Bishop Harry Lee Doll’s portrait at our Diocesan Center in Baltimore

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

November 22, 1963, the day of President John F. Kennedy assassination, is etched in the memory of our nation. But on the same day, the Right Rev. Harry Lee Doll was installed as the tenth diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, an event perhaps overshadowed by a national tragedy. Born on July 31, 1903 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the son of Harry Lee and Millicent Doll, the future bishop graduated from Martinsburg High School in 1921. His father, who owned a hardware store located in the downtown square in Martinsburg, died when the younger Harry Lee was seven, so his mother took boarders into their home and provided meals for some widowers and bachelors to help make financial ends meet. After one year at West Virginia University, Harry Lee came home to help his sister Rebecca care for their mother, who had had a stroke. Following his mother’s death on December 1, 1927, Doll enrolled at the College of William and Mary, completed his course work in three years, then entered Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in 1930.

While studying at VTS, the future Bishop of Maryland became friends with the future Presiding Bishop, John Hines, a friendship which would last a lifetime and have an impact on Doll’s episcopate. Unusually, Doll was ordained a deacon in 1932 after two years in seminary and drove every weekend to Zion Church in Charles Town and Trinity Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to assist with services. Ordained a priest in 1933, Doll served as an assistant at the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, DC, then as rector of Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia until 1939.

Harry Lee Doll came to Maryland in 1942, called by St. Paul’s Parish, Baltimore, as their rector. He had spent an uneasy three years at a large parish in Houston, Trinity Church, and felt that the bishop there, Clinton Quin, had second-guessed his decisions and had watched his actions very closely. While rector of St. Paul’s, Doll worked to establish the parish as, not only a leader in the diocese, but as a family – a goal he carried over to his episcopate, as he encouraged the whole diocese to see itself as a family.

Consecration of Bishop Harry Lee Doll, the Maryland Churchman, June 1955

Elected Bishop Suffragan in 1955, Doll was consecrated on May 24, at St. Paul’s Church. Three years later, he was elected coadjutor, making him the chosen successor of Bishop Noble C. Powell. A study in contrasts, Powell and Doll exhibited distinctly different leadership styles during their joint episcopate. Powell, known as a compelling, outgoing, larger-than-life figure seemed to overshadow the quieter, more subdued Doll. Powell was reluctant to delegate power and maintained a formal relationship with Doll. (Many years later, Delia Doll, bishop Doll’s wife, remembered that her husband always called his superior “Bishop” while wishing Powell would allow a more personal relationship to flourish.) As the years went on, the civil rights movement, calls for the reform of American society, and the church’s attitude towards segregation polarized the country, and the two bishops’ differing attitudes to change simmered. Powell was a traditionalist, who advocated a slow, measured look at any calls for social alteration; Doll was certainly not a radical, but saw changes in American society as needed and overdue.

The opening lines to Bishop Doll’s 1961 Convention address were, “We must give thanks to God the Father that we live in this time of unrest and upheaval and change where the Church of the Living God is mightily challenged by the customs and mores of the world.” He went on to say, “Our Lord is on the move in the hearts of men, whether we will go or not. This is indicated in the demand for the recognition of man as man, made in the image of God.” Later at the same Convention, he presented a report as chair of a committee studying parishes surrounding downtown Baltimore. In a forward-looking summation, the committee said, among other things, “The flight to the suburbs is not a thing that once accomplished will produce stable neighborhoods. If our suburban parishes seem founded on the firm rock of stable neighborhood, we are deceiving ourselves. Their problems in twenty years’ time will in many cases be not unlike our urban problems.” In their fourth conclusion, the committee urged every parish to “make every person in its neighborhood welcome” and that “tolerance alone will not be enough, but these strangers must be brought into the life of the parish.” Bishop Doll ended his report by saying that “some of the parishes are dying out because they are not equipped or are unwilling to serve their neighborhoods. Eventually the Diocese will have to face this problem squarely.”

Installation of Bishop Harry Lee Doll at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, November 22, 1963

Bishop Harry Lee Doll’s diary entry, August 28, 1963

In 1962, Bishop Doll’s Convention address did not step away from his earlier theme. “I give thanks for the increasing evidence of new life amongst us, of restlessness and discontent with things as they are. The time in which we live demands that the Church be the Church – the Body of Christ. Unceasing are the demands laid upon us that we be His voice and His hands in a world where license has been named liberty and self-centeredness masquerades as patriotism.”

Hear-say from clergy who knew Harry lee Doll in the 1960’s held that Bishop Doll wanted to attend Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in August of 1963, but Bishop Powell had forbidden him to go. Bishop Doll’s diary entry of August 28, 1963, may provide some clarity, “A most significant day in the life of America. I went to the Church of the Redeemer and took part in a service at 7:30 a.m. for those who were going on the March on Washington. It was not possible for me to go, but I could not forbear showing my approval of the Church’s sharing in this very significant event.”

On October 24, Bishop Doll may have fulfilled part of his overall plan. He wrote, “at 1 p.m. I had to be at Morgan College for the Seminar which had been called by several of the clergy. This was a meeting of all the clergy in Maryland in which the Rev. Martin Luther King spoke”

At the beginning of May, 1964, Harry Lee Doll, who was now the Bishop Diocesan, sent a letter to his clergy regarding the entrance of George Wallace into Maryland’s presidential primary. Wallace’s campaign had distributed flyers throughout the state, and Doll was full of righteous indignation at the content. He decried “the bitter racism which is evident and reminiscent of the early 1930’s in Nazi Germany” and added that Wallace was distorting the truth about the Civil Rights Bill before the Senate. “The real aim of the opponents of this legislation is the continuation of an outworn and immoral system of racial separation and degradation.” Rising up as a prophet of old, Bishop Doll concluded, “Against this I protest in the name of the God and Father of us all, whose love and concern for all mankind regardless of race or color or creed has been manifest in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The May 19-20, 1964, Diocesan Convention, which took place six months after Doll became Bishop Diocesan, passed the following resolution, “that the 180th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland go on record as being grateful to and supporting its Bishop in his forthright public opposition to the forces seeking to perpetuate a racially segregated society.” That convention also passed a resolution urging the Maryland State Legislature’s civil rights bill to become law, rather than placing it on the ballot as a referendum, which opponents of the legislation were campaigning for. In addition, a resolution supporting the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws in Maryland was passed as well.

Read Bishop Harry Lee Doll, Part II

Newspaper story published May 5, 1964