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Ballou, Adin (23 April 1803–05 August 1890), Universalist clergyman, reformer, and founder of Hopedale Community, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the son of Ariel Ballou and Edilda Tower, farmers. A largely self-educated preacher, Ballou’s earliest religious experience was Calvinist in nature, and he later recalled the “very solemnizing effect” of the preaching he heard as a youth. At about age eleven, however, Ballou experienced a religious conversion, and a year later he was baptized into a Christian Connection church that emphasized a more enthusiastic and fundamentalist religiosity. Ballou developed a deep interest in religious matters over the next several years and eventually became a self-proclaimed preacher. At age eighteen, in the autumn of 1821, he was received into the fellowship of the Connecticut Christian Conference, a Christian Connection body. In 1822 he married Abigail Sayles; they had two children before Abigail died in 1829....

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Beissel, Johann Conrad (01 March 1692–06 July 1768), religious leader, was born in Eberbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, the son of Matthias Beissel, a baker, and Anna (maiden name unknown). He was baptized George Konrad Beissel. His alcoholic father died two months before his birth; his mother died when he was eight or nine. Conrad Beissel was raised by his older brothers and sisters. Possibly because of recent French depredation of the area where they lived, his family was very poor. Conrad was undernourished and remained comparatively small. According to tradition, he performed remarkably well during his brief attendance at his parish school. Nevertheless, he was largely self-educated. While still a youth, Beissel was apprenticed to a master baker, who also was a capable fiddler who taught Beissel to play the violin. Beissel became a popular performer and played at weddings, country dances, and other joyful occasions. He enjoyed the notoriety and attention, especially from women....

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Brisbane, Albert (22 August 1809–01 May 1890), utopian socialist, was born in Batavia, New York, the son of James Brisbane, a merchant and landowner, and Mary Stevens. His father, a former agent of the Holland Land Company, amassed a fortune in real estate; his mother was an amateur scholar....

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Brooke, Abraham (1806–08 March 1867), physician and radical reformer, was born at Sandy Spring, Maryland, the son of Samuel Brooke and Sarah Garrigues, farmers. The Brooke family had been leading Quakers in Maryland for several generations, and Abraham attended Quaker schools at Sandy Spring before entering medical college in Baltimore. In 1829 he married Elizabeth Lukens, a fellow Quaker from Sandy Spring; they had three children. When the Hicksite-Orthodox schism took place among Quakers, the Brookes, like most Maryland Friends, sided with the Hicksite group....

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Collins, John Anderson (1810–1879), abolitionist and social reformer, was born in Manchester, Vermont. Little is known of his early years. He attended Middlebury College, then left to enter Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Caught up in the enthusiasm of the early abolitionist movement, Collins left the seminary and became general agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, conducting lecture tours in the late 1830s. He became a loyal lieutenant of abolitionist ...

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Flower, Richard (1761–02 September 1829), reformer and Illinois pioneer, was born in England, probably in Hertfordshire, the son of George Flower, a prosperous tradesman. His mother’s name is unknown. Establishing himself in Hertford as a brewer, Flower did well in business for over twenty years. He married a daughter (name unknown) of Edward Fordham of Kelshall; they had five children. He joined in the activities of his brother Benjamin Flower, who had become involved in dissenting politics and pamphleteering, and wrote ...

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Harriman, Job (15 June 1861–25 October 1925), Socialist and utopian colonist, was born in Clinton County, Indiana, the son of Newton Springer Harriman and Elizabeth Miller, farmers. At the age of eighteen Harriman traveled to Irvington, Indiana (a suburb of Indianapolis), where he enrolled in Northwest Christian University and began religious studies. After graduation he served for three years as a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, but a growing interest in secular matters drew him away from organized religion, and at twenty-three he left the church. In 1883 Harriman headed west to Colorado Springs. He enrolled in Colorado College, where he studied philosophy but after one year returned to Indiana unsure about his future....

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Harris, Thomas Lake (15 May 1823–23 March 1906), poet, writer, and founder of a religious community, was born in Fenny Stratford, England, the son of Thomas Harris, a grocer and auctioneer, and Annie Lake. When he was five, his parents emigrated to America, settling in Utica, New York. The death of his mother and his father’s remarriage, along with his aversion to the Calvinistic Baptist faith of his parents, occasioned Harris’s early departure from home. He sought a more liberal worldview in Universalism, receiving an informal theological education and financial help from Universalist ministers in Utica. By 1844 he had his first “settlement” at a church in the Mohawk Valley and was contributing poetry to Universalist newspapers. He married Mary Van Arnum in 1845; they had two children before her death in 1850....

