top of page

Roger Sawyer Forbes

1903 - 1908


Roger Sawyer Forbes was born on October 24, 1878 in Westboro, Massachusetts, son of John Perkins Forbes and Maria Almy (Sawyer) Forbes. At the time of his birth, Roger’s father was minister of the Unitarian Church of Westboro.  Forbes spent his formative years in Westboro, Arlington, and Taunton, Massachusetts where his father served sequentially as Unitarian minister. Forbes attended Taunton’s Bristol Academy and Phillips Andover before entering Harvard’s class of 1900.  After graduation he went on to earn a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School in 1903. Over the summer of 1902, Forbes gained professional experience overseeing the services at the Liberal Christian Church at Sullivan’s Harbor, Maine and started to deliver guest sermons at Cambridge area churches early in 1903. Forbes preached his 3rd trial sermon in Dedham on May 30, 1903 with such success that he was called by First Church leaders to become their minister in October of the same year. However, Forbes initially turned down invitation to become First Church pastor because, as he stated in a letter to the Parish Committee representatives, “some of the members of your parish do not think it advisable to settle my ministry at present.” Furthermore, Forbes was under the impression that “others do not look with favor upon entrusting the pastorate to one so young as I.” The Parish Committee promptly called a special meeting on October 26, 1903 to enable congregants to vote for or against Forbes call. When he heard that the final balloting indicated that 65 church members were in favor of calling him, while only 2 were opposed to his becoming First Church minister, Forbes relented and was ordained and installed on December 2, 1903.


Forbes’s tenure as minister of First Church was relatively short (4 ½ years), but nevertheless, impactful. To begin with, he energetically supported the fundraising, book collections, and clothing donation campaigns enacted by Women’s Alliance and the youth clubs, like the Lend-A-Hand and What She Could Circles. For instance, when the Alliance was conducting a clothing drive for the African-American Kowaliga School in Alabama and the What She Could Circle held fairs to garner funds for the Penn Normal and Industrial School on St. Helen’s Island off the coast of South Carolina, Forbes served as the contact person.  He also coordinated Lend-a-Hand Circle’s response to an appeal for clothing for the Children’s Island Sanitarium in Marblehead, a summer home for poor children with tuberculosis. In addition, as if he weren’t already busy enough, in February, 1906 Forbes founded a new philanthropic church group, the Children's Charity Club, that was dedicated to supporting the work of Morgan Memorial, a pioneering Boston settlement house, by raising money staging theatrical events, sewing baby bibs, flannel skirts, and sacks, and arranging picnics for poor immigrant girls. Next, Forbes edited the Parish Record, the weekly bulletin about First Church services, events, and club and society activities.  Lastly, Forbes played an active and innovative part in First Church programing. He chaired a committee that adopted a new hymnal, Hymns for Church and Home Unitarian Service Book. Forbes also redesigned the Sunday School course of study so that it “represents a progress from the simple, vivid rehearsal of early Bible stories to a consideration of the great problems of personal religion as they present themselves to the minds of the man and the woman today.” The youngest children were to study the “picturesque narratives” of the Old Testament after which older children were to spend a year learning about the life and teachings of Jesus. In the succession of grades, young scholars were then to study Old Testament history, the ethical teachings of Jesus, Paul’s letters, and a general summary of religious history from Paul’s time to the present. The course of study concludes with a comparative study of the principle Christian denomination with a focus on the “distinctive viewpoints of liberal religion.”  Given the comprehensiveness and conceptual depth of this multi-year course scope and sequence, Forbes made provision for the predominantly female Dedham Sunday School teachers to train at Boston’s Tuckerman School which was dedicated to educating women who have “ unquestionably entered upon a career in educational work destined to become a right arm to the churches, in making them more efficient through supplying them with parish assistants, directors of religious education, field secretaries, church school organizers and instructors in community service.”

On November 3, 1907 Forbes married Mary Angeline Low with whom he ultimately had four children. Their wedding present from the Dedham congregations was the munificent sum of $700 in gold coins.  Nonetheless, Forbes proffered his resignation as minister of First Church on March 15, 1908.  As it turned out, in February 1908 Forbes had accepted the call to the ministry of the First Parish Church of Dorchester where he served as pastor until 1917, at which point he moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania to minister to its Unitarian Society.  Forbes also a noted public speaker for the Unitarian Laymen’s League, lecturing widely on the principles of liberal religion and how they apply modern problems He and Angeline retired to Petersham, Massachusetts, where Forbes died in 1938. 


Roger Sawyer Forbes (born October 24, 1878), American clergyman | World Biographical Encyclopedia ($155i
Secretary's ... Report - Google Books
The Cambridge Tribune 9 August 1924 — Cambridge Public Library's Historic Cambridge Newspaper Collection (
Parish Record (1903-1908,) Dedham Historical Museum and Archive
First Church Records 1903-1964, Dedham Historical Museum and Archive

bottom of page