The Death of Mrs. D. S. Bentley
Christian Recorder: September 18, 1890
Some few weeks since one of the most brilliant and scholarly young ladies of our race, laid aside all that was mortal of her being, and soared to spheres celestial. Business engagements and never ending duties has prevented me up to the present from contributing a few words of respect to the memory of a name that should be enshrined in the admiration of our race. The lady whose departure from among the living we join in lamenting with all who knew her personally, and upon whose fresh grave we would lay a flower, was the late wife of the Rev. D. S. Bentley of Pittsburg, Pa.
Mrs. Fanny C. L. Bentley was well known to me and has been for many years. She was born and raised in Covington, Ga., near Oxford, the famous center of education, where the celebrated Emory College is located, and where many relatives survive her.
The ordeal through which she passed, fraught as it was with innumerable difficulties in obtaining her education, would require more time and space to describe than we are able to give to it. Procuring all, however, in the common schools then provided for colored youths, and possessing an insatiable desire for higher learning, she determined to acquaint herself with the most advanced avenues of learning. To do this, however, was no easy task, as her parents were too poor to meet the expense that college training called for. Nothing daunted, after many conflicts with poverty and discouragements, she presented herself at the doors of Berea College, in the state of Kentucky. Here, by dint of perseverance, economy, a little extra work and teaching school during vacation, she remained for eight years, determined to pass the gauntlet of the most advanced curriculum of the college. No persuasion could induce her to accept a diploma from any of the subordinate departments, academic, normal or scientific. The full college course was the goal of her ambition, and nothing less would induce her to leave.
But at the end of eight years her sacrifices and endurance was crowned with the diploma she desired, with a reputation for studiousness and close application that anyone might justly feel proud of. In the meantime she maintained a character before which the tongue of slander stood paralyzed. Ladened with honors of every kind calculated to ornament female excellence, she left the classic halls of Berea College amid a shower of “God bless yous” from thence forward till she became the inestimable wife of Rev. D. S. Bentley. Miss Fanny C. L. Bates played a grand and noble part in the elevation of her race. She taught school, lectured and wrote upon the gravest questions of the day. As a Greek, Latin and mathematical scholar, she was venerated and even feared, while philosophy and Ontology had no mazes that blunted the edge of her intellectual prowess. Indeed her metaphysical powers were so massive and analytical that to the superficial scholar her productions seem to partake of the speculative.
When we resolved to write “Methodist Polity,” or its first edition, we procured the services of Mrs. Bentley, then Miss Bates, to act as our amanuensis. We dictated to her nearly every word in that book and at the same time consulted innumerable authorities. She would snatch the words from our lips with an accuracy that was astonishing. Yet frequently she would pause, hold her pen as waiting in suspense, and after a moment’s reflection would say, “Bishop, that is not good English,” or “Bishop, your grammar is faulty,” and would proceed to transpose the sentence and ask, “How do you like that?” and we would say, “It is better, thanks.”
Sometimes, however, we would reply: yes, but the people will understand our meaning, so let it go; grammar or no grammar.
Her command of language and composition was of the highest order, and her powers of conception marvelous. We have seen her take up books and read from famous authors and criticize their sentences and their reckless use of the King’s English with a severity that would almost make one say, “Why did that fool attempt to write a book.” Her logical powers were proportionately equal to her analysis of sentences.
She could apply the dissecting knife to a line of argument as adroitly as she could to a composition in which it was stated. But upon the whole, why attempt to describe the powers possessed by that small, unassuming unpretentious lady, when she was a marvel of energy, desire, ambition, indefatigableness, persistence, perseverance, self-sacrifice, scholarship, original thought and lofty conception. Mrs. Bentley, to make a long story short, for her age and opportunities, was one of the grandest women of our race. And, humanely speaking, one might almost be tempted to say how strange a Providence that would call one so useful in our elevation to another sphere when there is so much need for them in this, “but the judge of all the earth will do right.”
Mrs. Turner, who knew her well and loved and admired her many virtues, used to say to her, “Fanny, my house is your home, and I am at your service if you should ever need me.” And in consideration of a reciprocal affection, Mrs. Bentley, in “The A. M. E. Church Review” of April ’90, when writing upon “The Women of our race Worthy of Imitation,” when she referred to Mrs. Bishop Payne, Mrs. Bishop Shorter, Mrs. Bishop Gaines, Arnett and several other ladies of note and distinction writes, of Mrs. Turner the following: Mrs. Eliza Ann Turner has gone to the home of the soul, but when living she reigned with queenly dignity in her home. She was peaceable and a very devout Christian. She was mild and had the deepest affections of her family. None knew her except through love and charity. The seeds of kindness and benevolence which she has scattered among the poor and distressed have decked her crown with many bright stars. God has taken one of earth’s brightest jewels. She was a true woman; she was loving and kind to all and was a real specimen of patience and mental tranquility.”
All that Mrs. Bentley said in regard to Mrs. Turner the writer of this article echoes to the name and memory of Mrs. Bentley. We are not astonished that her husband, Rev. D. S. Bentley, should say of his wife, “She was one of the dearest souls that ever lived upon earth.” Green be the grave and fresh be the memory of Mrs. Bentley is our prayer.