Mrs. Sadie Harrington believed very strongly in her religion as practiced by the Church of God in Danville, Illinois. She wanted her husband, Ernie, to join the church, but he refused. So she came up with an unusual idea – a save-a-soul diet. It put a different spin on the concept of soul food (or soul no food, as Mrs. Harrington might explain it).

Thus, late in 1920, she went on a hunger strike, vowing not to eat again until Ernie joined the Church of God. He refused. And, frankly, I can't blame him, because the articles below pretty much show that the man more than qualified for sainthood without attending church.

For a husband who was being blatantly blackmailed by a wife who was demanding his soul, Ernie Harrington handled the situation with remarkable patience and understanding.

What's lacking in the newspaper coverage is a report on how much weight Mrs. Harrington lost during her seven-week fast. That would have been a tip-off to whether the woman was sneaking a meal now and then, or, if she truly fasted and shed a lot of weight, she could have written a book about her save a soul diet ... except that husband Ernie stuck to his guns longer than she stuck to hers.

Syracuse Journal, January 10, 1921

Seeking to Save Husband’s
Soul by Long Fasting

United Press Staff Correspondent
DANVILLE, Ill., Jan. 10 – Constant prayer and fasting are beginning to work the Divine miracle on Ernie Harrington, says Mrs. Sadie Harrington, on the forty-third day of her hunger fast to save her husband’s soul.

“I know that Ernie won’t admit he is being saved," she told the United Press today, "but I am sure he is. I have walked close to God for several years and know His power.”

Mrs. Harrington said this is the second time she has resorted to prayer and fasting to overcome Satan.

“About a year ago, while visiting the unfortunate in our jail I met a little delinquent girl,” she said. “I prayed and fasted for two weeks. The girl’s soul was saved and she was released from jail. The Bible tells us that prayer can even move mountains. Is it too much then to believe that I can save Ernie’s soul?”

Mrs. Harrington refused again today to partake of chicken broth which was placed beside her bed by her mother, Mrs. H. B. Truman.

“I am being nourished by spiritual manna from on high,” she told her mother.

Harrington comes home at meal times and eats food prepared by Mrs. Truman. Every time he comes in the house he asks his wife to join him in a bit to eat.

Harrington Ministers to Wife
“Not until you join the Church of God and become an evangelist,” Mrs. Harrington always replies.

Each night Harrington kisses his slowly starving wife goodnight and makes his bed on the davenport in the living room. He gets up several times each night to take water to her.

A little faithful band of Church of God members, led by Mrs. Olive Brown, was at the Harrington home early today and knelt at the bedside of Mrs. Harrington to join her in asking the Divine direction of Harrington’s vocation.

The Church of God congregation has been praying at the Harrington home several times each day for the last two weeks.

“We do not pray for Sadie,” said Mrs. Brown. “She doesn’t need our prayers. We pray that Ernie’s soul may be saved.”

Foster Brown, son of Mrs. Brown, predicted today that “a horrible visitation will be brought down upon Harrington if he refuses to see the light.”

It is becoming increasingly difficult for visitors to gain admittance to the little cottage to see Mrs. Harrington.

Mrs. Truman even at times refuses admittance to members of the Church of God. “She kept me from coming in the house the other day,” said Mrs. Brown today.

The mother is especially determined to keep newspaper correspondents away.

“I don’t want any ‘ornery’ newspaper editors prying into my daughter’s affairs,” she told several correspondents.

Admittance is gained, however, when Mrs. Truman goes home to prepare meals for a large family.

Harrington resents it when his mother-in-law turns anyone away from his home. On several occasions visitors have complained to him at his little produce store, and he has taken them down to see his wife, despite protests of Mrs. Truman.

“Sadie’s got herself all this publiity. If they let anyone in to see her, they have to let them all in.”

Harrington, weighing butter and dressing poultry at his store, scoffed at his wife’s statement that “spiritual manna was keeping her alive.” “She drinks buckets of water every day,” he said.

The husband still refuses to take his wife’s hunger strikek seriously. “She’ll get tired of showing off and start to eat pretty soon,” he said.

Seems to me Mrs. Brown should have been saying prayers for her son, Foster. whose religious outlook seems a bit scary. Anyway, the fast continued:
Syracuse Journal, January 11, 1921

Wife Still Fasts to Save Soul
of Obdurate Man
DANVILLE, Ill., Jan. 11 – Nothing ever happened in the prosaic life of Ernie Harrington, butcher.

He prospered. Loved his wife. Took life as it came.

Now in the cottage where Ernie and his wife live is being enacted a human drama. Its elements are:

Mrs. Harrington’s religion.

Ernie’s refusal to be converted.

Her fast of 43 days (Jan. 10) to convert him.

His love for her, though he will not yield.

Will man’s will, or woman’s, triumph?

“Ernie loves me enough to give in,” says Mrs. Harrington.

“Never!” says Harrington.

“He’s the best boy on earth,” she says. “If I did not love him better than life itself, I would not be doing this.”

Each day the wife grows weaker.

She refuses medicine for fear it may contain concentratsed food.

She prays each day that Ernnie may be converted to the Church of God.

And each day Ernie leaves their little home where “nothing ever happened” and goes to his butcher shop.

Big, good-natured, he throws an extra “wienie” in the bundle of meat for some youngster.

Watches at Wife’s Bed
He’s tired because he has been up at night with his fasting wife.

“You know, I’m a big draft horse. I wasn’t built for religion,” he says.

“Why, Sadie has had everything her way,” he continues, as he scuffs up the sawdust with his huge foot.

“I never even touched the safe when she was here. We got that little house and furnished it nice. She had her own roadster.

“I even took her to church and called for her till she started to fast.

“We were kids together, you know; brought up right here – married 18 years ago.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her – except join the church. I can’t see the light that way.”

Mrs. Harrington was collecting for the store one day when she felt a great wave of pity for the unsaved. She continues:

“I heard a voice say, ‘If you fast it will convert your husband!

“People wonder how I live without food. The Lord is preserving my body. I will not suffer.”

Mrs. Henry Truman, her mother, watches and cries. Her entreaties are vain.

The Rev. F. H. Hoag, pastor of the Church of God, visited Mrs. Harrington and urged her to eat.

Dr. J. C. Gerrity, her physician, says that aside from a slight fever she seems to be in good condition – but:

“Her heart may fail any moment.”

So tell us, Dr. Gerrity, who are you trying to frighten, the patient or the husband?
Syracuse Journal, January 12, 1921

Physician Says Fast of Woman
Really 45 Days

United Press Staff Correspondent

DANVILLE, Ill., Jan. 12 – Cold-blooded science and adherents of the old-fashioned religion of blood and fire were agreed today that Mrs. Sadie Harrington, who is fasting to force her husband to join the Church of God, has not partaken of food for 45 days.

Skeptics and scoffers – and most of the townsfolk here were in that class until a day or so ago – are now beginning to believe that Mrs. Harrington has been entirely without food since she announced the fast to save the soul of her husband, Ernie Harrington, a produce merchant.

Dr. William Gerrity, leading physician of Danville, who has been called to the bedside of the disciple of the Church of God by her husband, reversed his former stand today when he told the United Press he had become convinced that Mrs. Harrington has been without food.

“I was inclined to disbelieve Mrs. Harringtonn when I called on her the first time two weeks ago,” said Dr. Gerrity. “A thorough examination I made of her yesterday, however, was convincing.”

What's lacking in the following article, which is the final chapter in this tale, is an explanation of why it was the Rev. O. S. Payne who was successful in putting an end to this nonsense. An earlier story said that the Rev. F. H. Hoag was the pastor of the church and that he also was urging the woman to eat.
Syracuse Journal, January 15, 1921

Mrs. Harrington Ends Long Fast
on Pastor’s Plea

DANVILLE, Ill., Jan. 15 – Mrs. Sadie Harrington broke her fast today after abstaining from food for 48 days, following a two-hour plea by the Rev. O. S. Payne.

“I am ready for my breakfast now,” she said, after Mr. Payne had won the victory.

Mrs. Harrington was fasting to force her husband to join the church of God.

Mr. Payne called Ada Perow, nurse, to bring a cup of milk, which Mrs. Harrington immediately drank. Mr. Payne waited long enough to see that the milk was retained on her stomach.

