How did J.F. Rutherford Succeed in Seizing Control of the Society against the Instructions of Pastor Russell?

The passage below is quoted from the book, “Pastor Russell, Messenger of Millennial Hope,” pages 275-277.  Supporting references can be found in this book.

 Rumblings of Conspiracy and Intrigue

At the headquarters office, an alleged plot began to unfold that one historian dubbed a “bitter palace intrigue.”  It has also been likened more to a political take over by despots and usurpers than to the sincere efforts of Pastor Russell’s followers to carry on in the administration of the Society’s work.  Terms such as “sordid,” “behind-the-scenes scheming,” “conspiracy” and “tyranny” have been used to describe what appeared to many as an almost unthinkable rebellious process to circumvent the Pastor’s careful and best efforts to prevent headship from arising and taking over the reins of the organization.

Several members of the Society’s Board of Directors, who were later deposed from office, were moved to write:

“Little did we … think that those who would under take to manage the affairs of the Society after Brother Russell’s death would attempt to pervert and change the time-honored customs and usages left us by our dear Pastor, or that there would be introduced such flagrant and sweeping departures from the form of government as out lined in Brother Russell’s Will and in the Charter of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, written by his own hand.”

Resuming the comments of the two observers previously cited:

“Almost at once, after the passing of Pastor Russell, there emerged one individual amongst the brethren, to seize control and domination of the Society and all that pertained to it, in complete violation of the provisions of Pastor Russell’s Will and the Charter of the corporation.”

In rapid succession, this would-be leader allegedly proceeded to: (a) Declare Pastor Russell’s Will technically invalid; (b) Arrange to have himself elected as the new President of the Society; (c) Prepare by-laws for adoption by the shareholders in which he declared himself (as President) the exclusive manager of the Watch Tower Society; (d) Appoint an Advisory Committee of three, not previously provided for, which in effect bypassed the authority of the seven-member Board of Directors, a majority of which had become oppositional to him; and (e) Dismiss twenty-five long-term members of the Bethel who disagreed with his policies, while soliciting support from the remaining workers under threat of expulsion if they refused.

How was it possible for one individual allegedly to seize control of the group with almost military precision in seeming opposition to the Pastor’s express wishes?  A common conclusion of many was that this person had the advantage of being trained as a lawyer and the experience of serving for awhile as the Watch Tower’s legal counsel.  As such it was thought he was able skillfully to manipulate matters to assure his dominant role.  Another source adds that the aspiring successor to the Pastor “was a man of fear some personal power. Against his forceful personality, few people were able to stand.”

It was also charged that this same person conspired with two other prominent members of the head quarters staff to obtain for himself the full powers and authority that originally had been vested exclusively in the hands of the founder. This was the contention of a leading member of the group who at first had been in favor of the new President. When he later became embroiled in controversy with the new head of the Society, he revealed stunning details of the alleged take over:

 “They began this conspiracy before the election.  They prearranged every detail of the voting shareholders’ meeting Jan. 6 [1917].  [The aspiring President] prepared and [his co-conspirator] approved the resolutions that among other things were to secure for the President executive and managerial authority …

“A week before the election [the would-be leader] furnished a brother with an account of the proceedings of the voting shareholders’ meeting for publication in the press of the country, telling of his election by the Secretary casting the ballot of the convention and of the unanimity of his election, and giving some of his speech of acceptance. The Editor of the New York Herald [one of many who were given the advance copy] commented on the prophetic gifts of ‘those Bethel people’ in being able to foretell just what would happen at the election!

 “In this account [the aspiring President] failed to state that by his prearrangement the nominations were so closed, that there could be no other Presidential candidates for whom thousands of voting shares were instructed, and that he prepared the resolution recommending that he be made Executive and Manager.  No political convention was ever more completely or more smoothly ‘bossed’ than the voting share holders’ meeting Jan. 6.

 “Certainly the remark that [the aspiring leader] made to me in July, when he explained how he arranged for the election of [a brother] to the Board, applies to the proceedings of the Jan. 6 meeting. [He said] ‘Of course… you know all things of that character are arranged before hand,  just like matters connected with a political convention!’ ”

Read more in “Light After Darkness”

15 comments to How did J.F. Rutherford Succeed in Seizing Control of the Society against the Instructions of Pastor Russell?

  • Randy

    Does anyone the history of the four ousted directors? Did they start different groups or just leave religion? I believe Brother wright passed away fairly soon but not sure of when.

