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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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Crummell, Alexander (03 March 1819–10 September 1898), clergyman, activist, and Pan-Africanist, was born in New York City, the son of Charity Hicks, a freeborn woman of Long Island, New York, and Boston Crummell, an African of the Temne people, probably from the region that is now Sierra Leone. Boston Crummell had been captured and brought to the United States as a youth. The circumstances of his emancipation are not clear, but it is said that he simply refused to serve his New York owners any longer after reaching adulthood. Boston Crummell established a small oyster house in the African Quarter of New York. Alexander Crummell received his basic education at the African Free School in Manhattan. In 1835 he traveled to Canaan, New Hampshire, along with his friends Thomas Sidney and ...

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Galamison, Milton Arthur (25 Mar. 1923–9 Mar. 1988), Presbyterian minister, civil rights leader, and community activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Gladstone Galamison, a postal worker, and Dorothy Galamison, a clothier. Galamison grew up in poverty, which he attributed not to the Great Depression but rather to his father’s abandoning his family. After his parents separated Galamison lived with his maternal grandmother and aunt....

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Hall, Prince (1735–04 December 1807), Masonic organizer and abolitionist, was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, the son of a “white English leather worker” and a “free woman of African and French descent”; his birth date is variously given as 12 Sept. 1748 (Horton). He was the slave of William Hall, a leather dresser. At age seventeen, Hall found passage to Boston, Massachusetts, by working on a ship and became employed there as a leather worker. In 1762 he joined the Congregational Church on School Street. He received his manumission in 1770. Official records indicate that Hall was married three times. In 1763 he married Sarah Ritchie, a slave. In 1770, after her death, he married Flora Gibbs of Gloucester, Massachusetts; they had one son, Prince Africanus. In 1798 Hall married Sylvia Ward. The reason for the dissolution of the second marriage is unclear....

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Heathcote, Caleb (06 March 1666–01 March 1721), merchant, manor lord, and Anglican activist, was born in Derbyshire, England, the son of Gilbert Heathcote, a trader in hides and iron who served as mayor of Chesterfield, England, and Anne Dickens. While living in England Heathcote became a merchant specializing in trade with New York, where he settled in 1692 after the woman to whom he was betrothed fell in love with his brother Samuel and married him instead....

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John Haynes Holmes, c. 1939–1941. Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112447).

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Holmes, John Haynes (29 November 1879–03 April 1964), Unitarian and later independent minister and a leading advocate of pacifism, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Marcus M. Holmes, a businessman, and Alice Haynes. Holmes was educated at Harvard College (A.B. 1902) and Harvard Divinity School (S.T.B. 1904) and entered the Unitarian ministry, holding early pastorates at Danvers (1902–1904) and Dorchester (1904–1907), Massachusetts, before moving in 1907 to the Church of the Messiah in New York City, where his influence as a minister dedicated to social reform began to be felt. In 1904 he married Madeleine Baker, with whom he had two children....

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May, Samuel Joseph (12 September 1797–01 July 1871), Unitarian minister and radical reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph May, a merchant, and Dorothy Sewall. May graduated from Harvard College (1817) and Harvard Divinity School (1820) and filled pulpits in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. In 1825 he married Lucretia Flagge Coffin, the daughter of a Boston merchant. Rearing their four children preoccupied his wife, but it also allowed her time to improve her French and learn Italian and promote the temperance cause....

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Murray, Orson S. (23 October 1806–14 June 1885), Baptist minister, editor, and radical reformer, was born in Orwell, Vermont, the son of Jonathan Murray and Rosalinda Bascom, farmers. Murray grew up impoverished on a hardscrabble farm in Orwell, obtaining only a few years of schooling. His parents were devout Free Will Baptists, and as a teenager Murray felt called to the Baptist ministry. In 1828 he married Catherine Maria Higgins; the couple had nine children. Determined to have a classical education, he returned to school at the Shoreham and Castleton academies, completing his studies in 1832....

