a collaborative genealogy of spirituality

Happy S. Love

by Judith Weisenfeld

Photograph of Happy S. Love used with permission of the Dorothy L. Moore papers, Emory University
Photograph of Happy S. Love used with permission of the Dorothy L. Moore papers, Emory University

To stay sweet and meek
Right at your Savior’s feet
For He will make a way to keep
‘Your Dorothy’ as His very heart beat
Then why not stay soft, tender and sweet
You have no other to seek
Cause He will forever be
The very one you need
So come and see
When He calls Your Dorothy
‘Please come and see me’
Because, I cause you to fall in love with me
And I want You solely for my very heart beat

P.S. How do you like that? Dedicated to your Dot from Father in me.

Happy S. Love to Dorothy L. Moore
January 8, 1949

In what context might a portrait photograph sent to one’s object of love and desire also be an expression of spirituality? Or a devotional poem about God’s power to fulfill all needs also a statement of need and desire for human emotional and physical, perhaps even sexual, contact? How might the above photograph of and poem by Happy S. Love provide access to the ways that spirituality can structure and convey erotic desire and sexuality?

No trace remains in the archive of Happy S. Love’s identity or life before she joined Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, most likely in the 1940s, and took a spiritual name to reflect the transformation she underwent through her belief in the divinity of Father Divine. She lived in one of the movement’s residences in Newark, New Jersey, having broken ties with her family of birth in favor of her new family of brothers and sisters in the movement. In doing so, she also chose to commit herself to a sex-segregated, celibate, communal life. Everything about members’ lives prior to accepting Father Divine had to be left behind. In their lives with him, they adopted new attitudes toward embodiment. Father Divine preached, quoting and expanding on Romans 12:1, “’I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, Holy, acceptable unto God, for such is your reasonable service.’ That is to give up your body for the Spirit’s sake and recognize the Spirit and the Life as Supreme. And when you do that, you are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. You are looking to the Heavenly state of consciousness and not to the material or mortal state. . . .” The communal residences, often referred to by outsiders as “heavens,” served in many ways to help Divine’s “Angels” sacrifice their mortal bodies to a spiritual purpose. In coming into Father Divine’s Kingdom, Happy S. Love also pledged to live out the movement’s theological perspective that race was a product of the negative mind under the influence not of God, but of “the other fellow.” Members refused to use racial language, opting instead to speak of people as “dark complected” and “light complected,” and people of different complexions ate, worked, and lived together, even making sure that shared beds were integrated. As one of Divine’s “Angels,” Happy S. Love lived in the glow of God’s bodily presence in the person of Father Divine, surrounded by her spiritual sisters and brothers.

Into this world came Dorothy (Dot) Moore, a “light complected” student at Bemidji State Teachers College who had discovered the Peace Mission Movement through friends from Minnesota who had relocated to the movement’s headquarters of Philadelphia. The archival record does not reveal whether Moore was pursuing personal spiritual questions or was simply curious about her friends’ life choice when she spent her summer vacation in 1948 with Peace Mission members in Philadelphia. It was probably not until the winter of 1948-1949 that she met Happy S. Love during a visit she made with Father and Mother Divine and some of the Philadelphia followers to Newark. Happy S.’s intense melancholy after Dot’s departure gives some sense that the meeting affected her greatly. She wrote to Dot following the visit, “I was feeling bad nearing the end, especially when I saw the last of you. . . . But Dot how happy will I be again when you come home to stay forever.  .  . .  I miss you.” Happy S. wondered in her letter whether Dot missed her and her “crazy ways” and hoped that Dot wouldn’t mind the correspondence. Below her signature, Happy S. included the poem she had written to Dot presumably to demonstrate how much she enjoyed her company. But, she was certain to add that, when she spoke of Dot as “you,” she meant “Father in you” and that when she spoke of herself, she meant “Father in me.”

For members of the movement, celibacy, one part of a larger strategy of control of the material in favor of the spiritual, helped to ensure physical health and eternal life in this world. Father Divine warned a member of the dangers of not fully letting go of the material, writing, “of course, if you do not get rid of resentment, anger, lust, passion, jealousy, envy, and every other characteristic of carnality, you cannot remain well, healthy, and happy for those characteristics will bring adversities upon you and cause the return of such old afflictions as you have been freed from when you first received the witness of the Holy Ghost.” Celibacy was also a tool to help focus attention on God in the person of Father Divine. Father Divine himself underscored this in a letter he wrote to Moore in 1948 in response to a question she posed about her correspondence with Wonderful Love, a female follower and member of the virginal Rosebuds in Philadelphia. He wrote, “it has been somewhat of a ritual between MY Real True Buds that they would correspond only with the ONE they so greatly admire and therefore, put no one between their LORD and SAVIOR.” He required this focus on himself rather than on relationships of any sort with others and expected his followers to keep him at the forefront of their minds at all times. “Do your job conscientiously,” he told followers, “but think constantly of me.”

Observers of the movement from its early days in the 1930s were skeptical of the claims of celibacy and focused especially on the question of whether Father Divine had sexual relations with his followers. The media gave particular attention to various accounts of former members that Father Divine did not practice the celibacy he required of members in their daily lives, most notoriously the charges leveled by Faithful Mary in the 1930s and Ruth Boaz in the 1950s that they engaged in sexual relations with him. Some observers also noted the possibility for the expression of same-sex sexuality in the sex-segregated world of Father Divine’s “heavens,” assuming that some followers acted upon this impulse. Behind the sensational headlines, the nature of daily personal interactions among Father Divine’s followers remain difficult to recover. Any challenges believers might have faced in working to subordinate the material to the spiritual and to keep Father Divine in their thoughts at all times might, indeed, have involved a struggle to remain celibate, but also to resist emotional attachments to other members.

Happy S. Love’s brief correspondence with Dorothy Moore allows us to consider how an individual might attempt to make sense of human desire and sexuality in the context of a particular set of religious habits, practices, and spiritual vocabulary. Happy S. made clear in her letter that she enjoyed “keeping company” with Dot, but was aware of the possibility that her assertion might be interpreted as contrary to the movement’s theology concerning directing emotional energy toward anyone but Father Divine. Consequently, she clarified her position by noting that, “what I mean by company like a friend. In a way of speaking to pal around with. Because you seem to be a happy person.” And yet, she forged ahead, appending the love poem that opened this entry and sending a photograph the following month. Happy S. penned her love poem in the spiritual vocabulary of the Peace Mission Movement through which members often spoke of their devotion to Father Divine in romantic terms. From one perspective, the poem can be taken as an act of spiritual witness in which Happy S. assures Dot of Father Divine’s love and ability to fulfill all needs – “you have no other to seek, Cause He will forever be, The very one you need.”

In addition to offering this assurance to Dot, Happy S. deployed another element of the Peace Mission’s theology that allowed her to express a more personal message in the movement’s vernacular. Father Divine preached, “BE STILL and know that God is in you. It is indeed wonderful! God is in you . . . WAITING for the STILLING of your conscious mentality, that HE might work through you and that HE might not only work through you, but that HE might manifest Himself, as a reality in the lives of the people.” When read in light of the knowledge that God was in her and that Father Divine could work through her, Happy S.’s poetic rendering of Father Divine’s ability to make Dot fall in love takes on new dimensions beyond the movement’s official theology. That Happy S. found a way of speaking her desires, unacceptable in the normal and literal course of things within the Peace Mission Movement, in the movement’s own spiritual vernacular comes into sharpest focus in the postscript to her poem: “from Father in me.” At the same time that Father Divine’s theology was intended to limit the development of emotional attachments and sexual contact between members, the movement’s theology, practices and spiritual vocabulary made it possible for Happy S. to form a connection to Dot that remained true to her commitment to the divinity of Father Divine.

Sources: The photograph, poem, and correspondence between Happy S. Love and Dorothy L. Moore, as well as between Father Divine and Moore are located in and used with permission of the Dorothy L. Moore papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. Additional sources include transcripts of Father Divine’s messages and correspondence between Father Divine and Grace Truth in the Father Divine Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library and Hadley Cantril and Sherif Muzafer, “The Kingdom of Father Divine,” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 33:2 (April 1938): 147-167.