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Lyman Vincent Rutledge

1927 - 1949


Lyman Vincent Rutledge was born on December 8, 1884 in Keokuk, Iowa to Esther Ann (Fouts) Rutledge and Dr. Cyrus Felton Rutledge.  He was raised in Greeley, Kansas and Alva, Oklahoma and attended Northwestern University as a member of the class of 1904. Four years later, in 1908, Rutledge received a BA in Journalism from University of Kansas.  After earning a divinity degree from Harvard, Rutledge was ordained in 1910 at First Parish Billerica, where he served as minister for the next five years. In the meantime, Rutledge returned to Eureka, Kansas to marry childhood sweetheart Anne Louise Fitch on June 19, 1911. In 1915 Rutledge moved on from Billerica to become pastor at 3rd Parish Cambridge and in 1921 he signed on as Parish Administrator at historic First Parish Dorchester where he shared the pulpit with the elderly, venerable (and somewhat infirm) Rev. Adelbert Lathrop Hudson. In the spring of 1927 Rutledge was unanimously called by First Church Dedham leaders who praised his ability as preacher, his bearing and presence at the altar, and his magnetic personal charm, concluding that “He is a man who can develop and broaden the church by a spiritual leadership founded on a firm basis of lofty ideals and careful attention to details.”


Literally from its inception, Rutledge’s ministry lived up to the expectation that he would provide energetic and attentive church leadership. Indeed, his first Report of the Minister for the period September 1, 1927-March 19,1928 catalogued his delivery of 115 sermons, attendance at 88 meetings, and visiting 101 parishioners, as well as officiating at 7 funerals and 1 wedding and serving as superintendent of the School of Religion. Moreover, that year Rutledge was also very active in regional religious education in the roles of 1st vice president of the Unitarian Sunday School Society, conference leader of the Boston Sunday School Union, lecturer to Sunday School educators at Boston’s Tuckerman School, and chairman of the committee developing the new service book of the Young People Religious Union. Rutledge’s denominational offices included directorship of the Isles of Shoals Association, Unitarian Temperance Society President, director of the Unitarian Social Service Council, and Norfolk Conference Chairman of the Survey Commission.  Rutledge had also taken on interdenominational tasks, namely as Chairman of Committee on Moral Welfare of the Massachusetts Federation of Churches, leader of the Boston Federation of Churches’s Committee on Industrial Relations, president of the Kansas Association of Massachusetts, director of the Dedham Community Association, and chaplain of both the Dorchester Lodge of Masons and the Norfolk County Jail.  In addition to this dizzying array of responsibilities, Rutledge had found time that first year of his Dedham ministry to attend the annual meetings of the Sunday School Society and the Unitarian Temperance Society in Washington and the Religious Education Association in Philadelphia. Given his prodigious workload, it is hardly surprising that Rutledge made a case in his 1927-28 report for being relieved of some administrative responsibilities by either congregant office volunteers or a School of Religion superintendent, but initially at least, to no avail.  


Rutledge’s 20+ year tenure as of First Church minister was both challenging and eventful. Needless to say, Rutledge’s major challenge was shepherding First Church through the Great Depression.  Rutledge’s second year as minister saw the October 1929 Stock Market Crash and ensuing economic contraction. In an October 1930 issue of the Parish Record Rutledge urged his congregants to tackle the emergency with “We are facing a great economic crisis. Much more than wisdom is required. A few centuries ago, Columbus ventured out into the uncharted Atlantic. It was an act of faith. He had a goal to win. Have the people who dwell in the land of his discovery lost his goal?  In gaining a continent have we lost our faith?” The 1929 balanced budget would turn out to be the last of its kind for the next decade. Throughout the 1930’s multiple Parish Records evidenced the church’s dire financial straits with reports about “reduced pledges,” “Deficit $430,” ”special meeting to talk about keeping the Parish House open for the winter” and “reduce every possible item of expense….” In addition to trimming all Church expenses, Rutledge and the Parish Committee organized teams of parishioners to take on tasks ranging from painting the auditorium to melting down old jewelry to extract gold to pay Parish bills, not to mention cutting the ministerial salary by 12.5%. While rallying members to keep First Church financially afloat, Rutledge also urged parishioners to care for needy neighbors by, for instance, contributing to the Dedham Fund for the Unemployed, because “in America we do not wait for revolutions, but anticipate the welfare of our people.” Even in the 1935 depth of the Depression, Rutledge could celebrate that “it has been an achievement merely to live. Storms have broken over us and we have survived!” Not until the 1940 First Church annual meeting was Lyman V. Rutledge able to voice “a vote of thanks to present and past members of the Parish Committee… for their work in accomplishing a balanced budget, the first in many years.”


