D. Elton Trueblood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

David Elton Trueblood (December 12, 1900 – December 20, 1994), who was usually known as "Elton Trueblood" or "D. Elton Trueblood", was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities.

Early life and education[edit]

Elton Trueblood was born December 12, 1900 in Iowa, the fourth of five children, and graduated from William Penn College in Iowa in 1922. He did graduate study at Brown University, Hartford Seminary, and Harvard University before finishing his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in Philosophy.[1]


During his career, Trueblood held faculty and chaplain positions at Haverford College, Guilford College, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Earlham College.

Trueblood abandoned this prestige to settle in the Quaker hub community of Richmond, Indiana to help spur the growth of Earlham College from a tiny regional, religious school, and build it into a top flight institution of higher learning. He was a founder of the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Richmond, and part of a renaissance of American Quaker thought and action spurred on partly by the common experiences of Quaker intellectuals as conscientious objectors during World War II, although Trueblood himself was not a pacifist. He actively sought to mentor younger Quakers into his nineties. Trueblood also founded the Yokefellow movement and supported Stephen Ministries.

He always maintained an internationalist perspective, serving for many years as the permanent representative from the Global Quaker community to the World Council of Churches, an organization he helped bring into being. In the 1950s, Trueblood served as a senior advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who created a post for him as Director of Religious Information at the U.S. Information Agency (formerly the Voice of America). Time magazine profiled him in this role on March 15, 1954. Later, he served as an adviser to President Richard Nixon. He was a political conservative who supported Nixon's foreign policy, including the Vietnam War, and gave the invocation at the 1972 Republican National Convention.


Elton Trueblood wrote 33 books, including: The Predicament of Modern Man, Alternative to Futility, Foundations for Reconstruction, Signs of Hope, The Logic of Belief, Philosophy of Religion, Robert Barclay, Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish, The Idea of a College, The People Called Quakers, The Incendiary Fellowship, The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience (1939 Swarthmore Lecture), A Place to Stand, Your Other Vocation and The Humor of Christ.

Trueblood's short book, The Predicament of Modern Man, received much attention near the end of World War II. People were searching for spiritual meaning and morality in the face of much suffering during World War II. Elton used the analogy that searching for morality without a foundation in religion was a futile effort, akin to trying to make cut flowers in a vase live forever. Elton wrote a shorter version of this basic thesis for Reader's Digest, which generated volumes of mail—he reportedly responded to every letter.[2]

Trueblood's books, The Logic of Belief and Philosophy of Religion were considered some of Elton's most rigorous intellectual contributions to the field of philosophy of religion.

Trueblood's book on Abraham Lincoln caught the attention of Nancy Reagan, who talked about it in an interview with Good Housekeeping in September 1981. It was reissued in 2012 by Phoenix Press with the title Abraham Lincoln: A Spiritual Biography .[3]

Trueblood sought to provide the general audience with a great many readable works to promote a depth of religious thought in all people. One of his final books was an autobiography titled While it is Day, which traced his personal journey from his boyhood in Iowa and placed it in the context of the history of his family's long connection with Quakerism.

Friend of Presidents[edit]

Trueblood became a lifetime friend of President Herbert Hoover, who was also a Quaker. They first met when Elton was the chaplain and a faculty member at Stanford University and Hoover had retired to Palo Alto, California. They lived near each other and eventually struck up a friendship that lasted for decades.[4] When Hoover died in 1964 while Trueblood was traveling in southeast Asia, the State Department flew Trueblood back to the United States to perform the funeral service at the request of Hoover's family.[5]

Trueblood was also friends with Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.[6]

Family and retirement[edit]

He had four children (Martin, Arnold, Sam and Elizabeth) with his first wife, Pauline, who died in 1955. Trueblood was remarried in 1956 to Virginia Zuttermeister in ceremonies held at the Washington National Cathedral.

Trueblood retired from Earlham College in 1966, but lived in Richmond, Indiana, for nearly the rest of his life. He continued to write books and give public speeches in retirement. Trueblood died on December 20, 1994. His obituary was featured in the New York Times.[7]


  1. ^ "Dr. D. Elton Trueblood, Quaker Scholar, Author". New York Times. 25 December 1994. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Newby, p. 68
  3. ^ Newby, p. 152
  4. ^ Newby, p. 53
  5. ^ Newby, p. 126-29; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
  6. ^ Newby pp. 102, 108, 148, 153
  7. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (23 December 1994). "Elton Trueblood, 94, Scholar Who Wrote Theological Works". New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Elton Trueblood. While It Is Day: An Autobiography. Richmond, IN: Yokefellow Press, 1974.
  • Newby, James R. Elton Trueblood: Believer, Teacher and Friend. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990.
  • Newby, Elizabeth, ed. A Philosopher's Way: Essays and Addresses of D. Elton Trueblood. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1978.
  • Newby, James R., ed. Basic Christianity: Addresses of D. Elton Trueblood. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1978.
  • The Best of Elton Trueblood, An Anthology. Nashville: Impact Books, 1978.

External links[edit]