Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Hidden gems: Ernestine Emrick Hoff’s family album

By Virginia Harness, Archival Intern, BHLA

A few weeks ago, the BHLA received a rather unique donation: The personal family photo album of Ernestine Hoff Emrick, granddaughter of Emanuel B. Hoff. If that name rings a bell, it is likely because E.B. Hoff, along with A.C. Wieand, founded the school that would become Bethany Theological Seminary in 1905.

The photographs chronicle the family’s development over four generations, from E.B.’s parents down to his grandchildren. Sprinkled in amongst the photographs, there are also graduation and wedding announcements, letters, biographical data and genealogies. All told, the material in the album covers well over 100 years of the history of this very active Brethren family!

The album is quite extensive, but below I’ve selected a few photos that I believe capture the evolution of this Brethren family through the years and give a little taste of the fascinating history of Bethany Theological Seminary. Remember, if you’d like to see this remarkable piece of history in its entirety, you can always visit us here in the basement of the General Offices!

: Picnic in San Dimas Canyon, c. 1910
Photo by E.G. Hoff

 John B. Hoff and his two daughters, Della and Myrtle, largely raised E.B.’s son, Ernest, after the death of Ernest’s mother. E.B. would go on to found Bethany with A.C. Wieand, while his eldest son, Ernest, would become a professor, teaching at Bethany and La Verne. E.G. Hoff was a much admired Biblical scholar and editor of the Sunday-school materials for the Church of the Brethren. E.B.’s two younger sons (Ernest’s half brothers) would also enter academia. John Luke became a professor at McPherson College in Kansas, while Amos pursued a career in science, eventually becoming a professor at Phoenix College in Arizona.

Ida Wagner Hoff, E.B.’s second wife.
From the Ernestine Hoff Emrick family photo album, Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Ida Wagner Hoff, E.B.’s second wife.

One would never imagine that the woman in this photograph would marry a Brethren preacher! Yet that’s exactly what she did. After the death of his first wife, E.B. Hoff married Ida Wagner, a young woman from a well-to-do Maryland family. Ida used her personal wealth to help finance Bethany in its early years, and she was the mother of John Luke and Amos Hoff from the previous picture.

Bethany Bible School Evangel Page
From the Ernestine Hoff Emrick family photo album, Brethren Historical Library and Archives

 This is a page taken from the Bethany Bible School Evangel during the first academic year of the school (1905-1906). Note the two founders in the center, E.B. Hoff and A.C. Wieand. The two men lived next door to one another for many years. The others pictured are early students at Bethany, including the Hoff’s African-American housekeeper, Nellie Rainey.

E.B. Hoff, Ernestine Hoff (Emrick), and Ernest G. Hoff, at their home on Van Buren Street, Chicago, Illinois, c. 1924.
From the Ernestine Hoff Emrick family photo album, Brethren Historical Library and Archives

E.B. Hoff, Ernestine Hoff (Emrick), and Ernest G. Hoff, at their home on Van Buren Street, Chicago, Illinois, c. 1924.

Three generations of the Hoff family. Not only did E.B., Ernest, and their families make important contributions to the Church of the Brethren themselves, they also worked to pass on this tradition to the next generation. Ernest’s daughter, Ernestine Hoff (later Emrick), the compiler of the incredible album from whence these pictures come, continued the family tradition of service in her own way. Ernestine taught music and art, and was an author and poet in her own right, with several published works. Ernestine and her father worked together on a book of mediations called Look to the Light, with Ernestine writing the poetry and E.G. contributing the photographs. Ernestine also made contributions to the Brethren Encyclopedia and did extensive research on the history of Bethany Theological Seminary.