Serenity Prayer in Yale Alumni Magazine

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 14 12:52:31 UTC 2008


I love your analysis.  Niebuhr's daughter, however, would say that his preaching around the country had a wide influence, and that his students at Union Theological Seminary could have heard him use the SP and could have disseminated it nationwide.  She also says that he had specific contacts in YWCA circles.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Douglas G. Wilson [douglas at NB.NET]
Sent: Sunday, July 13, 2008 11:09 PM
Subject: Re: Serenity Prayer in Yale Alumni Magazine

>         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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