Charles Henry Parkhurst

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Charles Henry Parkhurst
Charles Henry Parkhurst by Sarony, 1892.jpg
Parkhurst in 1892
Born (1842-04-17)April 17, 1842
Framingham, Massachusetts
Died September 8, 1933(1933-09-08) (aged 91)
Ventnor City, New Jersey
Occupation Social reformer
Spouse(s) Ellen Bodman (?-1921)
Eleanor Marx
Parents Charles Parkhurst

Charles Henry Parkhurst (April 17, 1842 – September 8, 1933) was an American clergyman and social reformer, born in Framingham, Massachusetts. Although scholarly and reserved, he preached two sermons in 1892 in which he attacked the political corruption of New York City government. Backed by the evidence he collected, his statements led to both the exposure of Tammany Hall and to subsequent social and political reforms.

Early years[edit]

He was born on a farm on April 17, 1842 in Framingham, Massachusetts.[1] Parkhurst did not attend a formal school until he was twelve. Despite this, he showed a strong interest in education and graduated from Amherst in 1866. He became principal of the high school in Amherst in 1867. He married Ellen Bodman on November 23, 1870, she was one of his former students.[1] Parkhurst studied theology at Halle in 1869, and became a professor at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts, in 1870-1871.

After further studies in Leipzig in 1872–1873, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He was pastor of a congregational church at Lenox, Massachusetts, from 1874 until 1880, when he was called to the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, New York City, where he served from 1880 to 1918.

Later life[edit]

Interested in municipal affairs, Parkhurst was elected president of the New York Society for the Prevention of Crime in 1891, and he challenged the methods of the city police department.[2] He inaugurated a campaign against the political and social corruption of Tammany Hall. The hall had begun innocently as a social club, but had drifted into politics and graft. It acquired a lock on elections in the city, and its bosses protected crime and vice in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs. Grand jury investigations were ineffective, despite the appeals of social reformers. Few in Parkhurst's congregation recognized that Tammany Hall, the police, and organized crime were interconnected.

On February 14, 1892, he challenged Tammany Hall from the pulpit. Pointing to the hall’s political influence and their connection with the police, he noted that men fed upon the city while pretending to protect it saying,

"While we fight iniquity, they shield and patronize it; while we try to convert criminals, they manufacture them..."

When the municipal grand jury asked him for hard evidence, Parkhurst personally hired a private detective and, with his friend John Erving, went to the streets in disguise to collect proof of the corruption. From the pulpit on March 13, 1892, he preached a sermon backed with documentation and affidavits. Parkhurst’s campaign led to the appointment of the Lexow Committee to investigate conditions, and to the election of a reform mayor in 1894. Although Tammany Hall did publicly clean house, it remained influential on the both the political front and in organized crime until the 1950s.

His first wife, Ellen Bodman, died on May 28, 1921. He married Eleanor Marx on April 18, 1927, in Los Angeles.[1] He died on September 8, 1933, by sleepwalking and walking off the porch roof in his Ventnor City, New Jersey, home.[1][3]

Selected Works[edit]

Parkhurst was published in a number of magazines, and was the author of

Quotations[edit]

  • "Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load."
  • "All great discoveries are made by men whose feelings run ahead of their thinking."

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Dr. Parkhurst Dies of a Fall in His Sleep". New York Times. September 9, 1933. Retrieved 2007-06-14. "Reformer, 91, a Somnambulist, Plunges From Porch Roof of New Jersey Home. Famed as Crusader In 1894 He Overthrew the Tammany Machine and Drove Croker to Europe." 
  2. ^ Alexander K. McClure, ed. (1902). Famous American Statesmen & Orators VI. New York: F. F. Lovell Publishing Company. p. 93. 
  3. ^ "Charles H. Parkhurst". New York Times. September 9, 1933. "As a Massachusetts farm boy Dr. Parkhurst 'heard of New York with awe and trembling,' as he himself said. When he was called to the pastorate of a church here he must have hesitated as did the prophet Jonah when summoned to go and preach against Nineveh."