1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Muhlenberg, William Augustus

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MUHLENBERG, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS (1796-1877), American philanthropist and Protestant Episcopal clergyman, great-grandson of H. M. Muhlenberg and grandson of F. A. C. Muhlenberg, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the 16th of September 1796. He graduated at the university of Pennsylvania in 1815. In 1817 he was ordained a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church, and became assistant to Bishop William White (1748-1836) in the rectorship of Christ Church, St Peter's and St James's, Philadelphia. In 1820 he was ordained priest and until 1826 was rector of St James's Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Largely owing to his efforts, Lancaster was the second public school district created in the state. His interest in church music and hymnody prompted his pamphlet of 1821, A Plea for Christian Hymns; he drew up for the use of his own parish a collection of Church Poetry (1823); and in 1823 he was appointed by the General Convention a member of the committee on psalms and hymns, whose collection, approved in 1826, contained several of Muhlenberg's own compositions, including “I would not live alway,” “Shout the glad tidings,” and “Saviour, who thy flock art feeding.” From 1826 to 1845 he was rector of St George's, Flushing, Long Island, where in 1827 he became head of the Flushing Institute, probably the first Protestant Episcopal “church school” in the United States. He founded a St Paul's College, to include the institute, but the panic of 1837 and the refusal of a charter by the state legislature brought it to an end; and the property was sold a few years after Muhlenberg left Flushing. The methods of this institute were however copied widely; church schools sprang up everywhere; and St Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire, and the Groton School in Massachusetts were established in accordance with his ideas. In 1845 he removed to New York City, where in 1846 he became rector of the Church of the Holy Communion, a “free” church built by his sister, Mrs Mary A. Rogers. Here Muhlenberg founded the first American order of Protestant Episcopal deaconesses, the Sisterhood of the Church of the Holy Communion, begun in 1845 and formally organized in 1852. The work of the sisterhood led to Muhlenberg's establishment of St Luke's Hospital (opened in 1858), for which his congregation made offerings each St Luke's Day after 1846. In 1866 he founded on Long Island the Church Industrial Community of St Johnland. He bought 535 acres (mostly wooded), with a shore front of 1½ m. on Long Island Sound, near King's Park, 45 m. from New York City, to be a home for the aged and for young children, especially cripples.[1] The plan was not reformatory nor purely charitable, and a moderate rent was charged for the cottages. In the St Johnland cemetery is the grave of Dr Muhlenberg, who died on the 8th of April 1877 in St Luke's Hospital, New York City. His ideal of the church was that it was missionary and evangelical as well as catholic with formal government and ritual; hence he called himself an “evangelical Catholic” and wrote the Evangelical Catholic Papers, which were collected and published by Anne Ayres in 1875-1877.

See Anne Ayres, Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg (New York, 1880), and W. W. Newton, Dr Muhlenberg (Boston, 1890), in the “American Religious Leaders” series.


  1. The Society of St Johnland, incorporated in 1870, has a chapel, the Church of the Testimony of Jesus (1869), St John's Inn, the home for old men (also built in 1869), Sunset Cottage, a home for twelve aged couples, Muhlenberg House for old women, the Fabbri Home, the Sunbeam Cottage (given by Mr and Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1881) Lawrence House, for babies, a library and village hall, a kindergarten, a school house, and the “mansion,” Dr Muhlenberg's home at St Johnland and later the home of Sister Anne Ayres, his biographer, during her superintendence of the society.