Despite the economic headwinds, Rutledge was able to accomplish much of his agenda. The first issue he confronted at the beginning of his ministry in the spring of 1927 was church attendance that ranged between 33 and 77 from Sunday to Sunday: his solution, in part, was to raise the intellectual quality of church offerings. Accordingly, he composed sermons on the religious theorizing of philosophers like Harvard’s William James and Josiah Royce and the moral meditations of novelist Tolstoi, Meredith, and Wilder. Rutledge also published poetry by distinguished bards like Whitman, Coleridge, and Tennyson regularly in Parish Record and even shared his own poetry, such as “Christmas Morn”.  To offer congregants the opportunity to follow up on his sermons about religion, philosophy, current events, and literature, Rutledge maintained a lending library of such works as The Coming Renaissance by Sir James Merchant and Public Opinion in War and Peace by A. Lawrence Lowell. In addition, Rutledge established a Discussion Club to explore such contemporary concerns as liberal religion and internationalism.  Rutledge even wrote, produced, directed, and shot a movie about Dedham history, featuring performances by congregants and town folk, in commemoration of First Church’s tercentenary in 1938. Yet another means of boosting church attendance was Rutledge’s reorganization of First Church’s religious education program. In lieu of a Sunday School superintendent. Rutledge assumed leadership of the School of Religion in 1928 and wrote its new K-8 age-appropriate curricula and teacher guides. According to its scope and sequence, the youngest students learned about children of the Bible. Lower and upper elementary-age children studied a five-year course on the Bible as history, and middle-school students both explored the interconnections between science and religion and assessed how nature manifests spiritual values like loyalty, industry, self-control, and parental affection. And the oldest students investigated important human achievements such as the toil and genius that enabled the building the pyramids, appreciation of beauty as exemplified in monuments like the Taj Mahal, and the thirst for wisdom embodied in the British Museum. Growing School of Religion student numbers rewarded Rutledge’s efforts and their parents’ pledges reinforced church finances.


Rutledge also supported First Church growth and development by carrying through with major innovations to both First Parish facilities and leadership.  First, he oversaw the continuing development of the First Church buildings in order better to support First Church social, artistic and civic, as well as religious activities.  In February, 1928 Rutledge and the Planning Board surveyed parishioners to solicit their input on needed renovations. Many congregant survey responses called for remodeling the Vestry.  As a result, over the next few years the Women’s Alliance got a larger parlor, the auditorium interior was refinished, a Guild Hall was built for banquets,  upstairs class and club rooms were erected,  and spaces for theatrical dressing rooms and workshops were constructed under the auditorium. Nor was refurbishment of the Meeting House neglected: its steeple was repaired, a new furnace installed, and the vestibule remodeled and decorated to better serve as a gathering space for congregants. It should be remembered that this ambitious construction program was accomplished during a decade of very constrained church budgets. Second, a significant leadership innovation was also undertaken during Rutledge’s tenure as minister, the growing role of women in church governance.  Admittedly, women had long held positions of influence and leadership in such First Parish organizations as the Benevolent Society, What-She-Could Circle, First Parish Club, and the Hospitality, Entertainment, Housekeeping, and Church Decoration Committee. And since 1919 several women had managed and edited the Parish Record. Indeed, many of those same women led the Women’s Alliance which since 1881 had been responsible for much of First Church’s charitable, civic, and political outreach.  As for leadership of the church itself, back in 1911 three women served for a time as “at large” members of William Henry Parker’s Pastoral Committee alongside the all-male Deacons, Parish Committee officers, and minister, but this tangential female leadership structure did not last. It was not until1926 that the first woman was appointed to membership of the Committee to Supply the Pulpit, the delegation that initially called Rutledge to be First Church pastor. Several years later in March 1932, Margaret Warren became the first woman to serve on Nominating Committee, followed the next year by Frances M. Baker. Finally, in October 1940 Mrs. Frank H. Hodges was elected to Parish Committee, the first of five women (Mrs. Bernard W. Capen, Mrs. Rodney Larcom, Mrs. Otis C. Nash, and Edith R. Keene) to occupy that seat over the rest of Rutledge’s ministry. And one of the last First Church glass ceilings was broken in October 1942 when Reverend Bertha Frances Pettengill, minister of the Preble Chapel in Portland, Maine delivered a Sunday sermon about her work with the indigent, the first woman minister to preach from a First Church pulpit.   


One initiative in which Rutledge had less success in achieving involved his effort to forge closer bonds of organizational unity with the Allin Church. The context for this initiative for closer collaboration between two estranged congregations was the pluralistic Interfaith movement emanating out of the 1893 Parliament of World Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Following up on this international ecumenical gathering, in 1900 at a Boston conference Unitarians and other religious liberals founded the International Association for Religious Freedom. "The object of this council," its founders declared, "is to open communication with those in all lands who are striving to unite Pure Religion and Perfect Liberty, and to increase fellowship and cooperation among them." This Unitarian-driven movement embraced the “Higher Criticism” of predominantly German theological scholarship which applied such recently developed historical methods as document sourcing, corroboration, contextualization, and analysis of material culture to assess the derivations of the books of the Bible, a process that concomitantly cast some doubt on the divine origin and spiritual authority of this foundational text of Christianity.  In reaction, between 1910 and 1915 opponents of the Higher Criticism countered with the 12-volume set of 90 essays titled The Fundamentals.  These essays defended the inerrancy of the Bible, affirmed the core doctrines of evangelical Protestantism, and condemned the errors of both Higher Criticism and the ministers who integrated its findings, along with those of modern science (i.e. natural selection) into their theology of “liberal religion.”  First Church ministers of that era, William Henry Parker, Charles R. Joy and Lyman Vincent Rutledge were all advocates of liberal religion, as were many Congregational clerics. This conceptual convergence created an ideological bridge between Congregationalists and Unitarians that had not existed before and one sees the terms "Interfaith" and “liberal religion” increasingly in the both the Allin Congregational Calendars and the Parish Record in the 1920’s and 30’s.   


