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Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church Collection

Central Congregational ChurchCollection 222



This collection holds the papers of Charles Monroe Sheldon (1857-1946), pastor of Central Congregational Church, Topeka, Kansas, from 1889 to 1920 and author of the international best seller, In His Steps, which was published in 1897. A concern for proper preservation prompted the Central Congregational Church to give Sheldon's papers to the Kansas State Historical Society in May, 1992. The seven boxes include Sheldon's writings, correspondence, clippings and other materials relating to his work and life. The collection also includes the papers of Mary (Merriam) Sheldon, Charles Sheldon's wife, as well as the papers of Central Congregational Church.


Charles Monroe Sheldon was born on February 26, 1857, in Wellsville, New York. Because his father was a Congregational minister, the family moved five times before settling in South Dakota. Sheldon attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then college at Brown University, graduating in 1883. In 1886, he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. The Congregational Church in Waterbury, Vermont, called Sheldon to his first pastorship in 1886 where he quickly earned a reputation for his liberal views and his innovative and unorthodox pastoral style.

During his pastorship in Waterbury, Sheldon met Mary "May" Merriam, the granddaughter of a parishioner, who was visiting from Topeka. Her parents were founding members of Central Congregational Church (1888) and through this connection, Sheldon was called to preach at Central in 1888. He married Mary in 1891 and their only son, Merriam Ward Sheldon, was born in 1897.

Sheldon had survived the years in Andover and Providence by writing and selling articles. He put that skill to use again at Central Church when he noticed that attendance at Sunday evening prayer meetings was low. He wrote a series of sermon-stories and would read an episode each Sunday evening. Each story left the audience with a cliff-hanger so they would return the next week. From these Sunday evening stories came In His Steps, or "What Would Jesus Do?". The story reflected the growing social gospel movement in the United States in the 1890s that continually questioned the morality of business leaders in the 1890s modern, industrialized society. Sheldon offered a simple solution to business leaders by asking them (as Reverend Maxwell asked his parishioners in In His Steps) to conduct their business as Jesus would. The story enthralled readers in the United States as well as in Europe, and the book quickly became an international best seller. Some say the book was outsold only by the Bible. Sheldon made very little money from the venture because of improper copyright protection, however. Word of the faulty copyright leaked to other publishers who quickly published their own versions of In His Steps without paying any royalties to Sheldon, thus cheating him out of a fortune. Sheldon tried not to be bitter, though, and considered himself lucky that his message had touched so many people.

In March, 1900, Frederick O. Popenoe, editor and owner of The Topeka Daily Capital, offered Sheldon complete control over the paper for a week. Sheldon, during that week, tried to publish the paper as he thought Jesus would. Circulation rose from 15,000 daily copies to well over 350,000. Sheldon during that week refused to print "hard" news or ads for tobacco, alcohol or patent medicines. He listed every person, including the janitor, in the editorial column except for Popenoe who had angered Sheldon by hiring an agent to advertise the special editions.

Sheldon was also famous for his community work. During the economic depression of the 1890s, he spent several months working a week at a time with railroad operators, laborers and merchants to see under what conditions those men labored during the financial downturn. Working with Black "Exodusters", former Southern slaves who migrated to Kansas after the Civil War, in Topeka's Tennessee Town community influenced and impacted Sheldon the most. He decided that the area was impoverished due to a lack of employment and helped find jobs for many of its residents. He and Central Congregational Church also sponsored the first Black kindergarten west of the Mississippi River in 1893.

Sheldon was a well-known prohibitionist and actively campaigned in Topeka against saloons. He traveled throughout the world with his prohibitionist message, going to England in 1900 for a temperance campaign and to Australia and New Zealand for another in 1914.

After his retirement from Central Congregational Church in 1920, Sheldon edited Christian Herald, An Illustrated News Weekly for the Home, a religious periodical, from 1920 to 1924 and continued to write articles after his final retirement in 1924. Sheldon made several other trips abroad, most notably to the Holy Land in 1926 on a Christian Herald sponsored tour.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Sheldon continued to write and was an active peace advocate. He also wrote a prohibition plank for Republican Alf Landon's Kansas gubernatorial campaign. On February 17, 1946, shortly before his 88th birthday, Sheldon suffered a stroke and died one week later on February 24, 1946.

Before Sheldon's death, memorials to the beloved pastor had already been constructed. A community house was added onto the Central Congregational Church in 1926 and named for Sheldon. In the 1960s, his outdoor study was saved by the Central Congregational's Altruist Club, an organization for women started by Sheldon in the early 1900s. The club paid for the study to be moved to Gage Park and continues to staff the memorial. As well, there is a Sheldon Memorial Room at Central Congregational Church.

