Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

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JACOB H. DORN, ED. Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. Pp. xiv + 252, introduction, indices, bibliographic essay. $59.95.

Although there have been many studies of the American Social Gospel movement, relatively little attention has been given to Christian socialism. Even William Dwight Porter Bliss, the Anglican priest who was general secretary of the Christian Socialist Fellowship (CSF), is not yet the subject of a full-scale biography. Nor is George D. Herron, the Congregationalist pastor influential in starting the Rand School of Social Science.

In an effort to rectify this gap, Jacob H. Dorn, undoubtedly best known for his biography of Washington Gladden, has edited an anthology delineating the careers of eight Christian Socialists. Dorn himself begins with an introductory essay covering the uneasy encounters between American Christianity and socialism. Only three hundred Protestant ministers and two Roman Catholic priests ever joined the CFS, organized in 1906 and dedicated to the proposition that socialism was, in its own words, "the necessary economic expression of the Christian life" (p. 2). Despite the attacks of its critics, the Social Gospel was never a stalking horse for Christian socialism; rather, it stood in major competition, in the process being far more successful in obtaining support within the mainline denominations. At the local level, any Protestant minister espousing Christian socialism risked his career and was usually forced to find alternative work as a lecturer, organizer, or journalist.

The subjects of Dorn's anthology are a varied lot. Douglas Firth Anderson writes on J. Stitt Wilson, a Methodist pastor who served as the Socialist mayor of Berkeley, California, from 1911 to 1913. Philip S. Foner covers George Washington Woodbey, a Baptist minister who was the leading African-American Socialist in the first decade of this century, and George W. Slater, Jr., the CFS's "secretary to the Colored Race." Kate Richards O'Hare, the subject of Sally Miller's essay, had been a lay worker with a Disciples of Christ mission in Kansas City before gaining her reputation as "the first lady of American socialism." Mary E. Kenton tells of Congregationalist minister Bouck White, whose wide-read book The. Cull of the Carpenter (1911) sought to fuse Marxian socialism, Jeffersonian democracy, and the teachings of Jesus. …