Historically speaking, the two congregations initiated their closer collaboration because of World War I coal rationing which moved the two congregation to hold joint services in each other’s sanctuaries in the winter of 1918. Subsequently, First Church minister Joy and Allin’s Rev. George Manly Butler held joint services not just on annual demurredanniversaries of the 1638 church founding, but also on Armistice and later Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Easter, and on such civic celebrations, such as the Tercentenary of the founding of Plymouth Colony. During Rutledge’s ministry the two congregations also joined together via meetings of their men's and women's groups, musical vespers, parties, and intellectual pursuits such as lectures, religious education classes and field trips. These conjoined activities culminated in late 1934 on the heels of Butler untimely death.  That winter leaders of both churches met to discuss bringing about some form of union between First and Allin churches. However, in reply to the Unitarian-driven overtures, Allin leaders demurred thusly: they “expressed the confidence and good will held by them in the efforts of First Church, but felt that they had not arrived at a time when a union could be properly brought about.”  One goodwill byproduct of this negotiation, nevertheless, was the 1941 agreement of the Deacons of the Allin Church, with the concurrence of First Church Deacons, to turn over communion silver, missing since the 1818 schism, to the Dedham Historical Society.  A half a decade later in 1945, when Allin Reverend John Franklin Robinson retired, new negotiations culminated in yet another offer from First Church for both churches to share Rutledge as minister, splitting the cost of visiting ministers, music. and administrative expenses.  But once again, these negotiations ultimately failed to forge a closer merger of the two churches. Nevertheless, in his final year as First Church pastor, Rutledge could still optimistically hope that “Protestantism with the passing years… will be more unified. The denominations are in many respects working cooperatively together now, but there will be before long more recognition of the common conviction and common purpose and a deeper mutual sympathy and a better integrated effort, and a more effective impact against the world.”


In his December 1948 “Open Letter to the Deacons and Parish Committee of the First Church and Parish in Dedham”, Rutledge announced he had received an “Urgent call from the Isles of Shoals to devote more time to their rapidly growing movement. It is impossible for me to continue in the Shoals work where I have been recently made Executive Director and do justice to any other position." Since the 1920’s Rutledge had spent his summers in cottage on one of the Isles of Shoals, namely Appledore.  There he led youth summer programs, worked as a mason and carpenter on the Tucke Parsonage, raised funding for the Conference Center, and organized its programs, while during the church year he gave Boston-area lectures to recruit summer participants At the conclusion of World War II, when Shoaler leaders were faced with the task of both rebuilding island structures that had fallen into disrepair during that conflict and restarting its summer schedule of themed programs, they turned to Rutledge to head this effort.  Under Rutledge’s leadership, advocates of liberal religion held the annual Coming Great Church Conference at the Shoals, while the Star Island Institute on Religion in the Age of Science brought scientists together with an interfaith coalition of spiritual leaders to revitalize a religious faith that better meet the needs of modern life.  Rutledge also promoted the Star Island Corporation’s mission by writing its guidebook Ten Miles Out (1952) and the colorful history The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend (1965) And it was in acknowledgement of Rutledge’s enthusiasm for researching Isle of Shoals natural history that Cornell’s Star Island-based marine laboratory was named after him in 1971. Lyman V. Rutledge died on September 27, 1977, in Rockingham, New Hampshire at the age of 92. As Dr. Dana Greeley noted in Rutledge’s eulogy, “His heart and his mind comprehended together. He was a prophet of the important progressive partnership or common cause of science and religion…. He patiently and perseveringly planned and labored for a better world.”



First Church Parish Records, 1926-1949, Dedham Museum and Archive

How the Lyman V. Rutledge Marine Laboratory Was Born! | Lyman V. Rutledge Marine Laboratory ($176i,

In Pursuit of Reality; A Little Spate of Star Island Reveries by Lyman V. Rutledge

Lyman Vincent Rutledge (1884–1977) • FamilySearch

Ministers Folder 1903-1968 in First Church Records: Dedham Museum and Archive

Records of the First Parish in Dedham Commencing AD 1900: Dedham Museum and Archive
Ten Miles Out, a Guidebook to the Isles of Shoals by Lyman V. Rutledge
The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend by Lyman V Rutledge

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