Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Receives Master of Arts degree from Yale

Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Receives Master of Arts degree from Yale

Correspondence with Professor Samuel Press

The Courier-Herald Co. Inc.
Walter Niebuhr, Pres.
Lincoln, Illinois

July 1.

My Dear Professor Press:

I have been wanting to write you ever since I returned from school but did not know how to reach you until your brother told me that you would probably be home now until the Elmhurst meeting. I received the M.A. degree as you may have heard though just exactly how it was done I am still unable to figure out. They turned down men with perfectly good A.B. degrees though not of the highest class and gave the degree to me without anything that might be called a college education. I made pretty good marks but I did not think that it would pull me through. But for some reason or other they were lenient enough to let me by.

Rev. Baltzer may have told you that nothing has come of the Washington propositions, at least not so far. He now intends to send me to Detroit. I am a good deal worried about my future. In the first place, as you may know, I have not gone for two years to Yale without absorbing a good deal of its liberalism. I have enough confidence in myself to believe that I did not simply fall prey to my environment. In fact I found that there is no distinctive Yale theology. What is being taught there is being taught in all the big schools of the country. Union, Oberlin, Yale. Andover and most of the larger schools do not differ greatly in their theology. One would have to go to Princeton to escape it. Now I am a good deal worried that my liberalism will not at all be liked in our church and will jeopardize any influence which I might in time have won in our church. I briefly attended the conference in Champaign and there had a new opportunity to see how widely I differed with the prevailing theology of our church. I was totally out of sympathy with some of the things that were said there in sermons and addresses.

At present I am also worried about finances. Rev. Baltzer told me that he thought Detroit paid $900 a year. Since then I have heard that they only intend to pay six hundred. I will be frank enough to tell you that I will not accept a place for six hundred. I realize that I owe a good deal to our church, not to the church so much as to some of you individually who have done so much to help me. Any emphasis on finances may therefore seem to be the worst kind of ingratitude. But my two years at Yale have cost me a great deal of money. Most of it I earned, this year about $350, but as you know I have debts. Besides these debts I will now have to carry some of the burdens at home. Since my fathers death my brother has very nobly carried the financial burdens of our family in spite of the fact that he was deeply involved trying to establish a large business without a cent of his own to begin with. He has of course made a great deal but he had also needed a great deal. Now I feel that I owe it to him and to the family to carry part of the burden and to do so I must earn to the limit of my earning capacity. I shall not write to Baltzer until I have heard authoritatively about Detroit. But if the place should pay so little I shall find it impossible to accept it. Perhaps I ought not bother you with these personal troubles but because you have always been so good to me I thought I would let you know how I feel about some of those things. I hope the matter will come out better than it now seems that it will. I hope you will be able to stop off here on your way to Chicago. There are many things I would like to talk to you about and I would very much like to see you some time. I hope you have had a nice vacation after your strenuous year. I am about worn out from my year in Yale. I put in the hardest year of my life.

My kindest regards to Mrs. Press and to Dir. Becker if you should happen to see him.


Reinhold Niebuhr Papers: Library of Congress, Manuscript Reading Room

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Paul Elie

is senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

Jean Bethke Elshtain

is an author and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Robin Lovin

is Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the author of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism.