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COLLECTION Identifier: bMS 101

Parker, Theodore, 1810-1860. Papers, 1836-1862.


Papers of Theodore Parker, including journals, sermons, correspondence, and biographical material. The papers span 1836-1862.


  • Creation: 1836-1862.


There are no restrictions on access to this collection.


25 boxes

This collection is divided into eight series. The first series consists of journals, arranged chronologically. Series II is sermons delivered by Parker, also arranged chronologically. Series III contains letters written by Parker copied by another hand. Series IV is miscellaneous material, including an unidentified fragment. Series V is additional Parker material in the form of a notebook that includes sermons and addresses. Series VI consists of correspondence, arranged by correspondent. Series VII contains a manuscript translation by Parker of a work by Christoph Friedrich von Ammon. Series VIII is biographical material on Parker.

Biographical / Historical

Theodore Parker (1810-1860) graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1836 and was ordained to the West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Unitarian Church in 1837. He played a pivotal role in moving Unitarianism away from a Bible-centered faith, and in 1841, when he gave an ordination sermon entitled "A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity," he emerged as a major figure in the Transcendentalist movement. Following the sermon, Parker was barred from the majority of Unitarian pulpits because a majority of Unitarian lay people and clergy found his ideas to be non-Christian. He continued his speaking engagements and became more and more controversial. In 1845, his followers, known as Parker-ites, established the Twenty-Eighth Congregational Society (Boston) and Parker became the pastor of this church. He was also a major figure in the abolitionist movement, leading the Boston opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and serving as minister-at-large to fugitive slaves in Boston. He was also the chairman of the executive committee of the Vigilance Committee, a fugitive slave aid society. Parker's aid to fugitive slaves led to a federal indictment in 1854 which was dismissed on a technicality in 1855. Parker was also a proponent of women's suffrage and delivered a well-known sermon, "On the Public Function of Woman," in 1853. He served as the editor of the Massachusetts Quarterly Review from 1848 to 1851, and published many works, including Theism, Atheism, and the Popular Theology (1853), A False and True Revival of Religion (1858), and The Revival of Religion Which We Need (1858). He died in 1860 and was buried in Florence, Italy.


Organized into the following series:

  1. Series I. Journals
  2. Series II. Sermons
  3. Series III. Letters
  4. Series IV. Miscellaneous material
  5. Series V. Additional Parker material
  6. Series VI. Parker correspondence
  7. Series VII. Manuscript translation
  8. Series VIII. Biographical material

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1971.

Related Materials

For related collection, please see bMS 102.

Parker, Theodore, 1810-1860. Papers, 1836-1862: A Finding Aid.
Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Divinity School Library, Harvard University Repository

Special Collections at Harvard Divinity School Library preserves and makes accessible primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School's evolving focus on global religious studies. Known as Andover-Harvard Theological Library since 1911, it was renamed the Harvard Divinity School Library in 2021.

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