Above: Divinity Library, Harvard College, 1900
Copyright Holder and Image Publisher = Detroit Publishing Company
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08542
PAULINE SPERRY (MARCH 15, 1885-SEPTEMBER 24, 1967)
Mathematician, Philanthropist, and Activist
WILLARD LEAROYD SPERRY (APRIL 5, 1882-MAY 15, 1954)
Congregationalist Minister, Ethicist, Theologian, and Dean of Harvard Divinity School
The greatest gift to mankind–the freedom of the mind–is in peril. If we lose that, we lose everything. The universities are the greatest bulwark. They are the first to be attacked. The battle is only just begun.
–Pauline Sperry, 1953
Grant, O God, to Your people more courage to live for you. Guard us from rashness, and deliver us from fear. Teach us when by patience we may serve you, and when by impatience.
–Willard Learoyd Sperry
Pauline Sperry and Willard Learoyd Sperry were children of Henrietta Learoyd Sperry and Willard Gardner Sperry. Henrietta had been a teacher and a vice principal at Abbot Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, her alma mater. Willard Gardner, former President of Olivet College, Olivet, Michigan, was a congregationalist minister. From 1877 to 1885 he served at South Congregational Church, Peabody, Massachusetts. At Peabody Pauline and Willard Learoyd joined the family. Their parents taught them faith, the importance of social reform and religious liberty, and the value of education.
Willard Learoyd Sperry, born on April 5, 1882, followed in his father’s footsteps. Our saint, a 1903 graduate of Olivet College, went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. After completing studies at Oxford in 1907, became a Congregationalist minister the following year. From 1908 to 1913 he served as the assistant pastor at the First Church at Fall River, Massachusetts. Along the way, in 1909, Sperry received his M.A. from Yale. In 1914 he became the pastor of Central Church, Boston, Massachusetts. Starting in 1917, he was Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Andover Theological Seminary. From 1922 to 1925, with the union of the Andover Theological Seminary and the Harvard Divinity School as the Theological School in Harvard University, Sperry served as the Dean. After the merger ended in 1925, he became the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. Sperry served in that capacity until 1953. He also doubled as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals (1928-1953) and the chairman of the Harvard Board of Preachers (1928f). Our saint also served on the Old Testament translation committee for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. He also found time to write and publish a plethora of articles and books.
Sperry, always a theological liberal, was critical of Neo-orthodoxy as late as 1949, when he made his opinion plain in Jesus Then and Now. Neo-orthodoxy, he argued, turned sin into
an incantation lacking any solid warrant in the common conscience
and of using it as a shibboleth. Sperry was interested in transforming, not condemning, culture.
Sperry died at Boston, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1954. He was 72 years old.
Pauline Sperry, born on March 5, 1885, became a mathematician and an academic. She graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, with her B.A. degree in 1906. She taught mathematics at Hamilton Institute, New York, New York, for a year, before returning to Smith College for a M.A. degree in music in 1907. After graduating again in 1908 Sperry taught mathematics at her alma mater until 1912. Then she commenced graduate studies at The University of Chicago. She graduated in 1914. Her thesis was “On the Theory of One-to-One Correspondence with Geometric Illustrations.” Doctoral work followed in 1914-1916. Her dissertation was “Properties of a Certain Projectively Defined Two-Paramater Family of Curves on a General Surface.” Sperry was Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Smith College from 1916 to 1917. Sperry taught at the University of California at Berkeley, starting in 1917. She was Instructor (1917-1923), Assistant Professor (1923-1931), and Associate Professor (1931f). Sperry, the first female Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Berkeley, taught many geometry courses and wrote two textbooks in trigonometry.
Sperry’s career ended during the Second Red Scare. In 1949 the Board of Regents of the University of California decided to require faculty and staff to take a loyalty oath. Our saint, a defender of academic freedom and a convert to Quakerism, refused to take the oath. Thus, in 1950, the university dismissed her. Two years later the state Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Regents had no legal right to require a loyalty oath separate from one mandatory for all public employees. In 1952, however, Sperry had reached retirement age. Four years later she received her back pay.
Sperry was active in politics during her retirement. She was active in the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee, as well as in efforts to oppose the testing of nuclear weapons.
Sperry also became involved in philanthropy. In the 1950s she founded the Step-By-Step School (for starving children) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She also continued to support it financially. She offered advice regarding how to be happy:
Be bold enough to ask the right questions, and brave enough to face the answers about the untouchable subject, money….Give ’till it hurts!
Sperry died, aged 82 years, on September 4, 1967, at Pacific Grove, California.
These two saints did much to contribute to the world.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 14, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF FANNIE LOU HAMER, PROPHET OF FREEDOM
THE FEAST OF ALFRED LISTER PEACE, ORGANIST IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND
THE FEAST OF HARRIET KING OSGOOD MUNGER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY
O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.
We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Pauline Sperry, Willard Learoyd Sperry, and all others]
who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.
May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN