Ohio History Journal

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The Heavenly City and Human Cities:

Washington Gladden and Urban Reform



Historians have generally viewed the rise of the social gospel dur-

ing the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a response to

the problems posed by industrialization, immigration, and urbaniza-

tion. Ever since the publication of Arthur M. Schlesinger's pioneering

analysis in 1932,1 historians have examined American religious

groups, especially American Protestants, to determine the ways in

which they met the Darwinist challenge to their system of thought and

the social challenge of a new America. The subsequent work by C.

Howard Hopkins, Aaron Abell, and Henry F. May implicitly or ex-

plicitly accepted the framework of challenge-response posed by

Schlesinger.2 The resulting interpretation was one which stressed the

importance of social determinants in this phase of American religious


Another complementary interpretation of the rise of the social gos-

pel has emerged from American church historians, most notably H.

Richard Niebuhr, Robert T. Handy, and Martin E. Marty. They have

emphasized the internal dynamics within American Protestantism

which remained intact throughout most of the eighteenth and nine-

teenth centuries but which came to different expressions under varied

social conditions. Niebuhr noted how American Protestants in the late

nineteenth century increasingly identified the Kingdom of God with a




John Mulder is Assistant Professor of American Church History at Princeton

Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.


1. Arthur M. Schlesinger, "A Critical Period in American Religion," Massachu-

setts Historical Society Proceedings, LXIV (October 1930-June 1932), 523-46. Schles-

inger's basic approach was supplemented by the chapter on the church and the city in

his The Rise of the City, 1878-1898 (New York, 1933).

2. C. Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism,

1865-1915 (New Haven, 1940); Aaron Abell, The Urban Impact on American Prot-

estantism, 1865-1900 (Cambridge, 1943); Henry F. May, The Protestant Churches

and Industrial America (New York, 1949). May has apparently had some second

thoughts about the validity of the methodology which he used in writing his book,

originally a doctoral dissertation under Schlesinger; see his forward to the Harper

Torchbook edition (New York, 1967).