Fenn, William W. (William Wallace), 1862-1932. Papers of William Wallace Fenn : an
Harvard University Archives
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Call No.: HUG 1389
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Fenn, William W. (William Wallace), 1862-1932.
Title: Papers of William Wallace Fenn, 1874-1932
Quantity: 7 cubic feet (21 document boxes)
Abstract: William Wallace Fenn (1862-1932), Unitarian minister and Bussey Professor of Theology
at the Harvard Divinity School (1900-1932) was a scholar of New England religious
life and thought. He served as Dean of the Divinity School from 1906 to 1922.
The Papers of William Wallace Fenn were originally held at the Andover-Harvard Theological
Library. They were relocated to the Harvard University Archives in November 1950.
A small addition of lecture notes were a gift of Dan Huntington Fenn in 1950.
Re-processed April 2004 by Dominic P. Grandinetti.
Re-processing included the consolidation of materials cataloged under seven separate
call numbers, re-housing materials in the appropriate containers, establishment of
series and subseries hierarchy, and the creation of this finding aid. The archivist
placed the documents into acid-free folders, re-housed the materials into archival
document boxes, and examined the folder contents to establish the date of the material.
Call numbers beyond the base call number were eliminated. A list of these obsolete call numbers
appears at the end of the finding aid.
Details about the re-processing and arrangement of each series are noted below.
Permission of the Harvard University Archives is required for access to the Papers
of William Wallace Fenn. Please see the reference staff for further details.
The Andover-Harvard Theological Library holds many of William Wallace Fenn's writings.
Search HOLLIS (Harvard's online library system) for works by and about William Wallace
William Wallace Fenn, Unitarian minister and Bussey Professor of Theology at the Harvard Divinity School (1900-1932), was a scholar of New England religious life and thought. He was recognized as an able administrator, energetic lecturer, and understanding friend.
Fenn was born on February 12, 1862 in Boston, Massachusetts to William Wallace and Hannah Morrill (Osgood) Fenn. Fenn's father worked as a clerk in a Boston hardware store and died less than seven
weeks after his birth. He was an only child.
After graduating from the Boston Latin School in 1880, Fenn attended Harvard College and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1884.
Fenn continued his graduate studies in New Testament theology at the Harvard Divinity School and received Master of Arts and Bachelor of Scared
Theology degrees in 1887. Several years later in 1908, Fenn was given an honorary
Doctor of Divinity degree from the Divinity School.
As a young man, Fenn was a member of the BostonMount Vernon Congregational Church. During his studies at Harvard he began to question his religious beliefs and converted
to Unitarianism. Although he intended to teach upon graduation from Harvard University, financial
considerations influenced his decision to seek a job as a minister.
Fenn's active ministry lasted thirteen years. In October 1887, he became minister
of the newly organized Unity Church of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. During his stay in Pittsfield, Fenn oversaw the development of a strong and growing
organization and the building of a new church building. In May 1891, Fenn accepted
a ministerial position at the First Unitarian Society of Chicago. In Chicago, Fenn took a leading part in the missionary work of the American Unitarian Association in the western United States and again oversaw the building of a Unitarian chapel, this time near the University of Chicago. In concurrence with his ministerial duties, Fenn also served as the Shaw Lecturer on Biblical Literature at the Meadville Theological School in Chicago from 1892 to 1901 and later from 1905 to 1907. He also maintained his ties
to Harvard University by serving as a member of the Board of Preachers from 1896 to 1898 and again from 1902 to 1905. Fenn left Chicago in March 1901 after
he was invited to become the Bussey Professor of Theology at Harvard University.
Fenn was a loyal spokesman for the Unitarian church. He avoided emotional appeals
in his preaching and believed in a more academic presentation of theology that he
termed the "thinking pulpit". He advocated a pragmatic and functional approach to
religion and called into question the major tenets of the increasingly dominant views
of "liberal optimism". Fenn emphasized that Christianity was a layman's religion and that Jesus saw the world from a layman's point of view. He promoted a "General Theism" in which
the universe found its unity in a vast controlling purpose. The primary religious
goal of man was to discover the values of this controlling purpose and devote ones
life to them.