    • Peter K. (admin)


      I asked your question about the four ousted Directors to some Bible Student historians. Here are the replies to far.


      From Brian Kutscher

      I know only that Br. Hirsh remained true to the Truth. I have a typed
      copy of his last talk, as well as Sr. Hirsh’s calendar for 1949 – the
      year that he died. There is an entry on May 31 regarding his death.

      Br. Hirsh had been a proofreader for Br. Russell when he worked at the


      From Jim Parkinson in California

      All four continued actively to be Bible Students outside the WT until the day they died. None seriously changed his mind about what he believed.

      James Dennis Wright was chairman of the PBI 1918-1920. (Am not sure if he died in 1920.) He was then living in Bayonne, NJ. He was by far the oldest of the four.

      Alfred Isaac Ritchie shortly moved to Chicago, and in the 1920’s was one of three elders in the non-WT ecclesia there (where he, Dr. Leslie W. Jones, and Martin Foss {who had some views in common with P.S.L. Johnson} differed with each other on several points). In the 1930’s he and his wife moved to an eastern suburb of Los Angeles, and where he was an elder in the Los Angeles ecclesia (then numbering in the hundreds). Even once bedridden, he would from memory deliver discourse after discourse to the housekeeping man, who was not interested!

      Isaac Francis Hoskins was the last founding member of the PBI (1918-1936), when not re-elected in 1936. (As someone said, You could work for Isaac Hoskins, but not with him.) In 1937 he started the monthly, “Watchers of the Morning.” He died in 1957, I think here in Pasadena. (His brother-in-law, Leslie Reekie, told me a few more things.)

      Robert Hirsh sided with P.S.L. Johnson for a couple of years before becoming too uncomfortable. He then had his own independent ecclesia in the Philadelphia area until he died in 1949. His widow continued in contact with some of the Associated Bible Students (mostly among them who consider themselves “the independent movement”) until she died, I think at age 104.

      [R. Persson hopes to publish considerable detail about these four and many more.] JBP

  • Domenic Pappalardo

    Almost at once, after the passing of Pastor Russell, there emerged one individual amongst the brethren, to seize control and domination of the Society and all that pertained to it, in complete violation of the provisions of Pastor Russell’s Will and the Charter of the corporation.”

    Once Russell made the Bible Students a corporation, it was in the hands of the world to take, and change. The early Christians never formed as a business.
    The Bible Students became voting members by spending $10 for literature. It was doomed to fall into the wrong hands. Russell being a business man must have known this could happen. The $10 buy yourself a voting share left it open to anybody with money to buy shares for people who would vote for him. It’s the old story, “HOW THE WEST WAS WON.”

    On December 15, 1884, the society was incorporated as Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in Pennsylvania as a non-profit, non-stock corporation with Russell as president. The corporation was located in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In its charter, written by Russell, the society’s purpose was stated as “the mental, moral and religious improvement of men and women, by teaching the Bible by means of the publication and distribution of Bibles, books, papers, pamphlets and other Bible literature, and by providing oral lectures free for the people”.[16] The charter provided for a board of seven directors, three of who served as officers—a president, vice-president (initially William I. Mann) and secretary-treasurer (initially Maria Russell). The charter stipulated that the officers be chosen from the directors and be elected annually by ballot. Board members would hold office for life unless removed by a two-thirds vote by shareholders. Vacancies on the board resulting from death, resignation or removal would be filled by a majority vote of the remaining board members within 20 days; if such vacancies were not filled within 30 days an appointment could be made by the president, with the appointments lasting only until the next annual corporation meeting, when vacancies would be filled by election.[17]
    Anyone subscribing to $10 or more of the society’s Old Testament Tracts or donating $10 or more to the society was deemed a voting member and entitled to one vote per $10 donated.[17] Russell indicated that despite having a board and shareholders, the society would be directed by only two people—him and his wife Maria.[18] Russell said that as at December 1893 he and his wife owned 3705, or 58 percent, of the 6383 voting shares, “and thus control the Society; and this was fully understood by the directors from the first. Their usefulness, it was understood, would come to the front in the event of our death… For this reason, also, formal elections were not held; because it would be a mere farce, a deception, to call together voting shareholders from all over the world, at great expense, to find upon arrival that their coming was useless, Sister Russell and myself having more than a majority over all that could gather. However, no one was hindered from attending such elections.” The influx of donations gradually diluted the proportion of the Russells’ shares and in 1908 their voting shares constituted less than half the total.[19][20] Russell emphasized the limitations of the corporation, explaining: “Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society is not a ‘religious society’ in the ordinary meaning of this term”[21] He also stated, “This is a

  • Current JW

    I have read the JW’s history of events regarding the takeover. The JW’s say that 4 members of the Society wanted to control the organization and that they were selfish and greedy. This is totally absurd! It was one man J.F. Rutherford that used deceit and manipulation to gain control of the Watchtower Society and he kicked out the majority of the board of directors.