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Ireland, Shadrach (baptized 16 Jan. 1718–11 September 1778), craftsman and lay preacher, was born to Abraham Ireland and Abigail Greenland of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Little is known about Ireland’s early life except that he settled in Charleston, Massachusetts, as a young man, married, and alternately assumed employment as a joiner, carver, and maker of pipes (for tobacco, by one account; see Nourse, p. 256). He and his wife, Martha, had six children....

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Jansson, Eric (19 December 1808–13 May 1850), founder of the Janssonist religious sect and Bishop Hill utopian community, was born in Biskopskulla, Sweden, the son of Johannes Mattson, a landowner, and Sara Ersdotter. Jansson was born into and raised as a member of the Swedish Lutheran church. At age twenty-two, however, Jansson felt a personal call from God and was miraculously relieved of recurring bouts of rheumatism. Because his healing had occurred without the benefit of clergy, Jansson indicted the state church. “It dawned on me,” he noted, “that I had been deceived in the faith which I had received from the so-called evangelical Lutheran teaching,” and he concluded that “all the preachers and teachers were blind leaders” (quoted in Elmen, p. 3). These ideas festered within Jansson over the next decade as he became a ...

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Moody, Lady Deborah (1586–1659?), English colonist and early proponent of religious liberty, was born Deborah Dunch in London, England, the daughter of Walter Dunch and Debora Pilkington, members of the landed gentry. Her father had read law at Gray’s Inn and was a member of Parliament at the time of Moody’s birth. Her mother’s ancestors included churchmen noted for their radical Puritan leanings. Moody probably grew up at the family estate in Wiltshire, where she would have received an education in reading, writing, and accomplishments customary for girls of her class. In 1606 she married Henry Moody. Shortly thereafter, Henry was knighted by James I, making his wife Dame, or Lady, Deborah Moody. Henry Moody would go on to become sheriff of Wiltshire, a baronet, and a member of Parliament. The couple had two children....

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Noyes, John Humphrey (03 September 1811–13 April 1886), religious and social reformer, was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, the son of John Noyes, an agnostic teacher, businessman, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Polly Hayes, described by historians as “strong-willed” and “deeply religious.” Noyes entered Dartmouth College at fifteen and graduated with high honors in 1830. After a year’s study in the law office of his brother-in-law, Noyes experienced a religious conversion the day following a four-day revival in Putney, Vermont. As a consequence he decided to abandon law as a career and entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1831. Finding the conservative atmosphere unconducive to his particular kind of piety, he transferred to Yale Divinity School in 1832. There he felt free at first to explore his growing perfectionist convictions that humankind is not depraved and individual and social perfection can be achieved in this life. In 1833 Noyes received a license to preach and joined a free church that combined liberal theology with revivalist practices. In 1834 Noyes declared that he himself had reached a state of sinlessness, which he defined not as “perfection in externals” but as “purity of heart and the answer of a good conscience toward God.” For this Noyes lost his preaching license and was dismissed from Yale and the free church. Noyes was convinced by this time that none of the established churches could support institutionally his radical version of perfectionism. He spent the next two years attempting to articulate his theology more clearly, formulating a social structure to undergird it, and seeking followers....

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Owen, Robert Dale (09 November 1801–24 June 1877), reformer and congressman, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Robert Owen, an industrialist and social reformer, and Ann Caroline Dale. Owen’s early life was spent in New Lanark, Scotland, where his father managed the textile mills of his maternal grandfather. At the age of thirteen he toured factories that employed child laborers and from eighteen to twenty-two attended a progressive school in Hofwyl, Switzerland. These experiences stirred in him an early interest in social reform and confirmed for him his father’s conviction that education offered the potential for overcoming social divisions that were based on class, economic status, and gender. He returned to New Lanark to help teach workers’ children and to write ...

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Rapp, George (01 November 1757–07 August 1847), religious leader, was born Johann Georg Rapp in Iptingen, Württemberg, Germany, the son of Hans Adam Rapp and Rosine Berger, farmers. His religious fervor was apparent from early childhood, when he would preach to other children. As a young adult he withdrew from his local Lutheran church because he found it a formal shell of empty rituals, devoid of real spirit in its cold rigidity. Thus he embodied the essential outlook of the Pietists, whose attempt to restore a warm and vital inner spiritual life to the state religion had been making inroads in Germany since the late seventeenth century. Rapp married Christine Benzinger in 1783; they had two children....