Scope and Content

Some researchers may find the arrangement of Charles Sheldon's papers confusing or frustrating. However to properly reflect important events in Sheldon's life as well as the actual material in the collection, a non-traditional method of arrangement has been used. Most of the material, arranged at the series level, has been organized by significant topics in Sheldon's life. Therefore, the collection begins with original copies of Sheldon's sermons, sermon-stories and other writings. The collection then continues with In His Steps material and includes different versions of the book, for example, the drama and comic book versions. It also contains The History of 'In His Steps', a pamphlet about the writing and subsequent problems of the original version. The collection does not contain the original manuscript of In His Steps, which is housed at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas. The collection then has Tennessee Town materials and correspondence concerning the March 1900, edition of The Topeka Daily Capital. It continues from there with material from Sheldon's trips to Europe in 1900, 1914, 1926 and 1929. Correspondence comes next and is arranged by year. The next series concerns memorials to Sheldon and miscellaneous items follow, arranged alphabetically.

The collection has several strengths. It includes original manuscripts for many of Sheldon's sermon stories as well as sermons from his Waterbury, Vermont years. The Tennessee Town material and the In His Steps papers also contain excellent material. The comic correspondence with L. D. Whittemore, a Washburn College professor who lived next door to Sheldon, especially illuminates Sheldon's sense of humor and playfulness. Postcards, although seemingly insignificant, contain cards from obscure towns in Europe and Australia where Sheldon passed through and probably spoke on prohibitionist topics.

The collection, though, has some significant weaknesses. The correspondence, except with Whittemore, is especially disappointing. Most of the letters, both incoming, outgoing and those which concern Sheldon, are from his later years (1920-1946). The collection includes letters of tribute from William Allen White, Kansas Governor Alf Landon and especially, United States Senator Arthur Capper. No material exists to explain why these men wrote so many laudatory letters especially since Sheldon was rabidly non-partisan and apolitical. Only through outside resources does one discover that Capper and Sheldon, for example, had known each other since at least 1895. Capper asked Sheldon (as well as other famous Kansans) to be a guest editor on his newly purchased newspaper, The Topeka Mail and Kansas Breeze, as a gimmick to increase circulation.

There is also very little of a personal nature in the collection. Again, the Whittemore correspondence is the exception. There could be two reasons for this. First, Timothy Miller, Sheldon's latest biographer, describes Sheldon as an intensely private man, and it is very possible that he destroyed most of his personal papers. There are, for example, no letters from the thousands of people who supposedly wrote Sheldon after In His Steps was published. Most of the letters from Sheldon are from parishioners with whom he corresponded. Secondly, Sheldon was a very busy man, and as a pastor most of his public life was probably his private life as well.

Researchers should note that there are two Sheldon manuscript collections in the Kansas State Historical Society's holdings. The Charles Monroe Sheldon collection (no. 201) is a one box collection that contains writings donated by Pearl Maus and other individuals over a long period of time. The collection contains very little information about Mary (Merriam) Sheldon or about Central Congregational Church.

The Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection (no. 222), described by this register, however, contains information on both Mary Sheldon and the Central Congregational Church. Mrs. Sheldon's papers include several plays written by her as well as some correspondence. The information about the church is strong especially during the years that Sheldon was pastor. None of the papers in this collection contain information on Congregationalist religious ideology or practices, although the Central Church records do contain significant information on clubs and members. Both the Central Church and Mary (Merriam) Sheldon subgroups are arranged alphabetically.

Contents List

Box 1:
Charles M. Sheldon
1.1 Writings - Sermons (1887)
1.2 Writings - Sermons (1888)
1.3 Writings - Sermons (1890)
1.4 Writings - Sermons (1904)
1.5 Writings - Sermon (1938)
1.6 Writings - Sermon "Intellectual Christianity" (undated)
1.7 Writings - Sermon Notes (undated, untitled)
1.8 Writings - Sermon Story "Robert Hardy's Seven Days" written manuscript
(1893- 1933 - includes other information)
1.9 Writings - Sermon Story "Robert Hardy's Seven Days" printed manuscript (1894)
1.10 Writings - Sermon Story "Redemption of Freetown" (1898)
1.11 Writings - Sermon Story "Miracle at Markham" (1899)

