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Ballard, Edna Anne Wheeler (25 June 1886–10 February 1971), and Guy Warren Ballard (28 July 1878–29 December 1939), controversial founders of the "I Am" movement, controversial founders of the “I Am” movement, were born, respectively, in Burlington, Iowa, and Newton, Kansas. Edna was the daughter of Edward G. Wheeler, reportedly a railway clerk, and Anna Hewitt Pearce; Guy the son of a farmer, Josephus Ballard, and Phebe Jane Leigh. “I Am” was a religious movement that grew at a phenomenal rate in the 1930s, became the subject of a celebrated fraud case and a landmark freedom of religion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1940s, and has since held a modest but continuing place in American spiritual life....

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See Ballard, Edna Anne Wheeler

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Bimeler, Joseph Michael (1778–27 August 1853), Separatist and communitarian leader, was probably born in Württemberg, Germany, where he worked as a weaver. Little is known about his parents or his early years. He was self-educated and taught in Munich among a group of Pietist dissenters called Separatists. As the name suggests, these devout Protestants called for withdrawal from the official, state-supported Lutheran churches. A group of radical Pietists, including Bimeler, congregated in Württemberg between 1803 and 1805 under the mystical leadership of Barbara Grübermann. Their refusal to permit their children to be baptized, attend clergy-controlled schools, or serve in the military led to severe civil as well as ecclesiastical penalties, which forced them frequently to relocate....

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Brooks, Nona Lovell (22 March 1861–14 March 1945), cofounder of Divine Science (a New Thought religious movement), cofounder of Divine Science (a New Thought religious movement), was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of Chauncey Brooks, a merchant and miner, and Lavinia Brigham. Brooks’s family was large and prosperous, but her father’s business reversal, followed by his death, caused the family’s living standards to significantly decline. While Brooks was attending Charleston Female College (1878–1879), her mother and much of the family moved to Pueblo, Colorado. After graduating, Brooks joined them. Although Brooks’s mother had hoped the move west would improve her health, she and several other family members, including Brooks who had a throat ailment, suffered from physical ills....

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Thomas Campbell. Clockwise from top: T. Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott. Engraving by John Chester Buttre, 1885. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Card no. 98508288/PP).

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Campbell, Thomas (01 February 1763–04 January 1854), one of the early leaders of the Restoration movement in American Protestantism, was born in County Down, Ireland, the son of Archibald Campbell, a soldier, and Alice McNally. Little is known about Campbell’s early life, but from a young age he was pious and studious. His father had converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism, but Thomas joined the Seceder branch of the Presbyterian church as a young man. After teaching Latin and Greek near his home town, Thomas was allowed to attend the University of Glasgow, where he studied for the Presbyterian ministry. Following the normal three-year theological program, he received special training provided by the Antiburgher faction of the Seceder Presbyterian church. When his formal education was completed, he returned to Ireland, where he taught at Ballymena in County Antrim. There he married Jane Corneigle, probably in 1787. They had ten children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1798 he accepted the pastorate of Ahorey Church and also began an academy at Rich Hill....

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John Alexander Dowie. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Dowie, John Alexander (25 May 1847–09 March 1907), religious sectarian, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of John Murray Dowie, a tailor and lay preacher, and Ann Macfarlane-McHardie. Early years in the family were marked by poverty, piety, and illness. A move to Australia in 1860 alleviated conditions somewhat, and young Dowie became successful in the dry goods business. In 1868, however, he decided to enter the ministry and studied at the University of Edinburgh for two years. Upon returning to Australia he was ordained minister of the Congregational church in Alma in May 1870. In 1876 he married Jane Dowie, a cousin whose family was initially quite opposed to the union; they had two children. Over the next few years Dowie held pastorates in Sydney and one of its suburbs, Newtown. However, in 1878 he decided that it was wrong for ministers to be salaried, and so he turned to independent evangelistic work. This proved to be so successful that he was soon able to build a large nondenominational tabernacle in Melbourne....

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See Fillmore, Myrtle

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Fillmore, Myrtle (06 August 1845–06 October 1931), and Charles Sherlock Fillmore (22 August 1854–05 July 1948), cofounders of the Unity School of Christianity (a New Thought religious movement), became cofounders of the Unity School of Christianity (a New Thought religious movement). Myrtle was born Mary Caroline Page in Pagetown, Ohio, the daughter of Marcus Page, a merchant, and Lucy Wheeler; her nickname came from her father. Charles, born near St. Cloud, Minnesota, was the son of Henry Fillmore, a second cousin of ...

