HALL, LYDIA ELIZABETH, Methodist evangelist; b. 1864 in Eramosa Township, Upper Canada, second of the three daughters of Joseph Hall and Ann Duggan; d. 15 May 1916 in Guelph, Ont.
Little is known about the early life of Lydia Elizabeth Hall, who was usually known as Eliza Hall or, when she was an evangelist, Lyda Hall. After her father’s death, sometime before 1871, her mother married George Wrigglesworth, a widowed farmer in Halton County. When he retired from farming, the family moved to Georgetown and Lyda and her elder sister, Margaret, worked as milliners. About 1883 the family moved again, this time to Guelph.
Lyda Hall had been brought up as a Methodist. Following evangelistic services led by the Reverend David Savage in Norfolk Street Methodist Church in Guelph in April 1885, her religious life became of vocational as well as personal significance. Many Methodist congregations at this time held annual campaigns and ministers commonly came to the aid of one another. The campaign in Guelph had a new feature, however. During the previous year Savage had begun using “praying bands” of lay workers to assist him in his evangelistic work. He came to Guelph with 12 young men whom he had recruited at earlier revivals and subsequently trained and supervised.
The songs, prayers, and testimonies of the band workers helped to make the Guelph revival a success. The services must also have opened to Hall a new possibility for usefulness because within a year she, too, was working as an evangelist in one of the bands. In the fall of 1886 Savage started using smaller teams and he took Hall and a male evangelist to assist him on a trip to the Eastern Townships in Quebec. He also began to arrange for some of the young women he had supervised to go out in pairs to congregations which requested his help, and in 1887 Hall and Sarah (Sadie) Jane Williams of Tottenham united as a team. Soon afterwards Williams started to work on her own and Hall was joined by the partner with whom she was to labour for 20 years, her younger sister, Ann Jane.
Lyda and Annie Hall began by leading revival services in Methodist churches in southern Ontario. Meetings were usually scheduled nightly for two weeks, but the series could extend to a month or more. The evenings often began with a service of song; according to the Christian Guardian of Toronto, the Halls’ songs were “like eloquent sermons.” Lyda was the more gifted preacher, earnest, intelligent, and practical, with “rare touches of pathos.” Annie distinguished herself as an exhorter, making the direct appeals that moved some to remain for the inquiry-meeting following the regular service. Observers recognized in both a particular talent for conducting this final part of the evening. Overall they displayed “exemplary tact and sanctified common sense” and managed the meetings with finesse “equal to any emergency” as they attempted to lead the seekers to salvation.
Their fame gradually spread. In the spring of 1895 they were honoured with an invitation to conduct services in their home congregation in Guelph, and the local newspaper reported that “prejudices, if any, have been swept away as the meetings progressed.” The two women received a steady stream of requests, many asking them to visit larger or more distant churches, including some in Hamilton and Toronto. Most of the invitations were from Methodist churches in Ontario, but the sisters also laboured at revivals held jointly by congregations of more than one denomination and they led services in the United States as well.
Although the Methodist Church had traditionally made greater use of women than did many other Christian bodies, it did not ordain women to its ministry, so that evangelists like Lyda and Annie Hall had no official status. They awaited invitations from ministers who wanted their assistance. The invitations to “the Misses Hall” did not offer a set remuneration for their work: at the end of each series of services the congregation took up a “thank offering” for them. In 1898, after spending five weeks at First Methodist Church in London, Ont., they received $150 from the church, and the Epworth League, the Methodist youth organization, presented Lyda with a gold watch and Annie with a purse of gold.
The sisters maintained a home in Guelph and returned there whenever they could to rest from their strenuous schedule. Their stepfather and their mother shared the home with them until his death in 1898 and hers in 1902. Lyda and Annie continued their work until, in the summer of 1907, Lyda was stricken with paralysis. She lived for nine years as an invalid with heart disease and died on 15 May 1916. Annie never returned to evangelism following the onset of her sister’s illness, but remained an active worker in her Guelph congregation; she died on 5 Aug. 1932.
Lyda Hall was one of a handful of women who laboured as evangelists in Canada at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Of these “lady evangelists,” probably only Sadie Williams worked as actively and as long as she did. Although Lyda Hall did not hold an official position within her denomination, she was heard by thousands and left her mark upon a great many of her hearers. One of the ministers in Guelph wrote after her death, “Her works do follow her.”
AO, RG 22-318, no.7873. NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Eramosa Township, Ont.; 1881, Esquesing Township, Ont.; 1891, Guelph, Ont. Christian Guardian (Toronto), 1885–1916, esp. 5 July 1916. Guelph Mercury, 17 April 1885, 7 Jan.–15 April 1895, 23 Oct. 1897, 16 May 1916, 4 Aug. 1932, 24 Jan. 1946. London Advertiser (London, Ont.), 16 April–10 May 1898. P. D. Airhart, Serving the present age: revivalism, progressivism, and the Methodist tradition in Canada (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1992), 62–93. M. F. Whiteley, “Modest, unaffected and fully consecrated: lady evangelists in Canadian Methodism, 1884–1900,” Canadian Methodist Hist. Soc., Papers ([Toronto]), 6 (1987): 18–31.