6. “Will DeForest Curtis,” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2020, accessed March 22, 2020, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/MXHZ-YLB.

  7. Twenty-fifth Annual Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Minutes of the Seventh Meeting, November 24, 1886.

  8. “The minister appointed by the General Conference…” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, June 1887, 96.

  9. Will D. Curtis, “Australia,” ARH, August 21, 1888, 539.

  10. Will D. Curtis, “Meetings at Ballarat and Geelong,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1888, 140.

  11. G[eorge] C. Tenney, “Australian Conference Proceedings,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888, 156.

  12. Will D. Curtis, “Adelaide,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, February 15, 1889, 60, 61.

  13. Will D. Curtis, “Adelaide, South Australia,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, April 1, 1889, 108.

  14. W[ill] D. Curtis, “Adelaide, South Australia,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 16, 1889, 380.

  15. W[ill] D. Curtis, “Mr. Hammond and the Australian Christian Standard: A One-sided Affair,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1, 1889, Supplement.

  16. “The Sabbath question was lately discussed …,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1, 1890, 336.

  17. “Discussion in Adelaide,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 1, 1890, 140.

  18. “Tent meetings are now in progress …,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 15, 1891, 352.

  19. “The Conference in Melbourne was followed …,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1892, 32.

  20. “The many friends of Bro. W.D. Curtis …,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 15, 1892, 160.

  21. District of Adelaide, Certificate of Birth no. 444/331 (1889), Government of South Australia Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Adelaide, South Australia.

  22. District of Melbourne, Certificate of Birth no. 2823 (1888), Government of Victoria Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Melbourne, Victoria.

  23. “Mabel Curtis Romant,” ARH, August 5, 1965, 24.

  24. A[lbert] J. Read, “The Work in the Islands,” Bible Echo, December 1, 1892, 364-365.

  25. Allen Moon, “Will D. Curtis,” ARH, December 19, 1907, 23.

  26. “Indiana Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1905), 36.

  27. “Lake Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1907), 33-34.

  28. Allen Moon, “Will D. Curtis,” ARH, December 19, 1907, 23.

  29. “Will DeForest Curtis,” Find A Grave, 2020, accessed March 21, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1537/memorial-search?firstName=will&lastName=curtis.

  30. “Emmanuel Missionary College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1909), 147.

  31. Mastheads, Lake Union Herald, January 4, 1911 and October 16, 1934.

  32. C[harles] A. Burman, “Lou Kirby Curtis,” Lake Union Herald, September 21, 1937, 10.

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Hook, Milton. "Curtis, Will DeForest (1851–1907)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 01, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B96W.

Hook, Milton. "Curtis, Will DeForest (1851–1907)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 01, 2020. Date of access June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B96W.

Hook, Milton (2020, September 01). Curtis, Will DeForest (1851–1907). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B96W.