Eldridge Burwell Hatcher was the son of the well-known Virginia Baptist leader William E. Hatcher, who served a very brief tenure at Franklin Square Baptist in Baltimore when the future superintendent was yet a toddler. Eldridge was a small, thin, scholarly minister with interests in journalism and teaching. A graduate of the University of Richmond and Southern Seminary, he continued study at John Hopkins.
Hatcher came to the superintendent of state missions job in Maryland on March 15, 1903 from the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Norfolk. He left eleven years later to save the Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, which had been left in desperate circumstances by his father’s death. After salvaging the school, Hatcher went to Kentucky as editor of two Baptist newspapers, then to Mississippi to head the Department of Christianity at Blue Mountain College.
During his tenure in Maryland, the quiet, careful Hatcher worked in a city which was neither. By 1900, half of all Marylanders lived in Baltimore. From 1900 to 1920, the population of the city increased 44 percent. The 1905 MBUA minutes described the increase as a “social avalanche” bringing foreign missions to the very doors of the local churches. It was during this time that Marie Buhlmaier ministered.
The years 1900 to 1917, which frame Hatcher’s tenure as leader of the MBUA, are called the Progressive Era in America. It was a time when the businessman replaced the farmer as the American ideal of success. Notions of religious, moral, political, social, and economic reform united with those of pragmatism, liberty, and democracy. Under Hatcher associational structures for delivering ministry and cooperating with existing ministries began in earnest.
A Woman’s Training School was established under Hatcher’s tenure. The school worked through the City Missions Committee as an effort to evangelize Baltimore “at the least possible cost.” The school opened in March 1905 and Belle Randolph, a city missionary, was named the head. The school offered new students free tuition and twenty dollars expense money.
Hatcher was also on a “committee of editors” for the Baltimore Baptist from 1883 to 1895.
The last years of Hatcher’s administration point toward the future centralization of power and organization which characterized Southern Baptist life in Maryland and elsewhere in the first half of the twentieth century. As he retired the stage was set for intense restructuring of the MBUA.
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen