William Henry Conley

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William Henry Conley
W.H. Conley.png
William Henry Conley
Born11 June 1840
Died25 July 1897(1897-07-25) (aged 57)
OccupationIndustrialist, philanthropist
Spouse(s)Sarah Shaffer

William Henry Conley (11 June 1840 – 25 July 1897), was a Pittsburgh philanthropist and industrialist.[1] He was married to Sarah Shaffer (1841–1908). Together, they provided organizational and financial support to religious institutions in the United States. William Conley was trained by his uncle in the printing business for ten years.[2] Conley was co-owner of the Riter Conley Company, which provided steel and manufactured goods during the Second Industrial Revolution.[3]

Support for religious groups[edit]

Home of William Henry Conley

Bethel Home Mission[edit]

The Conleys frequently held prayer meetings and events in their home ministry.[1] The Conley home was sometimes kept open for weeks at a time in support of religious and charity efforts.[4][5] According to Zion's Watch Tower, annual celebrations of the Memorial of Christ's death were held at the Conleys' home.[6][7] Conley's home mission was described as Bethel (literally, "house of God"). The first recorded mention of Bethel in association with Conley appeared in 1890, in reference to the missionary house of Miss Lucy Dunne, established by William and Sarah Conley in Jerusalem.[8]

Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society[edit]

Conley was the first president of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, from 1881 to 1884. In December 1884, the Society was incorporated with Charles Taze Russell as president.[9] In 1896, the Society was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and later became associated with Jehovah's Witnesses.[10]

While president of the Society, Conley provided assistance for the three-volume series Theocratic Kingdom by George N. H. Peters; Peters dedicated the work partially to Conley, claiming to be "deeply indebted for sympathy and pecuniary aid in the prosecution and publication of the work."[11] However, the May 1883 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower criticized Peters' work, recommending that readers not purchase the title.[12]

In 1894 Russell introduced a letter from Conley by briefly referencing him as "a member of the early Allegheny Bible Class."[13] Following Conley's death in July 1897, Zion's Watch Tower provided no obituary, nor any statement that specifically mentioned his name and his involvement with the Society.

Christian and Missionary Alliance[edit]

Conley was a member of the board of managers of the non denominational Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), and was instrumental in funding and organizing it at local, state and national levels through the International Missionary Alliance (IMA).[14] In 1889, Conley funded and organized the CMA mission in Jerusalem under control of his home mission which would later come under the auspices of the IMA and eventually the CMA.[15] In the same year, the International Missionary Alliance was legally incorporated with W. H. Conley's $5000 contribution.[16][17][18] The Pittsburgh branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance was formally established in 1894. Conley was elected president of both the Pittsburgh branch and at the state level, an office which he retained until his death in 1897.[1]

Business and charitable interests[edit]

William Conley worked his way from bookkeeper to co-owner of the Riter Conley Company, a worldwide supplier to the drilling, mining, manufacturing, and marine industries.[citation needed] Conley was also director and a stockholder of the Third National Bank of Allegheny.[2]

William and his wife were active in several Pittsburgh charities, including an orphanage and school for African-American children, as well as a local hospital.[citation needed]


William Henry Conley contracted influenza (indicated in one obituary as "La Grippe") early in 1897, from which he never fully recovered. His health was relatively stable until June, at which time he suffered a relapse, after which he seldom left his home. He became bedridden in the last week of his life; on the evening of July 25, 1897, his health rapidly declined, and he died at about 8:30pm. A funeral service was conducted at his home in Pittsburgh.[1][5]

William Conley was survived by his wife Sarah. After a period of prolonged illness, Sarah Conley died October 1, 1908.[5][19] In honor of her husband's memory, Mrs Conley left much of her estate—estimated at a value of nearly $500,000 (current equivalent, about $14.23 million)—to the Wylie Avenue Church and the Pittsburg Bible Institute.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Volume 19, Number 6, August 4, 1897, page 132
  2. ^ a b National Cyclopedia of American Biography volume 14, part 1, James Terry White, 1910
  3. ^ National Cyclopedia of American Biography volume 14, part 1, James Terry White, 1910
  4. ^ The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly - Pittsburgh presidency April 13, 1894, Vol XII No. 15.
  5. ^ a b c The World's Hope, August 1, 1897, pages 234-235
  6. ^ Zion's Watch Tower, April, 1880, R 94:Page 8
  7. ^ Zion's Watch Tower, April, 1881 issue, R. 207: page 2
  8. ^ The Story of The Christian and Missionary Alliance 1900, page 33.
  9. ^ "Legal Incorporation", Zion's Watch Tower, October 1884, p. 671 (reprint).
  10. ^ "Development of the Organization Structure", Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, page 229, "Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society. First formed in 1881 and then legally incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania on December 15, 1884. In 1896 its name was changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Since 1955 it has been known as Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania."
  11. ^ The Theocratic Kingdom, volume 3 by George N. H. Peters, Funk & Wagnalls, 1884, page 3, online, "This volume is respectfully dedicated to W. H. Conley, Esq., and Dr. J. T. McLaughlin, to whom the author is deeply indebted for sympathy and pecuniary aid in the prosecution and publication of the work." [a footnote listed additional dedication names]
  12. ^ "The Theocratic Kingdom", Zion's Watch Tower, May 1883, p. 2 (reprint), "Brother G. N. H. Peters of Springfield, Ohio, is an old acquaintance and friend. ... We regret to have it to state, however, that he is not free from Babylon's shackles... hence has been hindered from a fuller development in grace and knowledge... While the author does not ignore the teachings of the Apostles, he lays greater stress and value on the opinions of the "Fathers" (the Christian teachers of the first five centuries) than we could acknowledge as proper. ... While we cannot recommend it ... you should address [book orders to] our brother and friend as above."
  13. ^ Zion's Watch Tower, "The Voice of the Church", June 11, 1894, p. 176 (reprint).
  14. ^ The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly - Pittsburgh presidency June 19, 1896, page 594
  15. ^ To see a promised land: Americans and the Holy Land in the nineteenth century, Lester Irwin Vogel, page 115
  16. ^ To see a promised land: Americans and the Holy Land in the nineteenth century, Lester Irwin Vogel, page 115
  17. ^ The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly March 21–28, 1890 Vol IV No. 9-10.
  18. ^ Twenty-five wonderful years, 1889-1914: a popular sketch of the Christian, George Palmer Pardington 1914, page 208
  19. ^ Notes From the Home Field: Mr and Mrs. W. H. Conley: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, November 21, 1908, page 131: "After a prolonged illness borne with hopefulness and courage, Sister Conley entered into rest October 1, leaving the whispered message behind—"It is all right.""
Preceded by
President of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society
February 16, 1881-December 15, 1884
Succeeded by
Charles Taze Russell