From the Countryside to the City

38e. Religious Revival: The "Social Gospel"

Jane Addams
Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago

The Protestant churches of America feared the worst. Although the population of America was growing by leaps and bounds, there were many empty seats in the pews of urban Protestant churches. Middle-class churchgoers were ever faithful, but large numbers of workers were starting to lose faith in the local church. The old-style heaven and hell sermons just seemed irrelevant to those who toiled long, long hours for small, small wages.

Immigration swelled the ranks of Roman Catholic churches. Eastern Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues were sprouting up everywhere. At the same time, many cities reported the loss of Protestant congregations. They would have to face this challenge or perish.

Preaching for Politics

Out of this concern grew the social gospel movement. Progressive-minded preachers began to tie the teachings of the church with contemporary problems. Christian virtue, they declared, demanded a redress of poverty and despair on earth.

Many ministers became politically active. Washington Gladden, the most prominent of the social gospel ministers, supported the workers' right to strike in the wake of the Great Upheaval of 1877. Ministers called for an end to child labor, the enactment of temperance laws, and civil service reform.

Liberal churches such as the Congregationalists and the Unitarians led the way, but the movement spread to many sects. Middle class women became particularly active in the arena of social reform.

At the same time, a wave of urban revivalist preachers swept the nation's cities. The most renowned, Dwight Lyman Moody, was a shoe salesman who took his fiery oratory on the road. As he traveled from city to city, he attracted crowds large enough to affect local traffic patterns.

The Young Men's Christian Association and the Young Women's Christian Association were formed to address the problems of urban youth. Two new sects formed. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science denomination. She tried to reconcile religion and science by preaching that faith was a means to cure evils such as disease. The Salvation Army crossed the Atlantic from England and provided free soup for the hungry.

The Third Great Awakening

The changes were profound. Many historians call this period in the history of American religion the Third Great Awakening. Like the first two awakenings, it was characterized by revival and reform. The temperance movement and the settlement house movement were both affected by church activism. The chief difference between this movement and those of an earlier era was location. These changes in religion transpired because of urban realities, underscoring the social impact of the new American city.

On the Web
A History of D.L. Moody and the Moody Bible Institute
D.L. Moody founded the Chicago Evangelization Society in 1886. It still exists today as the Moody Bible Institute. Check out this webpage which includes a brief history of the school and a timeline of significant events. Illustrated.
Dwight L. Moody's letters to his family, 1884-1897
Wheaton College in Illinois has a collection of letters written by Dwight Moody to his family during his frequent travels, and they have put digitized images of some of the letters, along with transcriptions, online. A good opportunity to catch a glimpse of the private man.
Dwight Moody: God's Just Do It Man
This excellent essay on Dwight Moody written by Patrick Keenan was presented at a 1996 symposium on spiritual leaders. Unfortunately there are no sources cited and no pictures, but Moody's work is enthusiastically and colorfully described.
Hitting the Sawdust Trail with Billy Sunday
Chicago White Stockings Baseball player Billy Sunday, hung up his glove to devote himself to evangelism, beginning a new career that spanned 5 decades. This webpage of photos and documents briefly outlines his career as one of the great evangelists of the early 20th century.
Jane Addams' Hull House Museum
Jane Addams opened Hull House in 1899, providing social sevices to a poor, mostly immigrant Chicago neighborhood. This website offers a biography of Addams, a timeline, a list of Hull House "firsts," and links to works by and about Jane Addams and other Hull House social reformers.
Jane Addams, Mother of the World
Swarthmore College holds one of the largest collections of Jane Addams material in the world, and they have assembled many excellent photographs in an online exhibit. Go for the photos, but take some time to look around and follow the links with boring titles. There are some pearls to be discovered.
The Ram's Horn: An Interdenominational Social Gospel Magazine
From 1893 to 1896, the Ram's Horn increased its circulation from 4,200 to 52,000 to become a leading social gospel publication. Frank Beard was the principal illustrator for the magazine, and on this website you'll find dozens of his cartoons on social topics of the day.
Twenty Years at Hull House with Autobiographical Notes
The entire text of Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House is online at this easy-to-navigate website. It's in HTML so you can do a keyword search. Also, don't miss browsing more than 5 dozen original plates and illustrations.
[He] established soul-saving as Big Business, just as surely as John D. Rockefeller established oil-refining, or old Phil Armour the assassination of hogs, or Pillsbury the milling of flour. -H.L Mencken speaking about Dwight L. Moody.
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