Box 2:
Charles M. Sheldon
2.1 Writings - Sermon Story "Who Killed Joe's Baby?" (1901)
2.2 Writings - Sermon Story "The Reformer" (1902)
2.3 Writings - Sermon Story "The Narrow Gate" (1903)
2.4 Writings - "101 Poems of the Day" (1886)
2.5 Writings - Pamphlets (1915, 1925)
2.6 Writings - Story "The Show That Would Have Stunned New York" (undated)
2.7 Writings - Articles Published
2.8 Writings - Co-authored works with Mrs. Sheldon
2.9 Writings - Miscellaneous Prayers, Poems, & Hymns (1894-1935)
2.10 Writings - Miscellaneous Prayers, Poems & Hymns (undated)
2.11 In His Steps - The History of 'In His Steps' (1938)
2.12 In His Steps - The Story of Charles M. Sheldon
2.13 In His Steps - versions - comic book
2.14 In His Steps - versions - drama - manuscripts

Box 3:
Charles M. Sheldon
3.1 In His Steps - versions - drama - correspondence (March 1947 - Sept 1973)
3.2 In His Steps - versions - foreign
3.3 In His Steps - versions - movie
3.4 In His Steps - versions - musical
3.5 In His Steps - miscellaneous
3.6 Tennessee Town
3.7 The Topeka Daily Capital
3.8 Trips - Memorabilia (1900-1927 & undated items)
3.9 Trips - Sydney (1914)
3.10 Trips - Holy Land (1926) manuscript
3.11 Trips - Holy Land (1926) various items

Box 4:
Charles M. Sheldon
4.1 Trips - Byzantine (1929)
4.2 Correspondence - Outgoing (1888)
4.3 Correspondence - Outgoing (May 1897 - ca. 1920)
4.4 Correspondence - Outgoing (Feb 1920 - Dec 1929)
4.5 Correspondence - Outgoing (Feb 1932 - Dec 1939)
4.6 Correspondence - Outgoing (Jan 1940 - Feb 1946)
4.7 Correspondence - Outgoing - L. D. Whittemore (Aug 1889 - Aug 1929)
4.8 Correspondence - Outgoing - Miscellaneous (undated)
4.9 Correspondence - Incoming (Oct 1925 - April 1929)
4.10 Correspondence - Incoming (Jan 1930 - Sept 1938)
4.11 Correspondence - Incoming (Dec 1941 - Feb 1946)
4.12 Correspondence - Incoming - Miscellaneous (undated)
4.13 Correspondence - Concerning - Death/Funeral (Feb 1946 - June 1946)
4.14 Correspondence - Concerning - Reminiscence (March 1961 - June 1984)
4.15 Correspondence - Concerning - Research/Information Requests & Replies (March 1945 - April 1975)
4.16 Correspondence - Concerning - Tribute (Feb 1928 - Feb 1946)
4.17 Memorials - Community House (Oct 1924 - May 1927)
4.18 Memorials - Walk of Fame (1954)
4.19 Memorials - Study - (May 1964-Sept 1984)
4.20 Memorials - Memorial Room (undated)

Box 5:
Charles M. Sheldon (Folders 1-11)
Central Congregational Church (Folders 12-14)
5.1 Memorials - Written (March 1946 - April 1946)
5.2 Alpha Files - Article About
5.3 Alpha Files - Bibliography
5.4 Alpha Files - Biography
5.5 Alpha Files - Family/Genealogical
5.6 Alpha Files - Manuscripts/Play About
5.7 Alpha Files - Participatory Events
5.8 Alpha Files - Printed Invitations
5.9 Alpha Files - Printed Material About
5.10 Alpha Files - Speeches/Articles About - Funeral
5.11 Alpha Files - Speeches/Articles About - Tim Miller
5.12 Altruist Club (1949)
5.13 Altruist Club (1963-1976)
5.14 Altruist Club - Miscellaneous Items

Box 6:
Central Congregational Church
6.1 Bulletins (1890 - 1899)
6.2 Bulletins (1900 - 1909)
6.3 Christian Endeavor Society (1904 - 1913)
6.4 Bulletins (1910)
6.5 Bulletins (1911)
6.6 Bulletins (1912)
6.7 Bulletins (1913)
6.8 Bulletins (1914)
6.9 Bulletins (1915)
6.10 Bulletins (1916)
6.11 Bulletins (1917)
6.12 Bulletins (1918)
6.13 Bulletins (1919)
6.14 Bulletins (1920 - 1929)
6.15 Bulletins (1930 - 1939)
6.16 Bulletins (1940 - 1949)
6.17 Bulletins (1950 - 1959)
6.18 Bulletins (1960 - 1969)
6.19 Bulletins (1970 - 1981)
6.20 Directory of Members (1894-1915)
6.21 Bulletins (undated)