Fenn taught at the Harvard Divinity School from 1901 until his death in 1932. He served
as Dean of the school from 1906 to 1922. The most important event to take place during Fenn's
tenure as dean was the merging of the Divinity School with the Andover Theological Seminary in 1922. The new school was named The Theological School in Harvard University from 1923 to 1933, after which the school
returned to using Harvard Divinity School.
Prior to teaching at Harvard, Fenn's main interests of study involved the New Testament.
However, after he began teaching at the Divinity School, Fenn expanded his course
offerings to include new classes in Christian mysticism,theism, and New England Theology. Fenn was characterized as an exceptional teacher whose lectures were orderly, lucid,
stimulating, and sometimes, eloquent. He was eager to awaken the minds of his students
and respectful of their intelligence. Fenn tried never to impose his own views upon
any of his students and insisted that they judge the merits of the theological systems
described to them. Fenn was noted for the high standards that he maintained in the
preparation of his courses and his excellent pastoral relations with his students
both in school and after graduation. Moreover, Fenn was considered a prominent and
highly respected figure with exceptional intellectual abilities, a great reserve and
modesty about his own talents, and a thorough scholar.
Fenn studied the development of New England religious thought from the early days
of Puritan settlements to the advent of early nineteenth century religious liberalism and became an acknowledged expert in this field. However, Fenn was reluctant to publish
his research over his lifetime because he feared that his ideas might become fixed
and inflexible. Nevertheless, some of the sermons and lectures that Fenn presented
were published for distribution to a wider audience. His most noted writings were:" The Revolt against the Standing Order "in The Religious History of New England: King's Chapel Lectures (1917), Immortality and Theism (1921), The Christian Way of Life as Illustrated in the History of Religion in New England
(1924), and The Theological Method of Jesus (published posthumously in 1938). In addition, Fenn published several booklets for
Sunday school while still a minister in Chicago from 1890 to 1900.
Fenn was married to Faith Huntington Fisher of Lanesboro, Massachusetts on May 28, 1891. They had five children: Dorothy, Wallace, Roger, Donald, and Dan.
William Wallace Fenn died on March 6, 1932 after a brief illness and was buried in
References used for this biography:
- Dawson, Percy M."In Memoriam: Dean Fenn."Unity 109, no. 8 (1932) : 125.
- Evans, Daniel (1944). William Wallace Fenn. In Dictionary of American Biography Supplements 1-2: To 1940. American Council of Learned Societies, 1944-1958. Retrieved February 23, 2004, from Biography Resource Center database.
- "William Wallace Fenn."The Christian Register 3, no. 2 (1932) : 173-174.
- Fenn, William Wallace.William Wallace Fenn: His Journal Together with Pertinent Letters and News Items.Concord, Massachusetts: published posthumously by Dorothy Fenn Duncan,1973.
- Foote, Henry Wilder."William Wallace Fenn, A Memoir." In Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, volume 65, 1-4. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1940.
- Stephen D. Glazier."Fenn, William Wallace"; http://80-www.anb.org.ezp1.harvard.edu/ articles/08/08-00462.html; American National Biography Online February 2000. Access Date: Monday February 23 13:44:11 EST 2004.
- The Theological School in Harvard University. In Memoriam: William Wallace Fenn, 1862-1932. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Harvard University Press, 1932.
- Biographical Materials
- Teaching Materials
- ___Harvard University
- ___Meadville Theological School
- Sermons and Lectures
- Record of Marriages
- Subject Files
The Papers of William Wallace Fenn document his religious teaching and scholarship
both as a Unitarian minister and as a professor of theology at Harvard University.
The bulk of the collection consists of teaching materials, sermons and lectures, and
writings. These papers contain little about his personal life.
This document last updated 2016 November 9.
- HUG 1389 In Memoriam: moved to Biographical series.
- HUG 1389.5 Lecture notes and other papers: moved to Teaching Materials and Sermons and Lecture series.
- HUG 1389.10 Addresses, lectures, sermons, and other papers: moved to Teaching Materials,Sermons and Lectures, and Writings series.
- HUG 1389.11 Miscellaneous sermons, lectures, and speeches: moved to Sermons and Lectures series.
- HUG 1389.12 MS [various dates]: moved to Writings, Sermons and Lectures, and Biographical series.
- HUG 1389.13 Miscellaneous notes and speeches: moved to Biographical and Subject Files series.
