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Samuel Hopkins. Engraving by John Chester Buttre, c. 1850–1880. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106493).

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Hopkins, Samuel (17 September 1721–20 December 1803), theologian and reformer, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Timothy Hopkins, a successful farmer and community leader in Waterbury, and Mary Judd. Timothy Hopkins served the town as a selectman, justice of the peace, and deputy to the Connecticut General Court. He also possessed the financial means to send Samuel to Yale College, from which he graduated in 1741....

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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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Rushdoony, R. J. (25 Apr. 1916–8 Feb. 2001), theologian, Presbyterian minister, political activist, and education reformer, was born Rousas John Rushdoony in New York City to Armenian refugees fleeing Turkish persecution during World War I. Presbyterian minister Yeghiazar Khachadour and Vartanoush (Gazarian) Rushdouni’s first son, George, perished in the Turkish siege of Van, and the family immigrated to the United States via Russia. The Rushdoonys anglicized their names—Yeghiazar opting for an abbreviated Y. K. and Vartanoush adopting Rose, the English translation of her name—and settled in a growing Armenian community in Kingsburg, California. Y. K. took his family with him as he served as a pastor to Armenian communities in California and Michigan during the 1920s and 1930s. As the family moved about the United States, R. J. Rushdoony learned English and resolved to follow his father into the ministry....

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Ryan, John Augustine (25 May 1869–16 September 1945), Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and reformer, was born in Vermillion, Minnesota, the son of William Ryan and Maria Elizabeth Luby, farmers. His theological, moral, and social roots were planted in a rich soil of Irish Catholic devotionalism and American prairie populism. During his youth, the call for political and economic change on the part of reformers like Patrick Ford of the ...

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Taylor, Graham (02 May 1851–26 September 1938), minister, educator, and settlement house director, was born in Schenectady, New York, the son of Rev. William James Romeyn Taylor, a minister, and Katharine Cowenhoven. Following his mother’s death in 1852, his father married Katharine’s sister, Maria Cowenhoven, who raised the four Taylor sons. Three of them followed the paternal family tradition of service in the Dutch Reformed church. Graham graduated from Rutgers College in 1870 and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America at New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1873. That same year he was ordained and married to Leah Demarest, the daughter of seminary professor David Demarest. The Taylors had four children, two of whom shared their father’s urban reform interests, Lea Demarest Taylor and Graham Romeyn Taylor....

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See Thurman, Howard W.

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Thurman, Howard W. (18 November 1899?–10 April 1981), and Howard W. Thurman (18 November 1899–10 April 1981), theologian, educator, and civil rights mentor, was born in Daytona, Florida, the son of Saul Solomon Thurman, a railroad worker, and Alice Ambrose, a domestic worker. Howard grew up under the tremendous influence of his maternal grandmother, who had previously been enslaved. His grandmother instilled in him a critical reading of the Bible. In 1915 he attended high school at Florida Baptist Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Upon graduation, he enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1923. By 1925 Thurman became an ordained Baptist minister, receiving his first pastorate in Oberlin, Ohio, at Mount Zion Baptist Church. In 1926 Thurman graduated from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary. Following his brief stint at Mount Zion, Thurman moved on to a joint appointment as professor of religion and director of religious life at both Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta, Georgia. Here Thurman pondered a question that would motivate his life's work: "How can we manage the carking fear of the white man's power and not be defeated by our own rage and hatred?"...

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Ward, Harry Frederick (15 October 1873–09 December 1966), religious educator and social critic, was born in Brentford, Middlesex, England, the son of Harry Ward, Sr., a grocery merchant, and Florence Jeffrey. Both of Ward’s parents were Free Methodists, members of one of Methodism’s early perfectionist sects, and from his boyhood Ward was sensitive to the contrast between it and the crusty, high church formalism of the Methodist Episcopal church. Parishioners of the Methodist chapel at Chiswick (adjoining Brentford) reported that Ward was a “preacher in the Wesleyan connection” who “assisted the work in the mission band” and also served as a “deputy class leader.” Ward’s incipient social Christianity continued after he arrived in Utah in 1891 and joined his uncle in trying to lure complacent parishioners out of the pews and into the streets to minister to the poor....

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Wood, Thomas Bond (17 March 1844–18 December 1922), Methodist missionary, educator, and social reformer, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the son of Aaron Wood, a Methodist minister, and Maria Hitt. He entered Indiana Asbury (later DePauw University) and then Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, receiving an A.B. from both institutions. He earned an M.A. from both universities (Indiana Asbury, 1866; Wesleyan, 1867). During this time he taught German and natural science at Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts (1864–1867). The New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church licensed him to preach in 1865 and ordained him deacon (1867) and elder (1868). He married Ellen Dow in 1867; they had at least four children. He transferred to the North-West Indiana Conference, the conference of his father, where he served as president of Valparaiso College (1867–1869) before his appointment as a missionary to Argentina....