The Social Gospel and the Progressive Era | National Humanities Center

TeacherServe Essays

The Social Gospel and the Progressive Era

By Bateman, Bradley W. (NHC Fellow, 1999–00)

When Washington Gladden accepted the call to the pulpit of the Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1875, his parishioners had little reason to expect that their call to the thirty nine year old pastor might mark the beginning of a new epoch in American Protestantism. Gladden would step across one of the most well respected boundaries for the Protestant ministry in America and advocate the rights of workers to form labor unions. Throughout the nineteenth century, American Protestant ministers had been stalwart advocates of laissez-faire. When the Civil War began, less than half of Americans worked for someone else earning wages for their labor, and these were often young men who worked as farm laborers before starting their own farms. The economic world that evolved after the Civil War, however, was very different from what Americans had known in the antebellum period. As America industrialized, millions of Americans would flood into factories to earn wages. Thus, the vertical integration of American industry in the last three decades of the nineteenth century wrought monumental changes in the structure of both American industry and American culture. The rapid growth of America’s cities and its urban population was matched by a rise in squalor and poverty that shocked many people.

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Economics / History / American History / Christianity / Protestantism / Second Great Awakening / Social Gospel / Social Reformers / Progressive Era / Progressivism /