03/16/11 2:29 pm Age: 4 yrs

English Professor Also Historian


By: Becky St. Clair

Nosworthy shares her ancestors' stories

Sylvia Nosworthy's Adventist ancestors played a large role in advancing the denomination. Her interest in telling their stories brings history to life in Walla Walla and beyond.

For Sylvia Nosworthy, as with many professors, standing in front of a group and lecturing doesn’t end in the classroom.  And sometimes, the topic isn’t necessarily related to those which they teach in the classroom, either.

Nosworthy, professor of English at Walla Walla University, dedicates some of her free time to teaching others about Adventist history.  Having grown up in Portland, Maine, Nosworthy was surrounded by the story of Seventh-day Adventists from her birth.  Her parents named her Sylvia Byington Nosworthy, in honor of her great-great-grandfather, John Byington, the first General Conference president.  

“On my way to school each day we drove past the place where Ellen White had her first vision,” she recalls.  “School was in the basement of a church where Mrs. White had spoken and recess was often in Deerings Oaks, a park where the young Ellen Harmon walked.”

As she grew, so did her interest in women’s journals, which gave her fascinating insight into the private life of women during particular historical periods.  She notes that one of the best of these is “A Midwife’s Tale,” by Laurel Ulrich, based on the diary of Martha Ballard (1785-1812).

These days, Nosworthy translates her extensive research and insatiable interest in her forefathers into presentations and lectures around the country.  Last summer she volunteered at Adventist Historical Village in Berrien Springs, Mich., where she shared stories of her ancestors and their contemporaries with hundreds of visitors each weekend.

“I’ve done several different presentations locally,” says Nosworthy.  “For some I’ve worn the costume I made to use as a tour guide at the historical village, and when I speak to elementary school children I focus on stories they would enjoy, such as events that happened to children during the pioneer years.”

Nosworthy visits churches in costume, as well, and takes the congregations on virtual tours of the village.  She has also given presentations about the life of her great-grandmother, Martha Byington Amadon, the teacher of the first homeschool run by Adventists.

“So many people have never been able to visit Battle Creek and see some of the places that are so much a part of our Adventist heritage,” explains Nosworthy.  “I was truly inspired by the many who visited last summer during my volunteer time, and I thought maybe I could bring the experience to the people in the Northwest.”

Nosworthy would like to return to her childhood hometown in Maine and revisit the local denominational places as an adult.  She also hopes to visit New York to investigate a story about her great-great-grandfather having a station on the Underground Railroad.  She also dreams of having a building in the historical village restored and developing a display of dresses exemplifying the dress reform message.

“I love that Walla Walla University encourages research into denominational history, with a goal of strengthening our faith in the beliefs established so long ago,” she says.  “Having the personal family connection has shown my listeners that the early church members were very real people with seemingly insurmountable problems that they met with much action and great faith.”

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