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Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection

Creator: Sheldon, Charles Monroe, 1857-1946

Date: 1811-1984

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: Manuscripts Collection 222 (selected items on Kansas Memory http://www.kansasmemory.org/locate.php?categories=4905-12545& )

Unit ID: 40222

Biographical sketch: Congregational minister, author, social reformer. Of Waterbury, Vt.; Topeka, Kan.

Abstract: Writings, correspondence, clippings and other materials relating to Charles Monroe Sheldon's work and life including his wife, Mary Merriam Sheldon, and his son, Merriam Ward Sheldon. The collection also includes the papers of Mary Merriam Sheldon as well as records of Central Congregational Church (Topeka, Kan.) including church bulletins. This collection contains original copies of Sheldon's sermons, sermon stories, and other writings. His material for his most famous book, In his steps, includes different versions of the book such as drama and comic book versions. It also contains a pamphlet, The history of In his steps, about the writing and subsequent problems of the original version. The original ms. of In his steps is not in this collection. There is also information about the "Sheldon edition" of the Topeka daily capital; Sheldon edited the newspaper for a week incorporating the ideals of In his steps.

Space Required/Quantity: Originals: 3 ft. (7 boxes + 1 oversize folder, 2 oversize v.) Reproductions (Sermons ; sermon notes): 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm.

Title (Main title): Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection

Titles (Other):

  • Papers
  • Central Congregational Church/Charles Monroe Sheldon collection
  • Sheldon, Charles M./Central Congregational Church
  • In his steps
  • Topeka daily capital
  • Collection [Portion of title]

Biography

Biog. Sketch (Full):

Charles Monroe Sheldon was born on February 26, 1857, in Wellsville, New York. Because his father was a Congregational minister, the family moved five times before settling in South Dakota. Sheldon attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then college at Brown University, graduating in 1883. In 1886, he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. The Congregational Church in Waterbury, Vermont, called Sheldon to his first pastorship in 1886 where he quickly earned a reputation for his liberal views and his innovative and unorthodox pastoral style.

During his pastorate in Waterbury, Sheldon met Mary "May" Merriam, the granddaughter of a parishioner, who was visiting from Topeka. Her parents were founding members of Central Congregational Church (1888) and through this connection, Sheldon was called to preach at Central in 1888. He married Mary in 1891 and their only son, Merriam Ward Sheldon, was born in 1897.

Sheldon had survived the years in Andover and Providence by writing and selling articles. He put that skill to use again at Central Church when he noticed that attendance at Sunday evening prayer meetings was low. He wrote a series of sermon-stories and would read an episode each Sunday evening. Each story left the audience with a cliff-hanger so they would return the next week. From these Sunday evening stories came In His Steps, or "What Would Jesus Do?". The story reflected the growing social gospel movement in the United States in the 1890s that continually questioned the morality of business leaders in the 1890s modern, industrialized society. Sheldon offered a simple solution to business leaders by asking them (as Reverend Maxwell asked his parishioners in In His Steps) to conduct their business as Jesus would. The story enthralled readers in the United States as well as in Europe, and the book quickly became an international best seller. Some say the book was outsold only by the Bible. Sheldon made very little money from the venture because of improper copyright protection, however. Word of the faulty copyright leaked to other publishers who quickly published their own versions of In His Steps without paying any royalties to Sheldon, thus cheating him out of a fortune. Sheldon tried not to be bitter, though, and considered himself lucky that his message had touched so many people.

In March, 1900, Frederick O. Popenoe, editor and owner of The Topeka Daily Capital, offered Sheldon complete control over the paper for a week. Sheldon, during that week, tried to publish the paper as he thought Jesus would. Circulation rose from 15,000 daily copies to well over 350,000. Sheldon during that week refused to print "hard" news or ads for tobacco, alcohol or patent medicines. He listed every person, including the janitor, in the editorial column except for Popenoe who had angered Sheldon by hiring an agent to advertise the special editions.

Sheldon was also famous for his community work. During the economic depression of the 1890s, he spent several months working a week at a time with railroad operators, laborers and merchants to see under what conditions those men labored during the financial downturn. Working with Black "Exodusters," former Southern slaves who migrated to Kansas after the Civil War, in Topeka's Tennessee Town community influenced and impacted Sheldon the most. He decided that the area was impoverished due to a lack of employment and helped find jobs for many of its residents. He and Central Congregational Church also sponsored the first Black kindergarten west of the Mississippi River in 1893.

Sheldon was a well-known prohibitionist and actively campaigned in Topeka against saloons. He traveled throughout the world with his prohibitionist message, going to England in 1900 for a temperance campaign and to Australia and New Zealand for another in 1914.

After his retirement from Central Congregational Church in 1920, Sheldon edited Christian Herald, An Illustrated News Weekly for the Home, a religious periodical, from 1920 to 1924 and continued to write articles after his final retirement in 1924. Sheldon made several other trips abroad, most notably to the Holy Land in 1926 on a Christian Herald sponsored tour.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Sheldon continued to write and was an active peace advocate. He also wrote a prohibition plank for Republican Alf Landon's Kansas gubernatorial campaign. On February 17, 1946, shortly before his 88th birthday, Sheldon suffered a stroke and died one week later on February 24, 1946.

Before Sheldon's death, memorials to the beloved pastor had already been constructed. A community house was added onto the Central Congregational Church in 1926 and named for Sheldon. In the 1960s, his outdoor study was saved by the Central Congregational's Altruist Club, an organization for women started by Sheldon in the early 1900s. The club paid for the study to be moved to Gage Park and continues to staff the memorial. There is also a Sheldon Memorial Room at Central Congregational Church.