    C.T. Russels will was completed and blatantly ignored by this ruthless Rutherford. He fought to have sole complete control of the Watchtower and he sadly won. He removed the editorial committee, removed local elders and ruled with an iron fist.

    It’s truly sad how JW’s are deceived about their own history. It’s very sickening.

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Current JW – Thanks. I think JWs would be much happier if Christian liberty were allowed, not necessarily to disrupt the meetings, but at least to permit individuals to have a different opinion and to be able to discuss it with other members if not too pushy. Is that asking too much. Bible Students do allow differences of opinion to be expressed even in a Congregation Study. I know that the Governing Body feels that and enforced unity is necessary, however how do they explain the unity and bond of love among the early Watchtower Bible Students who had not governing body or person other than Jesus Christ? Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Current JW…are you a “current” JW?

  • “In view of the fact in donating the Journal, Zion’s Watch
    Tower, the Old Theology Quarterly and the copyrights of
    Millennial Dawn Scripture Studies Books and various other
    Booklets, Hymn-books, etc., to the Watch Tower Bible and
    Tract Society, I did so with the explicit understanding that I
    should have full control of all the interests of these publications
    during my lifetime, AND THAT AFTER MY DECEASE
    This clause makes plain the relationship he understood to exist
    between himself and The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society;
    also what his wishes were in respect to its general management

  • ari matthew davies

    I was reading the encyclopedia today about ct russel not onley did ct russel not found jehovahs wittnesses he did not teach some of the things that jws teach he was a very dynamic pastor dedicated to simple bible truth without long explainations it seems he believed that the bible should be taken as written,and he definatly belived in giveing a more honorable,worshipfull respect to our lord jesus than j.w.s currently do,in all I was simply blown away that so many differant bible groups and jehovahs wittnesses also sprung from his pastorship ! this is not a bad thing the body of christ requires many diferant body parts and functions,ok Jehovahs wittnesses clearly are ahead in the publishing of literature, but what about the bible student groups that devote so much time to reading gods word with others as a first foundation ?what about the other groups that sprang from ct russels pastorship that have jobs ranging from feeding the poor,supporting missionarys,ministering to the needs of drug/alchohol,etc their are many differant groups that came from that good mans pastorship ! and for the life of me I just can not figure out why those groups who came from the same roots treat each other with onley tolerance rather than welcomeing each other as fellow brothers in christ jesus..

  • Peter K. (admin)


    We have just posted a link to give you the information you inquired about concerning Pastor Russell’s Last Will and Testament.

  • maria

    Very interesting, It would be educational for this last will & testiment be brought to lite in a watchtower article. So people know the truth of the matter and remember who the original founder was and his concern for the congregations future.

  • Alby

    Since Jesus had alluded to the gradual growth that was required within the human facets of the kingdom as “first the blade” onto “the corn in the the ear” and after that the “full corn in the ear…” all signifying gradual growth and maturation. This helps us understand better the constant progression that has continued within the kingdom until “the fruit is brought forth” and the the “harvest is come.”

    Caught within such ‘growing pains’ has proven unsettling for many until the arrval of ‘the harvest is come.” and the “harvest” does come and its fruit differs markedly from that exhibited in the former periods where the ‘thirty and sixty fold’ increase became manifest.

    • Kris K. (admin)

      Dear Alby,

      Your comment seems to defend and rationalize the means that were used. We all try to seek internal harmony within our system of accepted truths, which is commendable. But we want to be on the lookout for a possibility of deception. One clue might come from our consciences. Isn’t the fact that like you said, these experiences were ‘unsettling’ a good reason to ask a question their validity? I agree that they were indeed unsettling -to me they were unsettling from the standpoint of Christian graces, honesty and love. From a moral perspective, even having favor with God does not permit us to do things that would be out of harmony with his character and commandments, just the opposite would be true, that we are examples and reflections of his attributes. One spring should not send forth fresh and bitter water (James 3:11). Therefore, our expectation of progression should be that any next phase would be consistent with what we have learned about God’s character and moral foundations.

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