About Theodore Parker
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 pastor of the church until the end of his life.
Parker was 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. Parker was also a proponent of women's suffrage and delivered a well-known sermon, "On the Public Function of Woman," in 1853. He died in 1860 and was buried in Florence, Italy.
The majority of Theodore Parker Papers, spanning 1836-1862 has been digitized. Access the digitized material through the finding aid (bMS 101. Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School) or use the following links:
- July 13, 1838-December 31, 1840
- January 1, 1841-October 26, 1843
- May 19, 1851-October 4, 1856
- March 3, 1859-August 16, 1859 (scrapbook)
- Notebook including items on Kansas, thoughts on Trinity, slavery, sermons, addresses
- Theodore Parker's sermon record book, 1836-1860,
- 1836, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843-1844, 1845, 1846, 1848, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1858,
Unpublished West Roxbury Sermons and miscellaneous 207-889 and 890-92
Associated Manuscript Collections:
- Unitarian Universalist Association. Minister files, 1825-2010. bMS 1446
- Parker, Theodore, 1810-1860. Centenary Edition of the Works of Theodore Parker. Editorial Board Records, 1906-1912. bMS 102.
- Twenty-eighth Congregational Society (Boston, Mass.) Records 1845-1889 bMS 7
Accessing These Materials
All materials in AHTL’s Special Collections are available for research to students, faculty, visiting scholars, and others with interest. Please contact Special Collections in advance of your visit to ensure access to collections stored offsite.
Contact the Special Collections for access to physical materials.
Parker, Theodore, 1810-1860. Papers, 1836-1862. bMS 101. Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University.