Westmont Magazine A Pioneer Professor

Westmont began as the Bible Missionary Institute in 1937, so it’s not surprising the school recruited a solid Bible faculty. When the curriculum changed to a liberal arts college three years later, the professors stayed on. Wallace Emerson, the first president, described the department as “very strong. We had Dr. McCreery, we had John Page, we had Anna Dennis, and whatever their other qualities might have been, they were really good Bible teachers.” These well known and experienced faculty held positions at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles before coming to Westmont.

Given the era, the presence of a woman in this group is remarkable. Dennis’ background makes her even more unusual. She was a young schoolteacher in Los Angeles when she became a Christian through a Bible study. According to a 1944 Horizon story, she then took classes at the Bible Institute and was a “pioneer alumna” of the University of California, Los Angeles. When she began teaching in local Sunday schools, she displayed such skill as a storyteller she was asked to speak at Sunday school conventions.

R.A. Torrey, dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, heard Dennis at one of these events and recruited her to teach at the institute as the only woman on the faculty. She spent 20 years there. The Horizon quotes a letter from Torrey praising Dennis, “I cannot but feel that I have not fully appreciated the work you are doing. I knew that it was good, but I did not realize that it was so superlatively excellent.”

Charles E. Fuller, founder of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour and Fuller Theological Seminary, studied under Dennis at the Bible Institute. “I can heartily recommend Mrs. Dennis as one of the finest of Bible teachers,” he said. “She was a gifted school teacher before she became a Bible student, and, as a result, she is able in an unusual way to impart to others Spirit-taught truths. Anyone who has the opportunity to study the Bible with Mrs. Dennis is most fortunate.”

Early Westmont students agreed. “One of the most influential and probably one of the instructors I remember most was Mrs. Dennis,” said Louise Olson Burks ’44. “I took several classes from her; her explanations in dealing with the Tabernacle and all were something I think were very unique. She would always open her home . . . and she would teach us just as if it were a class in her home. That meant a great deal to me.”

The course on Leviticus and the Tabernacle impressed many alumni. Margaret Fraser Anderson ’40 described Dennis as “an absolutely marvelous teacher” who could “make you realize that all those things that happened during the days of the Tabernacle were looking forward to the things we would experience as born-again Christians.” In a letter to a classmate, Mabel Jamison Willems ’38 wrote, “Sitting at Anna Dennis’ feet was a very precious time. We had Tabernacle from her also. I had never heard anyone teach it the way she did.” Charles Courtney ’45 said, “Mrs. Dennis’ Bible classes were inspiring to me mostly because she herself seemed the quintessence of Christian kindness and grace.”

In 1936, Dennis spent a year in China teaching at the Bible Seminary of Shanghai, and the experience affected her health. During her last few years at Westmont, she taught part time, leaving in 1945. She died in 1962. “She has become one of [Westmont’s] most beloved faculty members,” the Horizon story noted. “She has made the Bible alive and interesting.”