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Niebuhr, Reinhold (21 June 1892–01 June 1971), theologian and political journalist, was born Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr in Wright City, Missouri, the son of Gustav Niebuhr, a German immigrant preacher, and Lydia Hosto, his parish assistant and organist. Reinhold grew up in Missouri and Illinois, where his father, a minister of the German Evangelical Synod of North America, had a series of parishes. From age ten he lived in Lincoln, Illinois, a heavily first- and second-generation German-American town, where his family lived, he later recalled, in “genteel poverty.” One of four children (and three sons), he was the apple of his father’s eye and decided as a boy to follow his father into the ministry. At age fifteen, having finished the ninth grade at Lincoln High School, he left for three years of boarding school at the Synod’s proseminary, Elmhurst College, outside of Chicago. In later years he much regretted having missed a solid high school education. Neither did he ever attend an undergraduate college. His lack of a B.A. degree, and his poor schooling in English, modern history, and the sciences, led him to condemn his church for giving only lip service to education. At age eighteen he enrolled at the Synod’s Eden Theological Seminary, outside of St. Louis, where he starred in debate and worked hard on his English writing skills. In 1913 he received the bachelor of divinity degree and was ordained a minister....

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Pierson, Abraham (1609–09 August 1678), colonial minister, missionary, leader of Branford, Connecticut, and cofounder of Newark, New Jersey, was born in Yorkshire, England. Nothing is known about his parents or his youth. He prepared for the ministry at Trinity College, Cambridge University, graduated in 1632, and was subsequently ordained as pastor at Newark, Nottinghamshire, before emigrating to America in 1639 or 1640. Pierson settled in Southampton, Long Island, which at the time was part of the Connecticut Colony. However, he preferred the religious climate of the New Haven Colony, which required prospective church members to present evidence of spiritual conversion and undertake a public profession of faith. Consequently, sometime after 1643 he, his wife, Abigail (Wheelwright), and their children crossed Long Island Sound to the New Haven Colony, which, under the influence of Puritan divine ...

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Proskauer, Joseph Meyer (06 August 1877–11 September 1971), judge, political adviser, and Jewish communal leader, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Alfred Proskauer, a bank cashier, and Rebecca Leinkauf. Born into a southern Jewish family of German and Hungarian descent, Proskauer was educated at Columbia College (B.A., 1896) and Columbia Law School (LL.B., 1899) and began practicing law in New York City in partnership with college friend James Rosenberg in 1900. Two years later both men entered the well-known firm of James, Schell & Elkus, which eventually became Elkus, Gleason & Proskauer. In 1903 Proskauer married Alice Naumburg. ...

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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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Williams, Hosea (5 Jan. 1926–16 Nov. 2000), civil rights activist, minister, and politician, was born Hosea Lorenzo Williams in Vilence, Florida, to Lecenia Williams and William Wiggins. After his mother died when Williams was ten years old, he was raised in Attapulgus, Georgia, by his grandparents Lena and Turner Williams. During his teen years he dropped out of high school and moved to Tallahassee, Florida for work. Shortly thereafter he entered the US Army during World War II and earned the rank of staff sergeant, receiving the military decoration of the Purple Heart during his military tenure. After his military service he returned to Georgia and finished Hutto High School in Bainbridge, Georgia, at the age of twenty-three....

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Stephen Samuel Wise Photograph by Pirie MacDonald, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75146).

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Wise, Stephen Samuel (17 March 1874–19 April 1949), rabbi, reformer, and Jewish communal leader, was born in Erlau, Hungary (near Budapest), the son of Aaron Weisz (later Wise), a rabbi, and Sabine de Fischer Farkashazy, the daughter of a baron. Aaron Weisz immigrated to the United States in 1874 and fifteen months later sent for his wife and children. The descendant of six generations of rabbis, Stephen Wise never considered any other career. He studied first with his father, then simultaneously at both the new Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University (graduating from Columbia in 1892). In 1893 he took his rabbinical ordination in Vienna from Adolf Jellinik, the renowned Jewish rabbi and scholar....

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Wright, Theodore Sedgwick (1797–25 March 1847), black Presbyterian minister and reformer, was born in New Jersey and brought up in Schenectady, New York, the son of R. P. G. Wright, an early opponent of the American Colonization Society’s program of returning American blacks to Africa. (His mother’s name is unknown.) He was named after a distinguished Massachusetts jurist, ...