One of the longest and largest functioning American religions, Father Divine’s controversial International Peace Mission began in the late 1930s, but still persists today. On Oct. 29, the Woodmont Estate in Gladwyne unveiled and dedicated a museum and library to its founder.
The library and museum is one of the largest collections dedicated to an American religion and one of the five largest collections dedicated to any African-American in the country.
“There are at least 250,000 photographs documenting the history of the Peace Mission and at least 50,000 letters [from] Father Divine’s personal correspondence. All of this will slowly be digitized and made searchable,” says the library and museums archivist, Christopher Stewart.
“It’s not simply a devotional space—it’s meant to be, over time, a research library with archival standards and preservation standards. Such a thing, as a cultural institution, will make these materials available to scholars and followers and would-be followers,” Stewart says.
He estimates that somewhere between 25 and 35 committed followers currently live within the Peace Mission either at Woodmont, Circle Mission in Center City, or in Sayville, N.Y., the mission’s original home.
The hierarchy of Peace Mission is still a question, though. Mother Divine—the second wife of Father Divine, who famously told him, “I want to marry you because I know you are God”—died in March. Since then, some speculation has surrounded the inquiry and the rightful owners of the estate.
Tommy Garcia, the adopted son of Father and Mother Divine, says he is still seeking access to the estate and the library.