“Mrs. Harrington was very gentle and submissive throughout my conference with her and showed wonderful spirit,” said Mr. Payne. “She did not attempt to argue with me and I stated incident after incident in the Bible to prove to her that the Lord did not expect anyone to go without food.”

The fast took its toll on husband Ernest Harrington, who confronted a newsreel photographer who wanted to film Mrs. Harrington. Here are two reports of the incident:
New York Times, January 12, 1921

Faster’s Husband Fights
DANVILLE, Jan. 11 – Harry Birch, a camera man representing a motion picture news service of Chicago was thrashed today by Ernest Harrington, whose wife is on a hunger strike for force her husband to join a church. Birch, it is said, went to the Harrington home and attempted to gain admittance.

“We are getting enough notoriety as it is and I don’t want pictures of me going all over the world,” said Harrington, who is said to have administered such a beating that Birch lost consciousness.

Mrs. Birch, who accompanied her husband here from Springfield, rushed to the woodshed where the encounter occurred when she hearsd her husband’s cries, and with the assistance of others took him to a physician.

Birch’s nose was broken, both eyes were closed and his face was badly swollen. He made no complaint against Harrington.

Fearful that his wife would carry out her threats to starve to death unless he relents and joins her church, Harrington consulted legal authorities today as to his liability and was assured that no action could be brought against him.

Harrington says he has no intention of giving in, although frightened at the thought of what may happen to Mrs. Harrington.

Schenectady Gazette, January 13, 1921

Camera Man Thrashed by Quiet Husband
CHICAGO, Jan. 12 (AP) – Harry Birch, the Chicago moving picture camera man who was worsted in an encounter at Danville, Ill., yesterday with Ernest S. Harrington, was confined to his bed today but was not seriously hurt.

Birch’s version of the encounter with the husband of Mrs. Sadie Harrington, who is fasting to force her husband into church membership, differed materially from that offered by the Danville butcher.

“I went to Harrington’s store first and asked if I might take pictures of his wife,” said Birch. “He said, ‘Well, if you can you’re a better man than the others who have been down here and there have been a lot of them.’

“I took that to mean that it would be all right if I could get Mrs. Harrington’s permission, so I drove up to the house. I certainly did not try to force my way in. I told the nurse Mr. Harrington said it would be all right if Mrs. Harrington did not object. She telephoned to Mr. Harrington and then asked me to wait until he arrived.”

Birch said Harrington went into the house, removed his coat and invited Birch to step into the woodshed. Birch daid he weent, still clad in a heavy ulster and wearing fur gauntlets. He said Harrington without warning struck him in the face.

“I tried to fight him after I got my glasses off but the overcoat eas too much of a handicap,” said Birch. “He broke my nose.”


I came upon a 1921 story from a New Zealand newspaper, the Ashburton Guardian, which published an article about Mrs. Harrington's fast. This newspaper referred to the church as the Pentecostal Church of God, which is more accurate and helpful in explaining the woman's zeal.

Before ending her fast, according to this article, Mrs. Harrington offered her husband a compromise: He didn't have to join the church so long as he agreed to give up tobacco, illicit whiskey and cursing.

Once again Ernie Harrington refused, reportedly citing Danville's leading citizen, Joseph ("Uncle Joe") Cannon, a long-time Congressman and one-time speaker of the House of Representatives, who was well known for his colorful language and his cigar-smoking.

This article also quoted Harrington as saying, "If my wife wants to die, she can die. I've always been a good husband, but I'm as stubborn as she is."

The article also indicated that while Harrington undoubtedly loved his wife, he called upon a nurse and doctor to look after her partly to protect his legal interests should she, in fact, starve herself to death. He also hired a lawyer – just in case. So the man was smart, in addition to being a saint.

I don't know if there is any significance to this, but I found a 1935 obituary for Sadie Harrington's father, Henry B. Truman. In the obituary it said his daughter Sadie Harrington was living in Veedersburg, Indiana. Veedersburg is only a few miles from Danville, so perhaps Sadie and Ernie Harrington were still together. Except on Sunday mornings.