- HUG 1389.72 Reprints: moved to Writings series.
- Series: Biographical Materials, .21 cubic foot (1 document box)
Date: 1874-1932 and undated
Processing Information: The biographical material in this series was gathered together and arranged alphabetically
by subject, topic, or genre by the archivist.
Scope and Content: This series contains a small amount of biographical information about William Wallace
- [Autograph Book, 1874-1875] Box 1
This book was signed by Fenn's classmates from the Brimmer and Boston Latin Schools.
- [Correspondence, 1891] Box 1
- [Ephemera, 1885, 1894, 1927] Box 1
This folder contains a bulletin from the First Unitarian Society of Chicago church,
a carte-de-visite of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a memoriam card for James Newton Garratt.
- Funeral arrangements for Hannah I. Buss, 1916 Box 1
Hannah Buss was Fenn's aunt.
- [In Memoriam, 1932] Box 1
This book contains memorial addresses given at Fenn's funeral, an alumni tribute to
him, and a Harvard University faculty minute.
- [Marriage license from New Hampshire, 1920] Box 1
- [Sketches] from the Children, undated Box 1
- Series: Teaching Materials, 3 cubic feet (9 document boxes)
Date: 1883-1932 and undated
Processing Information: The material for this series was gathered together and arranged by the archivist.
Lecture notes contained in three-ring binders and letter boxes were removed and re-housed
Arrangement: The Teaching Materials series has two subseries: Harvard University and Meadville
Scope and Content: This series documents William Wallace Fenn's teaching activities at Harvard University
and the Meadville Theological School. It contains Fenn's lectures and lecture notes.
- Series: Sermons and Lectures, 3 cubic feet (8 document boxes)
Date: 1888-1931 and undated
Related Materials: The Writings series contains published versions of Fenn's sermons and lectures.
Processing Information: The material in this series was gathered together by the archivist and arranged alphabetically.
Some of the material had been in envelopes on which were written multiple dates and
places. It is presumed that Fenn gave his talks multiple times. Photocopies of the
envelopes are included in the appropriate folders. The dates on the folders in this
series reflect the first time that Fenn gave his talks.
Scope and Content
: This series contains some of the sermons and lectures that Fenn gave at church, colleges
and universities, elementary schools and high schools, at conferences and meetings,
and to various civic groups and clubs. Although the bulk of the material in this series
contains sermons and lectures given by Fenn in his role as a minister, researchers
should note that some of these talks might have been presented to his students as
part of Fenn's teaching instruction at Harvard University.
This series contains lectures, notes, news clippings, pamphlets, and brochures.
- All Things are Yours, 1902 Box 11
- Anti-intellectualism and Social Services, undated Box 11
- Appleton Chapel Talks, ca. 1903-1930 5 folders Box 11
- Apprehended and Apprehended, 1930 Box 11
- The Art of Living Together, 1919 Box 11
- Augustine, undated Box 11
- Augustine, the Theologian, undated Box 11
- Henry Barrow, undated Box 11
- Breaking Home Ties, 1898 Box 11
- Robert Browne, undated Box 12
- Building in Troublous Times, 1898 Box 12
- A Calculating Soul, 1925 Box 12
- The Call of the College, 1910 Box 12
- Changing Human Nature, 1922 Box 12
- Charity Work Among the Early Christians, 1921 Box 12
- President [Charles Chauncy], Dr. [Charles] Chauncy, J.F. Clarke, undated Box 12
- Is Christ an example for us, 1896 Box 12
- The Christian Examiner, undated Box 12
- The Christian Name, undated Box 12
- Christian Revaluation, undated Box 12
- The Christology of Paul, undated Box 12
- The Church and a Lost World, 1922 Box 12
- Cogs of the Machine, undated Box 12
- Communion with God, undated Box 12
