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Washington Gladden (February 11, 1836 – July 2, 1918) was a leading American Congregational pastor and early leader in the Social Gospel movement. He was a leading member of the Progressive Movement, serving for two years as a member of the Columbus, Ohio city council and campaigning against Boss Tweed as acting editor of the New York Independent. Gladden was probably the first leading U.S. religious figure to support unionization of the workforce; he also opposed racial segregation. He was a prolific writer, with 40 books to his credit, as well as a number of hymns.
Gladden was born in 1836 in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania to devout parents as Solomon Washington Gladden. Gladden's father died when he was six and he spent much of his childhood living with his uncle on a farm in Owego, New York. At the time, western New York State was known as the Burned-Over District because it had been the center of a number of religious revivals. He joined the temperance movement as a boy.
Gladden became a journalist at the age of 16 and changed his name around the same time. However, he was keen to become a clergyman studying at the Owego Free Academy and graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. While at Williams, Gladden wrote its alma mater song, The Mountains.
Gladden was ordained as a minister in 1860 and started his career working in New York City. In his 1909 autobiography Recollections, Gladden wrote that he wanted to practice as a minister "a religion that laid hold upon life, and proposed first and foremost, to realise the Kingdom of God in this world." He married Jennie Cohoon in 1860 and the couple had three children. Although not being recognized by males, she was looked up to as a female leader since she offered support to fellow women about loyalty to one's husband, keeping faith through hardships, and working unto the Lord.
In 1866, Gladden moved to North Adams, Massachusetts, serving as pastor until 1871. His first significant book, Plain Thoughts on Being a Christian, was published in 1868. He was the religious editor of the New York Independent between 1871 and 1875. As acting editor of the Independent in this period, he was involved in exposing the corrupt organization of Boss Tweed.
In 1875, Gladden became the Congregationalist pastor in Springfield, Massachusetts. He published Working People and their Employers in 1876, which advocated the unionization of employees; Gladden was the first notable U.S. clergyman to approve of unions. Gladden did not support socialism or laissez faire economics, advocating instead the application of "Christian law" to issues. He was a charter member of the American Economic Association.
Gladden became the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio in 1882, and would serve in that position for thirty-two years. During that time, Gladden would develop his reputation as a religious leader and as a community leader. In 1886, he traveled to Cleveland during a streetcar strike and spoke at a public meeting on "Is it Peace or War", supporting the rights of the workers to form a union to protect their interests.
He helped to promote modernist views in books such as Burning Questions (1890) and Who Wrote the Bible (1891). In Who Wrote the Bible, Gladden stated: "it is idle to try to force the narrative of Genesis into an exact correspondence with geological science."
Gladden served a term on the Columbus City Council between 1900 and 1902 and became an advocate of municipal ownership of public works. He also led a movement to change the dates of elections in Ohio from October to November.
He was Vice President of the American Missionary Association between 1894 and 1901 and served as the President of the organization between 1901 and 1904. In this capacity, he travelled to Atlanta, Georgia to visit Atlanta University and meet W. E. B. Du Bois, where he was shocked at the condition of Southern blacks and started speaking out against segregation.
He resigned as President of the American Missionary Association to take up a position as the Moderator of the National Council of Congregational Churches in 1904. In 1905, he denounced a $100,000 gift to the Congregationalists from John D. Rockefeller as "tainted".
Gladden was considered for position of President of Ohio State University until his battle with the American Protective Association over its nativistic rhetoric cost him that position. The University of Notre Dame conferred him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his stance against anti-Catholicism.
Gladden is credited with having written a number of hymns including O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee. He resigned as pastor of the First Congregational Church in 1914 and died of a stroke in 1918.
Washington Gladden wrote 40 books during his life. These included:
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