Parker, Theodore

Parker, Theodore,

1810–60, American theologian and social reformer, b. Lexington, Mass. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1836 and was pastor (1837–46) of the Spring Street Unitarian Church, West Roxbury, Mass. The liberalism that he presented in Boston in 1841 and amplified in his scholarly Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion (1842) was then so radical that the Boston Unitarian clergy withdrew from him, although he remained a member of their association. He was one of the transcendentalists, contributed to the Dial, and edited (1847–50) the Massachusetts Quarterly Review. In 1845 he became preacher of the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society of Boston. His congregation grew to 7,000. In addition he lectured at lyceums throughout the country and was a leader in antislavery and other reform activities. In 1859 ill health forced him to retire, and he died in Florence. After his death Parker's works were widely read, and his once radical views gained acceptance. The best edition of his works is the Centenary (15 vol., 1907–13).


See J. Weiss, The Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker (1864, repr. 1969); biographies by O. B. Frothingham (1874) and H. S. Commager (1936, repr. 1960); J. W. Chadwick, Theodore Parker, Preacher and Reformer (1900, repr. 1971); J. E. Dirks, The Critical Theology of Theodore Parker (1948, repr. 1970).

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Parker, Theodore

(1810–60) Unitarian clergyman, reformer; born in Lexington, Mass. He overcame a background of poverty to graduate from Harvard Divinity School in 1836. Serving as Unitarian minister in West Roxbury, he was an associate of William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other Transcendentalists, and became a leader of liberal theological thought; his progressive views forced him to resign his first pastorate (1845) and he became a minister at a new church in Boston. He was active, too, in social movements, including school and prison reforms, temperance, and the abolition of slavery. He gradually withdrew from public life after his health began to fail in 1857.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.