Serenity Prayer in Yale Alumni Magazine

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Jul 14 03:09:11 UTC 2008

>         I think it's also significant that the early citations are all
> to women, none of whom were clergymen but many of whom (and especially
> the earliest) were associated with eleemosynary or educational
> institutions.  Consider these datings:
>                 1936            Syracuse YWCA executive secretary
>                 1938            superintendent of the Newington Home for
> Crippled Children
>                 1939            home counselor of Oklahoma City's public
> schools
>                 1940            Middlesex, Mass. women's club (speaker's
> status unspecified)
>                 1941            book with two female authors
>                 1941            Texas state home demonstration agent
>                 1941            visiting professor at Pennsylvania State
> College
>         So seven out of seven of the early citations came from women.
> For this period, that's not typical.  None of these refer in any way to
> a clergyman.  These considerations argue against (though they certainly
> do not disprove) an origin with Niebuhr or any other clergyman; they
> argue so strongly against propagation through a conventional church
> sermon that I think that vector all but disproved.  The initial
> propagation, if not necessarily the origin, must have come from some
> source to which a YWCA executive secretary, a superintendent of a home
> for crippled children, and a highly placed home counselor would have had
> access.  Plausible candidates include some sort of conference,
> specialized publication, or traveling speaker.
Some vector candidates IMHO:

(1) Radio program (probably 'inspirational'-themed, whether overtly
religious or not);

(2) Magazine (ditto);

(3) Embroidery pattern, wall motto, calendar, tchotchke of some sort

Any of these easily could have had a predominantly female target population.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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