The Social Gospel in Connecticut: Protestants, Catholics, Jews and social reform, 1893--1929

Date of Completion

January 1993


Religion, History of|History, United States|Sociology, Social Structure and Development




Between 1893 and 1929, Connecticut's religious bodies participated in social reform that attempted to ease the misery that accompanied urbanization and industrialization. This Social Gospel movement was the religious manifestation of Progressive reform which peaked within the first two decades of the twentieth century and dissipated in the aftermath of World War I. In Connecticut, there is evidence that the most aggressive advocates of social reform were not Protestant but, in fact, Catholic and Jewish. Furthermore, some of the most ambitious efforts in relieving urban blight emerged in the "normalcy" of the 1920s.^ Social gospelers differed in terms of strategies, issues, and goals in addressing urban problems. At one extreme were the coercive reformers who were concerned with personal morality. At the other extreme were the Christian and Jewish socialists who took a more systemic approach to change. Most religious reformers, however, adopted a meliorative approach. Confident in the promise of American idealism and institutions, yet cognizant of the harsh realities of a changing nation, these reformers sought to remedy social ills through social service.^ This dissertation discusses how and why religious reformers responded to urban issues in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, between the years 1893 and 1929. Chapter I examines the literature of the Social Gospel movement. Chapter II explores nineteenth-century religious reform in Connecticut. Chapter III discusses how social gospelers sought to relieve impoverished urban populations. Chapter IV examines the Social Gospel's response to African-Americans, immigrants, and women through separation, ambivalence, and subordination. Chapter V examines temperance reform and efforts to build a dry Kingdom of God on earth. Chapter VI explores the hesitant reform attempts to meet the needs of organized labor. Chapter VII concludes that the Social Gospel movement in Connecticut (1) was a multi-religious phenomenon, (2) drew ardent support from Catholics and Jews who offered the most comprehensive social welfare, and (3) was undertaken by individuals who were moved to action as a response to new conditions and by an inner dynamic within their respective faith traditions. ^