Box 7:
Central Congregational Church (Folders 1-7)
Mary Merriam Sheldon (Folders 8-12)
7.1 History (1869 - ca. 1977)
7.2 Miscellaneous
7.3 Programs for Plays Performed at Central Church (1910 -1947 & undated)
7.4 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary (1963)
7.5 Willing Duty Seekers (1917-1918, 1927)
7.6 Woman's Society (1907 - 1927)
7.7 Yearbooks (1916 - 1925)
7.8 Correspondence - General (1919 - 1949)
7.9 Correspondence - Sympathy (Feb 1946 - Summer 1946)
7.10 Miscellaneous (1949)
7.11 Writings - Miscellaneous (undated)
7.12 Writings - Plays
7.13 Clippings - Charles M. Sheldon
7.14 Clippings - Mary (Merriam) Sheldon, Central Congregational Church

Chronological List of Sermons:
1887 (Waterbury, Vt.): Reasons for Living the Christian Life series:

  • "The Christian Life: the Best Life" (October 16)
  • "The Christian Life: a Practical Life" [October 23]
  • "The Christian Life: an Active Life" [October 30]
  • "The Christian Life: an Unselfish Life" (November 6)
  • "The Christian Life: a Hopeful Life" (November 13)
  • "The Christian Life: the Nearest Approach to a Perfect Life (November 20)
  • "The Christian Life: the Life T[hat] Mankind Needs" (December 11)
  • "The Christian Life: the Life That God Commands" (December 11)
  • "Summing Up of Series" [undated]
  • "What Is Your Life?" [undated]

1888 (Waterbury, Vt.):

  • 'For We Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood'—St. Paul" (January 8)
  • 'If Ye Then, Being Evil, Know How to Give Good Gifts unto Your Children, How Much More Shall Your Heavenly Father Give the Holy Spirit to Them That Ask Him'—Jesus Christ (March 11)
  • 'Now Is the Accepted Time.'—II Corinthians, vi: 2 (July 22)
  • "An Ideal Town" (September 16)

1890 (Topeka, Kans.): The Statesmanship of Christ series

  • "'But Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.' (Matthew 6:33)" (January 19)
  • "Matthew vi:10. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done in Earth
    As It Is in Heaven" (January 26)
  • "To Working Men" (February 2)

1896 (Topeka, Kans.): "The Development of a Christian Life" (May 17)
[removed from: Charles Monroe Sheldon collection no. 201, unbound papers]

1904 (Topeka, Kans.)

  • "Matt. 1:21: 'And Thou Shalt Call His Name Jesus'" [undated]
  • 'For the Son of Man Cane to Seek and to Save That Which Was Lost.' Luke, xix-10 (February 14)
  • [Untitled] page 1 missing (undated)

1938 (Topeka, Kans.)

  • "A Glorious Church" (December 11)

[Undated sermon] "Intellectual Christianity"

Additional Information for Researchers

The Sheldon microfilm consists of sermons and sermon notes, 1887-1938, written by minister
and writer Charles Monroe Sheldon. These sermons and notes are from the Charles
Monroe Sheldon and Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collections
(numbers 201 and 222 respectively) in the Manuscripts Department, Kansas State
Historical Society (Topeka).

NOTICE: This material may be protected by copyright law (title 17, U. S. Code).

The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this microfilm may be construed as a violation of copyright. Copyright derives from the principle of common law, affirmed in the 1976 copyright act, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof for the duration of the copyright unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right; copyright descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of an author or his or her publisher to secure permission of the owner of copyright in unpublished writing.

Information on copyright is available upon request.

On this microfilm are sermons, 1887-1938, and sermon notes, undated, by Charles M. Sheldon, author and Congregational minister of Waterbury, Vermont and Topeka, Kansas. The sermon notes and most of the sermons are from the series "Writings, " 1886- 1938, of the Charles M. Sheldon subgroup of the Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection no. 222; the sermons for 1896 are from the "Unbound Papers" series of the Charles Monroe Sheldon collection no. 201. A chronological list of individual sermons precedes the sermons on this microfilm.

A copy of the register of the Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church collection no. 222, containing general information about the collection, a biographical sketch of Sheldon, and information about the scope and contents of the papers appears immediately following these notes. Following the register is a folder list. Researchers should remember that only the sermons and sermon notes (box 1, folders 1 through 7) are reproduced on this microfilm.

Blank pages were not filmed, even though they may have been numbered. Faint pages may have been filmed several times at varying exposures. The first page is missing from the last sermon in the 1904 folder, so its title and exact date cannot be determined.