- Conditions of Membership in the N.E. [New England] Churches, undated Box 12
- The Culture Value of a Literary Acquaintance with the English Bible, 1909 Box 12
- Dedication of Church, Petersham, Massachusetts, undated Box 12
- Dedication Sermon, First Unitarian Society of Chicago, undated Box 12
- The Delayed Fulfillment, 1930 Box 12
- The Denominational Spirit, its Advantages and Perils, undated Box 12
- The Development of an Ethical Ideal in the Theology of New England, 1906 Box 12
- The Development of Religious Thought in New England Unitarianism, 1909 Box 12
- Early Church Covenants, undated Box 12
- Jonathan Edwards, A New England Tragedy, 1917 Box 12
- Effortless Goodness, 1918 Box 12
- The Elder Brother, 1926 Box 12
- The Eternal Years, 1902 Box 13
- The Ethics of Religious Conformity, 1893 Box 13
- [Dean Charles C. Everett, undated] Box 13
- The Exodus of Puritan Theology, 1930 Box 13
- Experience as the Basis of Theology, undated Box 13
- Forgiveness by Forgiving, 1900 Box 13
- The Founding of the Churches in Massachusetts, undated Box 13
- A Fourth Century Ideal of Christian Womanhood, 1915 Box 13
- Froebel and the Contemporary Philosophy, undated Box 13
- The Function of the Puritan Clergy, 1929 Box 13
- Funeral Services, undated Box 13
- George Fox, undated Box 13
- Getting Religion, 1932 Box 13
- On Growing Up, 1929 Box 13
- Hints for Sermons and Addresses, 1928 Box 13
- The History of New England Unitarianism, 1923 Box 13
- Historical Addresses, 1930 4 folders Box 13
- The Holy Spirit, 1899 Box 13
- How Shall Man Love God?, undated Box 14
- The Human Church, 1893 Box 14
- The Humor of the Bible, 1917 2 folders Box 14
- The Humor of the Puritans, undated Box 14
- The Idea of Progress, undated Box 14
- [Idea of Sin, undated] Box 14
- The Importance of Symbolism in Religion, 1895 Box 14
- Infants Not a Span Long, undated Box 14
- The Irreparable Past, 1911 Box 14
- Installation Services, 1927 Box 14
- Jesus of Nazareth, 1893 Box 14
- Jesus the Prophet, undated Box 14
- Johnson's Wonder Working Providence, undated Box 14
- Sylvester Judd, 1926 Box 14
- Keeping Vista, 1898 Box 14
- Kentigern, undated Box 14
- The Kingdom of God, 1909 Box 14
- The Kingdom of God Concept in Theology, undated Box 14
- The Laborers in the Vineyard, 1923 Box 14
- Law and Hope, undated Box 14
- A Layman's Church of Common Sense, 1918 Box 14
- Lechford's Plan Dealing, undated Box 14
- Lectures on Free Will Baptists, the Christian Church, and Unitarianism and its Theological Development, undated Box 15
- Lectures on the Taylor Foundation (Yale), undated Box 15
- A Literary Study of the Book of Job, 1901 Box 15
- Living Up to One Religion, 1930 Box 15
- The Lords of Life, 1896 Box 15
- Luke X. 25.42, 1931 Box 15
- Marriage Services, undated Box 15
- The Master and the Scerabacs, undated Box 15
- Matthew Arnold as Biblical Critic, 1900 Box 15
- [Meadville Theological School, Commencement Address, 1926] Box 15
- The Meaning of the Christian Religion, 1913 Box 15
- The Mission and the Message, 1900 Box 15
- [Dwight L. Moody, undated] Box 15
- John Farwell Moors, undated Box 15
- Moses' Rod, undated Box 15
- The Moveable Sanctuary, undated Box 15
- Natural Religion, undated Box 15
- Needs and Desire, undated Box 16
- Neighborliness, undated Box 16
- [Fredrick] Nietzsche, 1915 Box 16
- No Temple Therein, 1916 Box 16
- Non-academic education, 1908 Box 16
- Occasional, 1921 and undated Box 16
- Omnipotence vs. Benevolence, undated Box 16
- On Making Ourselves Out Worse Than We Are, 1891 Box 16
- The Parables of the Home Life, 1908 Box 16
- The Parables of Jesus, undated Box 16
- The Paradox of Education, 1916 Box 16
- Nathan Parker and the Unitarian Church in Concord, N.H., 1927 Box 16
- Paul the Missionary, undated Box 16
- The Peril of Privilege, 1924 Box 16
- Periodicals of Unitarian Controversy, undated Box 16
- Philosophy, Guide of Life, 1915 Box 16
- The Pilgrim Church, 1920 Box 16
