Founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society - 1809

The Massachusetts Bible Society began on July 6, 1809 and is an ecumenical, Christian organization dedicated to promoting Biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue. This blog lists brief biographies of our founders who gathered in the Massachusetts State House Senate Chamber on that historic day to sign the Charter founding MBS. Please visit our website:

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rev. Joseph Tuckerman

Known as the “father of American social work,” Rev. Tuckerman was born to founder Edward Tuckerman, Jr. on Jan. 18, 1778. He graduated from Harvard in 1798, a classmate of William Ellery Channing (who joined the efforts of MBS at its second meeting on July 13, 1809), with whom he enjoyed a life-long friendship. He studied theology, being ordained to the church in Chelsea in 1801.

His voice beginning to fail, he resigned that pulpit in November of 1826 and became a minister-at-large in Boston, where he founded and led the Benevolent Fraternity of Unitarian Churches. His ministry in Boston was designed on the one hand to help those in need and on the other to convert the sensibilities of the rich and powerful to be more considerate of those of lesser station. He proposed doing the latter by giving them the opportunity for personal involvement with the poor. He brought to that work not only the compassion of a pastor, but knowledge gleaned from a scientific study of pauperism.

William Ellery Channing related of Rev. Tuckerman, “He saw distinctly the vices which are often found among the poor, their craft, and sloth, and ingratitude. His ministry was carried on in the midst of their frequent filth and recklessness. The coarsest realities pressed him on every side. These were not the scenes to make an enthusiast. But amidst these he saw, now the fainter signs, now the triumphs of a divine virtue. It was his delight to relate examples of patience, disinterestedness, piety, amidst severest sufferings. These taught him, that, in the poorest hovels, he was walking among immortals, and his faith in the divinity within the soul turned his ministry into joy.”

His efforts in this regard were so successful that they were modeled in France and England, with the Tuckerman Institute of Liverpool founded in his name. He not only set the stage for modern social work, but he was a precursor of the social gospel movement.

Much work took a toll on his health, and Rev. Tuckerman took a trip to Havana to try to recover, but died there on April 20, 1840.

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