Portrait of George D. Herron


George Herron was undoubtedly the most controversial of all the proponents of the Social Gospel. He was largely self-educated, only briefly attending the preparatory school at Ripon College. Nevertheless, he was ordained a Congregational minister and rose to national attention with his 1890 speech to the Minnesota Congregational Club, “The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth.” Herron’s message of sacrifice and stewardship resonated with a wide audience. His benefactor, Mrs. E. D. Rand, encouraged his appointment to the ministry at Burlington, Iowa, succeeding William Salter, a member of the Iowa Band of ministers that founded Iowa College in 1846. In 1893, thanks to a generous endowment from Mrs. Rand, Herron was appointed Chair of Applied Christianity at Iowa College, shortly after he had been awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Tabor College.


Herron was initially a popular lecturer, but as his national fame grew, and he was frequently absent from campus on speaking engagements, that popularity waned. Herron became more radical, and his close relationship with the Rands raised the trustees’ eyebrows. President Gates, a strong supporter of Herron and of academic freedom, continued to back him against calls for his dismissal. Ultimately, however, Herron resigned and left Grinnell.


Political Comic of George Herron depicting his controversial exit from Iowa College


Herron’s radicalism eventually led him to renounce the established church and embrace Socialism. In 1900, Herron was one of the speakers nominating Eugene Debs as the Presidential Candidate for the Social Democratic Party. Eventually, Herron was discharged from the ministry and left for Italy with his wife and Mrs. Rand. Following WWI, Herron worked faithfully on behalf of Woodrow Wilson’s peace initiative, but when it failed, he returned to his villa in Italy where he lived until his death in 1925.