- The Pilgrim Fathers of Bennington, undated Box 16
- Playing the Game, 1920 Box 16
- Poetry and Religion, 1913 Box 16
- Popular Misrepresentations of Unitarianism, undated Box 16
- The Power of the Holy Spirit, 1900 Box 16
- The Puritan, undated Box 16
- Puritanism in England, undated Box 16
- Rationalism and Romanticism, undated Box 16
- Religion and Patriotism, 1925 Box 16
- Revived Interest in Theology, 1918 Box 16
- John Robinson, 1903 Box 17
- John Robinson Farewell Address, undated Box 17
- Saving our souls, undated Box 17
- Saving our souls, 1929 Box 17
- Sermons on Paul, undated Box 17
- [Sermon upon the death of William Howard Taft, 1930] Box 17
- Thomas Shepard, undated Box 17
- Shiflin's Responsibility, 1917 Box 17
- The Social Teaching of Jesus, 1905 Box 17
- Social Trinity, undated Box 17
- The Son in His Fathers Design, 1901 Box 17
- The Sunny Side of Sin, undated Box 17
- Talks on the Parables, undated Box 17
- Teaching the Hard Sayings of Jesus, 1923 Box 17
- Tennyson's In Memoriam, undated Box 17
- Thanksgiving, undated Box 17
- That they without us should not be made perfect, 1928 Box 17
- Theological Implications of the Protestant Reformation, 1916 Box 17
- The Theology of the Eastern Church, undated Box 17
- A Thinking Church, Why?, 1929 Box 17
- This is Your Hour and the Power of Darkness, 1904 Box 17
- Tides of the Spirit, 1890 Box 17
- Tolstoi and Non-Resistance, 1928 Box 17
- Tradition or Surmise, 1930 Box 18
- The Unconscious in Human Character, 1891 Box 18
- University of California, 1922 Box 18
- [Untitled lectures, undated] 12 folders Box 18
- [Untitled lecture, 1899] Box 18
- [Untitled lecture, ca. 1909] Box 18
- The Use of Experience in Theology, 1914 Box 18
- The Visions of Paul, undated Box 18
- Series: Writings, .55 cubic foot (2 document boxes)
Date: 1886-1924 and undated
Related Materials: See also the Sermons and Lectures series.
Processing Information: The material in this series was arranged alphabetically by the archivist.
Scope and Content: The Writings series contains published versions of selected lectures and sermons given
by William Wallace Fenn. This series includes books, reprints, leaflets, and notebooks.
- Baccalaureate Sermon, 1884 Box 19
- The Bible and Modern Scholarship, 1906 Box 19
- The Bible in Theology, undated Box 19
- The Christian Way of Life, 1924 2 folders Box 19
- The Guild as a Means of Church Extension, undated Box 19
- How the Schism Came, undated Box 19
- Lessons on the Acts of the Apostles, 1894 Box 19
- Manuscript notes and quotes on Immortality [and Theism], undated Box 19
- Notebook, undated Box 19
Fenn's notebooks contain transcriptions of poems, quotes, and prayers.
- Opening of the Old Meeting House in Hingham, 1907 Box 19
- The Pulpit, undated Box 19
- [Published sermons by Fenn as minister of the Church of the Messiah, 1897, 1900] Box 19
- The Teachings of Jesus: Readings on the Good Life, 1906 Box 19
- The Way and the Goal, 1914 Box 20
- What Knowledge Does Paul Show of the Life and Teaching of Jesus?, 1907 Box 20
- What is Spirituality?, 1921 Box 20
- Wheat and Taxes, undated Box 20
- Whittier as Poet of New England Life, 1905 Box 20
- Why have Theological Schools?, 1926 Box 20
- Willingness to be Dammed for the Glory of God, undated Box 20
- James Woodford Diaries, undated Box 20
- The World Upside Down, 1912 Box 20
- Series: Record of Marriages, .21 cubic foot (1 document box) Box 21
Scope and Content: This series contains a notebook recording the marriages performed by William Wallace
Fenn from 1890 to 1930. Records of marriage include the date of marriage, the place
of marriage, the name, residence, and official station of the person officiating at
the marriage, the names and the places of birth of the parties being married, the
residence of each, the age and color of each, the condition of each, (whether single
or windowed), their occupation, the names of the parents, and the date of the record.