Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940

By Carl F. Kaestle; Janice A. Radway | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
An Outpouring of “Faithful” Words
Protestant Publishing in the United States

William Vance Trollinger Jr.

.  .  .

Central to Protestant doctrine is the conviction that religious authority rests in Scripture alone. “Sola Scriptura” notwithstanding, Protestantism was and is more than simply a religion of the Word. It is a religion of many words, those that are preached, prayed, sung, and—of special interest to this volume— words that are printed. Nowhere have more Protestant words been printed than in the United States. Optimistically evangelical, American Protestants have relied upon the written word to convert people, to inspire individuals to higher callings, and to effect moral behavior. From their first settlements, Protestants poured forth a stream of religious publications. Between 1880 and 1940, they inundated the American landscape with Bibles, hymnals, tracts, Sunday School lessons, novels, and nonfiction books.

Despite this deluge, the historiography of Protestant printing is quite limited. In 1963 Martin E. Marty lamented that a “sustained analysis of the religious press in America has long been overdue,” especially that of the Protestant press, which, despite its prodigious output, was “invisible” to scholars.1 This chapter seeks to give the subject more visibility by providing a general picture of Protestant publishing in the United States between 1880 and 1940 and by suggesting some key themes. Understanding the history of the book in these years requires careful analysis of Protestant publishing. This essay offers a simple but consistently overlooked conclusion: including the religious press in the history of American print culture dramatically changes the landscape.


The Protestant Establishment

American Protestantism’s cultural hegemony was increasingly challenged between 1880 and 1940. This is not to say that “mainline” Protestants lost their cultural clout; as William Hutchison has noted, the influence of the Protestant establishment lasted into the late twentieth century.2 Nevertheless, these seven decades mark America’s substantial transformation from a Protestant nation to

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