Scope and Content

Scope and content:

Some researchers may find the arrangement of Charles Sheldon's papers confusing or frustrating. However to properly reflect important events in Sheldon's life as well as the actual material in the collection, a non-traditional method of arrangement has been used. Most of the material, arranged at the series level, has been organized by significant topics in Sheldon's life. Therefore, the collection begins with original copies of Sheldon's sermons, sermon-stories and other writings. The collection then continues with In His Steps material and includes different versions of the book, for example, the drama and comic book versions. It also contains The History of 'In His Steps', a pamphlet about the writing and subsequent problems of the original version. The collection does not contain the original manuscript of In His Steps, which is housed at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin. The collection then has Tennessee Town materials and correspondence concerning the March 1900 edition of The Topeka Daily Capital. It continues from there with material from Sheldon's trips to Europe in 1900, 1914, 1926 and 1929. Correspondence comes next and is arranged by year. The next series concerns memorials to Sheldon and miscellaneous items follow, arranged alphabetically.

The collection has several strengths. It includes original manuscripts for many of Sheldon's sermon stories as well as sermons from his Waterbury, Vermont, years. The Tennessee Town material and the In His Steps papers also contain excellent material. The comic correspondence with L. D. Whittemore, a Washburn College professor who lived next door to Sheldon, especially illuminates Sheldon's sense of humor and playfulness. Postcards, although seemingly insignificant, contain cards from obscure towns in Europe and Australia where Sheldon passed through and probably spoke on Prohibitionist topics.

The collection, though, has some significant weaknesses. The correspondence, except with Whittemore, is especially disappointing. Most of the letters, both incoming, outgoing and those which concern Sheldon, are from his later years (1920-1946). The collection includes letters of tribute from William Allen White, Kansas Governor Alf Landon and especially, United States Senator Arthur Capper. No material exists to explain why these men wrote so many laudatory letters especially since Sheldon was rabidly non-partisan and apolitical. Only through outside resources does one discover that Capper and Sheldon, for example, had known each other since at least 1895. Capper asked Sheldon (as well as other famous Kansans) to be a guest editor on his newly purchased newspaper, The Topeka Mail and Kansas Breeze, as a gimmick to increase circulation.

There is also very little of a personal nature in the collection. Again, the Whittemore correspondence is the exception. There could be two reasons for this. First, Timothy Miller, Sheldon's latest biographer, describes Sheldon as an intensely private man, and it is very possible that he destroyed most of his personal papers. There are, for example, no letters from the thousands of people who supposedly wrote Sheldon after In His Steps was published. Most of the letters from Sheldon are from parishioners with whom he corresponded. Secondly, Sheldon was a very busy man, and as a pastor most of his public life was probably his private life as well.

Researchers should note that there are two Sheldon manuscript collections in the Kansas State Historical Society's holdings. The Charles Monroe Sheldon collection (no. 201) is a one box collection that contains writings donated by Pearl Maus and other individuals over a long period of time. The collection contains very little information about Mary (Merriam) Sheldon or about Central Congregational Church.

The Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection (no. 222), described by this register, however, contains information on both Mary Sheldon and the Central Congregational Church. Mrs. Sheldon's papers include several plays written by her as well as some correspondence. The information about the church is strong especially during the years that Sheldon was pastor. None of the papers in this collection contain information on Congregationalist religious ideology or practices, although the Central Church records do contain significant information on clubs and members. Both the Central Church and Mary (Merriam) Sheldon subgroups are arranged alphabetically.

Contents: Charles M. Sheldon (boxes 1-5) -- Central Congregational Church (boxes 5-7) -- Mary Merriam Sheldon (box 7, folders 8-12).

Related Records or Collections

Associated materials: Another collection of Charles Monroe Sheldon's papers, 1896-1925, is at the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka): Ms. Collection 201, http://kshs.org/archives/40201

Other Finding Aid/Index: Full finding aid (with box and folder list) available from the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka) and on its website, http://www.kshs.org/p/charles-monroe-sheldon-central-congregational-church-collection/14115

Index Terms

Subjects

    Central Congregational Church (Topeka, Kan.)
    Central Congregational Church (Topeka, Kan.) -- History
    Sheldon family
    Church bulletins -- Kansas -- Topeka
    Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
    Sermons, American
    Kansas -- History
    Topeka (Kan.)
    Sheldon, Charles Monroe, 1857-1946
    Sheldon, Charles Monroe, 1857-1946 -- Family
    Sheldon, Charles Monroe, 1857-1946 -- In his steps
    Sheldon, Mary Abby Merriam, " Mrs. Charles M. Sheldon," 1864-
    Sheldon, Merriam Ward, 1897-1964
    Clergy -- Kansas -- Topeka
    American diaries -- Women authors
    American letters -- Kansas -- History -- 19th century
    American letters -- Kansas -- History -- 20th century
    Clergy as authors -- Kansas -- Topeka
    Congregational churches -- Kansas -- Clergy
    Congregational churches -- Kansas -- Topeka
    Congregational churches -- Sermons
    Journalism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
    Religious newspapers and periodicals -- Kansas -- Topeka
    Topeka Daily Capital

Creators and Contributors


Additional Information for Researchers

Use and reproduction: Information on copyright available from the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka).

Add'l physical form:

Sermons ; sermon notes, 1887-1938, from both Charles Monroe Sheldon collections at the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka): Microfilm. Topeka, Kan. : Kansas State Historical Society, 1992; microfilm reel MS 1702.

Selected items: ǂa Also available via Kansas Memory, Electronic resource. Topeka, Kan. : Kansas State Historical Society, 2007. http://www.kansasmemory.org/locate.php?categories=4905-12545&

Cite as: Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection, 1887-1984, Ms. Coll. 222, Kansas State Historical Society.