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Grace, Charles Emmanuel (25 January 1881–12 January 1960), Boyfriend of the World, better known as Daddy Grace or Sweet Daddy Grace or by his self-proclaimed title, was one of the more flamboyant African-American religious personalities of the twentieth century. He was born, probably as Marceline Manoel da Graca, in Brava, Cape Verde Islands, of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry, the son of Manuel de Graca and Gertrude Lomba. In the charismatic church that he founded and headed, however, he managed to transcend race by declaring, “I am a colorless man. I am a colorless bishop. Sometimes I am black, sometimes white. I preach to all races.” Like many other Cape Verdeans, Grace immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, around the turn of the century and worked there and on Cape Cod as a short-order cook, a salesman of sewing machines and patent medicines and a cranberry picker....

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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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Holmes, Ernest Shurtleff (21 January 1887–07 April 1960), founder of Religious Science (a New Thought religious movement), founder of Religious Science (a New Thought religious movement), was born in Lincoln, Maine, the son of William Nelson Holmes, a farmer and laborer, and Anna Heath. The family was relatively poor and moved frequently during Holmes’s youth, but family members remained close. Raised a Congregationalist, Holmes received little formal schooling after his early teens and was largely self-educated. From ages fifteen to eighteen he worked in and around Lincoln before moving to Boston, where he lived for the next seven years and was briefly involved with a Baptist church congregation....

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Hopkins, Emma Curtis (02 September 1849–08 April 1925), founder of the New Thought religious movement, was born in Killingly, Connecticut, the daughter of Rufus Curtis, a real estate agent, and Lydia Phillips. Hopkins, the oldest child in a large and prosperous family, received a good education. She attended Killingly High School. (Recent research reveals that reports of her attendance and teaching at Woodstock, Connecticut, Academy are in error.) In 1874 she married George Irving Hopkins, a high school English teacher; they had one child. The family resided in Nantucket, Massachusetts, until the early 1880s. In 1900, after a separation of several years, her husband divorced Hopkins for abandonment. Her son died in 1905....

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Hubbard, L. Ron (13 March 1911–24 January 1986), writer and founder of Dianetics and Scientology, was born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard in Tilden, Nebraska, the son of Harry Ross Hubbard, an officer in the U.S. Navy, and Ledora May Waterbury de Wolfe. Hubbard spent much of his youth with his maternal grandfather in Montana due to his father’s service in the navy. In 1923–1924 and again after 1929 Hubbard lived in Washington, D.C., graduating from high school there in 1930. Between 1927 and 1928 Hubbard traveled throughout the Far East. In 1930 he entered George Washington University but left before graduating, leading two expeditions to Central America (1932–1933) and a later one to Alaska (1940). While at the university, he conducted independent experiments on small energies (atomic and molecular physics). These experiments led directly to his research into the workings of the human mind....

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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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Matthew, Wentworth Arthur (23 June 1892–03 December 1973), leader of a black Jewish sect, was born in St. Marys or in Spooner’s Village in the British West Indies, the son of Joseph Matthew and Frances M. Cornelius. Matthew always claimed that he was born in an African country (usually reported as Lagos, Nigeria) and that he arrived in New York City by way of the British West Indies. However, according to his naturalization application, he was born in the British West Indies and in 1913 immigrated as a carpenter to the United States from St. Kitts. It probably was there that he married Florence Docher Liburd, also from the British West Indies, with whom he had four children. He supported his family by performing a variety of odd jobs....

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Murphy, Joseph (20 May 1898–16 December 1981), religious leader and writer, was born Joseph Denis Murphy in County Cork, Ireland, the son of Denis Murphy, the head of a Jesuit boys school called the National School of Ireland, and Ellen Connolly. Denis Murphy was one of the few laymen to teach in a church school in Ireland and was a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. Joseph grew up in a devout religious home, attending his father's school and preparing to study for the priesthood, but he began to have doubts about church doctrine in his late teens and withdrew from the seminary. At around this time he experienced the healing of a malignancy, a recovery that he attributed to personal prayer, and this proved a turning point in his spiritual life....

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Elizabeth McKee Williams

Osgood, Jacob (16 March 1777–29 November 1844), religious leader, was born in South Hampton, New Hampshire, the son of Philip Osgood and Mehitable Flanders, farmers. He wrote later that his parents “were poor and were not able to give me much learning.” When Jacob was about twelve, the family moved to Warner, New Hampshire. In 1797 he married Miriam Stevens; they had eight children. Shortly after his marriage, Jacob purchased from his father a 100-acre farm on a hill north of town. He farmed that land until his death....

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Randall, Benjamin (07 February 1749–22 October 1808), clergyman and one of the founders of the American Freewill Baptist sect, was born in New Castle, New Hampshire, the son of William Randall, a sea captain, and Margaret Mordantt. Some scholars spell his surname Randal. Young Randall often accompanied his father to sea and learned the trades of sail making and tailoring, skills he later used to provide income while an itinerant revivalist. His travels and apprenticeship did not allow for formal schooling, though it is reported by an early biographer that he took great interest in the study of religion....