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Ripley, George (03 October 1802–04 July 1880), reform writer, literary reviewer, and communalist, was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the son of Jerome Ripley, a businessman, and Sarah Franklin. After attending private academies in the area, in 1819 Ripley went on to Harvard, where his personal and philosophical education was tumultuous. He tried desperately to hold onto the conservativism his parents had encouraged, but he was also attracted to liberal ideas in social reform and theology. When his transformation did not happen quickly enough to suit his classmates, he was ridiculed in one of Harvard’s student riots as “Ripley the pious, fickle as the wind, / For nine times an hour he changes his mind.” When he entered Harvard’s divinity school in 1823, Ripley was still trying to reconcile his inherited Calvinist beliefs with the new views that saw humanity’s inward nature as the source of all beauty and truth....

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Ripley, Sophia Willard Dana (06 July 1803–04 February 1861), Transcendentalist and early feminist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Dana, Jr., and Sophia Willard Dana. The eldest of four children, Sophia Dana grew up in an atmosphere of alternating uncertainty and stability. Her straying father, a black sheep son of the illustrious and prosperous Dana flock, which included a chief justice, lawyers, professors, seafarers, and merchants, was frequently “out west or away somewhere.” Her mother was from the academic Willard family, which included a Harvard College president and any number of influential liberal-thinking ministers. From early in her youth, Sophia was probably aware of her immediate family’s precarious financial arrangements. Because of her father’s irresponsible spending habits, her mother pragmatically opened a school in her Willard family home, “Fay House” (which stood on the edge of the grounds of Harvard College), where Sophia and her only sister, Mary Elizabeth Dana, later taught. In time, her grandfather largely disowned his namesake son for creating so many debts, noting in his will that while he was leaving him “one hundred dollars and no more” as his share of the family estate, he was bequeathing one sixth of his fortune to his grandchildren, with the provision that his son have no stake in the money. Sophia Dana’s share of that inheritance seems not to have substantially eased her later straitened circumstances, but her growing years in Fay House were comfortable and promising....

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Rose, Ernestine (13 January 1810–04 August 1892), freethinker, reformer, and feminist, was born Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski in Piotrkow, Poland, the only child of an orthodox rabbi and his wife. Although the Jewish religion discouraged female education, Ernestine was well educated and could read Hebrew and the Scriptures; as an adolescent, however, she rejected Judaism because of its second-class treatment of women. When Ernestine was sixteen years old her mother died, leaving her a considerable inheritance. Her father used this inheritance as a dowry, promising Ernestine’s hand in marriage to a much older man. Ernestine resisted and successfully argued her case before a Polish court to nullify the contract, an unprecedented move for a young Jewish woman before a Christian court. The same year her father married a sixteen-year-old woman, making Ernestine uncomfortable in the family house, and she left Poland in 1827....

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Tingley, Katherine Augusta Westcott (06 July 1847–11 July 1929), founder of the utopian Point Loma Theosophical community in San Diego, California, was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, the daughter of James P. L. Westcott, a lumber merchant and later hotel keeper, and Susan Ordway Chase. Little is known of Tingley’s early life, save that she attended a Congregational church and was married twice (to Richard Henry Cook in 1867, divorced after two months, and to George W. Parent around 1880, divorced after several years) before marrying Philo Tingley in 1888. At one point she may have acted with a stock company; in any case, she had a flair for the dramatic, and drama was a strong interest of hers. She also became interested in Spiritualism....

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Wattles, John Otis (22 July 1809–20 September 1859), reformer and communitarian, was born in Goshen, Connecticut, the son of Erastus Wattles, a musical instrument maker, and Sarah Thomas. He received his education at the Goshen Academy. Growing up in the Congregational church, he underwent a conversion experience that drew him to consider a career as a foreign missionary. In 1833, after teaching for a few years, he entered the Oneida Institute at Whitestown, New York, a hotbed of evangelical reform associated with ...

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Wilkinson, Jemima (29 November 1752–01 July 1819), sectarian religious leader, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the daughter of Jeremiah Wilkinson and Amey Whipple, farmers. Her family was Quaker, and Wilkinson drew strength from Quaker principles. Her mother died when she was about twelve years of age, and this may have increased an already pronounced interest in religious topics. Little else is known of her childhood except that she read a great many Quaker works, writings on theology and history, and the King James version of the Bible. She also responded positively to the revivals that by her day were being referred to as the Great Awakening. When evangelist ...