Religious Reform Movements in Boston

Created by: Katie Way
Time Period: 19th Century
Topic: Community and Reform

In Boston there were two religious groups that were having similar moral and religious reform movements in the early nineteenth century. The Evangelicals and the Unitarians has many similarities in their doctrine and had many of the same motives in their reform movements. The overlapping views of Evangelicals and Unitarians in Boston lead to religious reform of the people of the city and the constant influx of immigrants.

Religious reform movements were common in cities, such as Boston, because these areas were heavily populated. These large cities also had large amounts of immigrants coming into these areas. This was a major concern for the white elites in the cities. It was thought that these immigrants did not have the same morals and values as the White Americans did and it was their responsibility to reform them so that they would be able to fit into the American society.

Many of the reform movement’s goals were to change the morals of those of lower class and status. It was believed that by both groups that people were poor because they were immoral. It became the goal of many religious groups, mainly the White elites, to help educate the lower class people and give them an opportunity to achieve salvation. It was believed that conversion was the way to fix the “poor” problem.

Unitarians believed in the God, but they did not believe in the Holy Trinity, which is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  They believed in God as one person, the Father, the one and only divine self.  Unitarians focused on the children and the adolescents of the city. Education was important to them and the felt that if would change the morals of the children. This put the blame on the adults for not providing their children with the right set of morals and beliefs. Unitarians thought that good schooling and a moral and biblical education of the young would prevent poor adults. They focus more on what the person knows about religions and what their beliefs are, more than they focus on what the person actually does. This is because if the child has good morals and beliefs they will do good and moral things. The key Bible verse that fits their method of reform is from the book of Proverbs 22 verse 6, and it states “Train up and child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”.

The Evangelicals believe in the gospel and the movement of protestant Christianity spreading around to everyone. They focus on the conversion of people and the importance of their salvation. Evangelicals believed that people’s sin is what put them in poverty. If those in poverty received salvation, they wouldn’t sin and in turn they wouldn’t be in poverty. They would had out Bibles, show them the right morals, tell them not to drink alcohol, and save their souls. Their focus is on fixing the sin and that will fix the person.



This book is very informative about the religious reforms that were happening in Boston in the late 19th and Early 20th centuries.  This image comes from the Dartmouth website. Follow link for more information


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