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Frothingham, Paul Revere (1864-1926)

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Paul Revere Frothingham
Paul Revere Frothingham. Courtesy of Harvard University Archives.

Dr. Frothingham inherited the best traditions of New England thought and life. His forebears were ministers, teachers, and public leaders back to Elder William Brewster of the Plymouth Company, and he had no less than four ancestors who came over in the Mayflower. Dr. Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, for thirty-five years minister of the First Church in Boston, was his grandfather, and on his mother’s side his grandfather was Dr. William P. Lunt, minister of the First Parish in Quincy. He was born in Jamaica Plain, July 6, 1864, graduated at Harvard in 1886 and from the Divinity School in 1889. In October of that year he was ordained as assistant to the Rev. William J. Potter of the First Congregational Church in New Bedford and soon succeeded to the pastorate of that church. In 1900 he became minister of the famous Arlington Street Church in Boston, and there he labored with ever-increasing power and influence until his sudden death on November 27, 1926.

It was singularly appropriate that he should serve for twenty-six years in the church renowned by the ministries of Channing and Gannett, Ware and Herford. There his congregations were substantial and included many people of influence in the community—governors, mayors, judges, teachers, and men of large affairs. By natural inheritance Frothingham accepted and avowed Channing’s principles and ideals, though not his precise opinions. He built on sound and unshaken foundations. At the time he had the complete courage of his own convictions, neither accepting old ideas for the sake of conformity nor advocating new ideas for love of novelty.

Dr. Frothingham was fortunate not only in his inheritances but in all the conditions of his life. While still a young man, he won high reputation and recognition in his profession. He was happy in his home. He lived among admiring friends. He had in eminent degree the kindly common sense and generous heart that Americans demand in their trusted leaders. Simplicity, sincerity, fearlessness, and reverence were the traits that made his distinctive personality.

Frothingham had, by inheritance, by temperament and training, the instincts and habits of a gentleman and a scholar. His family background, his education, his native tastes and aptitudes, his wide reading, his acquaintance with the scenes and peoples of many lands, all contributed to make him a highly cultivated man, appreciative, versatile, and resourceful. In him virility was joined with refinement, geniality linked with self-respect, contempt for hypocrisy and meanness interwoven with quick human sympathies and love of the beautiful and true.

Frothingham took life in a large way and gave guidance to a variety of good enterprises. He belonged to many clubs and societies, served for two terms as an Overseer of Harvard, and was for many years a member of the Board of Preachers. He was an influential member of the Board of Directors of the American Unitarian Association and a trusted officer in the educational and philanthropic institutions of his city. He was the author of several noteworthy volumes of sermons and wrote an admirable biography of his great-uncle, Edward Everett. With Mrs. Frothingham he often spent his summer vacations in Europe where he made many friends. He was always an ardent internationalist and an eager advocate of democratic principles. He was continually seeking and commending, in straightforward and farseeing fashion, intelligent and profitable ways of dealing with contemporary problems in both church and state. One could always look to him for good counsel and effective cooperation.

He was a man whose speech and influence were eminently cleansing and stimulating. There was reasoned judgment united with a love of the beautiful and at times with passionate ardor for a cause in which he believed. He rejoiced to live in a creative and prophetic time, and in manly, rational, wholesome fashion he dedicated his life to certain compelling ideals. In his whole make-up he was the highbred radical, “a silver weapon with an edge of steel.” There was about him a bracing sense of reliability and sanity and preparedness. He could be learned without being dull; he could be zealous without being fanatical; he could be both accurate and ardent. His sermons were polished, graceful, graphic, often picturesque in imagery. He had a kind of instinct for essential truth and a power to discriminate between the fitful and the permanent. He was never tempted to court a showy eloquence, and there were no loose ends in his thinking. No one ever accused him of moral timidity. The character of the man multiplied and projected the ideas. The refinement and precision of his thought proceeded from the discipline and elevation of his nature. He incarnated the good sense, the public spirit, the practical idealism of the community he loved. The man was the embodiment of the message.

One can say of Frothingham, as he said of his great predecessor, Channing:

“The love of order was mingled in him with the craving for progress. Justice and liberty entered into the very fiber of his being.”