G. Ashton Oldham

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George Ashton Oldham (1877–1963[1]) was the third Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany in the United States from 1929 to 1950, during the turbulent times of The Great Depression and World War II. He was also notable as the primary author of the catechism used in the Episcopal Church USA for decades until 1979. Now largely forgotten,[1] Oldham was a major religious leader for several decades in the middle of the 20th and a serious candidate for presiding bishop.[2]

Early life[edit]

Oldham grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Cornell University, where he was an active debater, and graduated with an A.B. in 1902.[3] [4][5][6] [note 1] He served as a chaplain at Columbia University while in seminary in 1906.[6] In 1908, he graduated from the General Theological Seminary with his bachelor's degree in divinity.[7]


Oldham was married to Emily Pierrepont Gould (born March 24, 1884, died n.d.), of a very old and wealthy family.[8] She was noted in the Social register of New York of 1914,[9] amongst other years. She was the daughter of Mary Pierrepont Perry and James Henry Gould (1844-1896), and a direct descendant of James Pierpont, the founder of Yale University.[10] Their society wedding was announced in the New York Tribune, which was set for January 14, 1915, to be officiated by Bishop Greer at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.[11] At the time, Oldham was rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church at Convent Ave. and W. 141st St. in New York City.[11] [note 2]

Work as bishop[edit]

Oldham was elected Bishop Coadjutor of Albany in 1922, to prepare for replacing Richard Henry Nelson.[12][13]

In 1924, Oldham made a major sermon, entitled "America First", at the Washington National Cathedral.[1] However, it was not necessarily made in support of the controversial "America First" movement:[1][14]

His message was a more compassionate one, a call to transform ourselves into a nation that is first in 'things of spirit', rather than 'treading again the old, worn, bloody pathway which ends inevitably in chaos and disaster."

— David Walsh, "Independence Day," Blog.[1]

His sermon on "The church's responsibility for world peace" was also widely published.[15] He was a keynote speaker at the 1931 dedication of the War Memorial in Ithaca, New York, place of his alma mater, Cornell.[5]

Oldham was an organizer of a conference on Anglo-Catholicism in Albany. He was also active in ecumenism with the Roman Catholic Church, long before that became popular.[citation needed]

He was installed in 1929 in the cathedra in the choir at the Cathedral of All Saints, as the 3rd Bishop of Albany. That would be a terribly unlucky year to begin any ministry, as the Great Depression was to start with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Oldham wrote the Catechism Today: Instructions on the Church, the catechism used in the Episcopal Church USA for decades until 1979. [16] He also wrote a book entitled "The Fighting Church."[17]

He was very active in Episcopal Church activities, from at least 1932.[18] In 1937, he was a serious candidate for election as Presiding Bishop.[2] By the end of the war in 1945, he was acknowledged as a church leader.[19] In 1947, Bishop and Mrs. Oldham attended a conference in Sydney, Australia, and on their way home from New Zealand, the seaplane pilot, in order "to avoid disaster was [forced] to jettison cargo and passengers' luggage to lighten the load."[20] Lost in "the Oldham luggage [was] ... the cope the bishop had worn at his consecration...."[20]

In 1949, he received an honorary degree from Hobart College.[21] The deanery of the Cathedral of All Saints is named Oldham House in his honor.

He retired as bishop in 1950 and died in 1963.[1][12] He was replaced by Bishop Frederick L. Barry, whose death he announced to a diocesan convention in 1960.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f David Walsh, "Independence Day," Blog at DA Words, see DA Words Blog. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Episcopalians in Cincinnati," Time (magazine), October 18, 1937, found at Time magazine archives. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  3. ^ Cornell Alumni News, May 2, 1900, found at Cornell University website Library commons archives for 1900. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  4. ^ Cornell Alumni News, December 11, 1901, found at Cornell University website Library commons archives for 1901. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  5. ^ a b "Dedication Plans Made," Cornell News, May 14, 1931, found at Cornell University website Library commons archives link to pdf document. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "Catalogue of Officers and Graduates of Columbia University from the Foundation of King's College in 1754," p. 54 (Columbia University 1906), found at Google Boks search on Columbia U.
  7. ^ "Divinity Students Graduate; 33 at the General Theological Seminary -- Honorary Degrees", New York Times, June 4, 1908, found at Summary at New York Times website and New York Times website PDF of full article. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  8. ^ Genealogy of the Pierrepont family at the University of Pennsylvania website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  9. ^ Social register, New York (1914), p. 254. Found at Google Books. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  10. ^ R. Burnham Moffat, Pierrepont genealogies from Norman times to 1913 (L. Middleditch Co., 1913), pp. 92-93. Found at Google books. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Numerous Entertainments for the Debutantes", New-York Tribune, December 20, 1914, Page 8. Found at Library of Congress website. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Albany Episcopal Diocese website History page. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  13. ^ "CONSECRATED AS BISHOP.; Ceremony for Dr. George A. Oldham as Albany Coadjutor." New York Times, October 25, 1922, headline found at NY Times Website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  14. ^ See also University of Georgia website Libraries archives. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  15. ^ James Gilchrist Lawson, "Great sermons on world peace" (New York, Round Table Press, Inc., 1937), found at University of Detroit Mercy website Library database. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  16. ^ Amazon.UK.com website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  17. ^ Ebooks.com website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  18. ^ "YEARBOOK OF AMERICAN CHURCHES A Record of Religious Activities in the United States for the Year 1932," found at Google books. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  19. ^ "Yearbook Of American Churches 1945 Edition", found at Archives of yearbookofameric website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  20. ^ a b James Gwynn, "A Narrow Escape," The Swan & Elk (Newsletter of the Cathedral of All Saints) January 2009.
  21. ^ Hobart and William Smith Colleges archives. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  22. ^ George E. DeMille, Project Canterbury: The Episcopate of Frederick Barry (Albany: Diocesan Book Store, 1962), found at Anglican History website page on DeMille, 1962. Retrieved January 9, 2009.


  1. ^ One source claims he graduated in 1905, but this can not be confirmed, and is refuted by other, more reliable sources.
  2. ^ By coincidence, Emily Pierrepont Gould was a distant cousin of Aaron Burr through James Pierpont, while Oldham's church at the time was next to Hamilton Grange, the home of Alexander Hamilton in 1804 when Burr shot Hamilton. See Hamilton Grange Move Media Advisory at the National Park Service website; retrieved July 31, 2012.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Episcopal Church (USA) titles
Preceded by
Richard Henry Nelson
3rd Bishop of Albany
1929 – 1950
Succeeded by
Frederick L. Barry