Herron, George Davis (1862–1925)

George Davis Herron was born January 21, 1862, in Montezuma, Indiana, to Isabella Davis and William Herron. The couple was able to afford only a limited elementary education for their son. At age 10 he was apprenticed to a printer where he learned to support himself as a printer and an editor. He then entered Ripon College in 1879 where he gained his only formal education. Poverty and poor health forced him to leave school.

His reputation spread soon after 1890 when delivered a provocative sermon, “The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth,” at the Minnesota Congregationalist Club in Minneapolis. In December 1891 Herron accepted a call to be associate pastor at the Congregationalist church of Burlington, Iowa. His sermons and speeches were published in book format. In 1892 he was given an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Herron's sermons soon enchanted Mrs. Elizabeth D. Rand, a wealthy widow, and her daughter Carrie. In 1893 Mrs. Rand endowed a chair of Applied Christianity at Iowa College (later Grinnell College) in Grinnell, Iowa. He was given the chair, and Mrs. Rand and Carrie moved to Grinnell, where Herron taught for seven years.

As a professor Herron wrote a number of works including The Christian Society (1894), Social Meanings of Religious Experiences (1896), and Between Caesar and Jesus (1899). He taught that the day would soon arrive in which a true Christian social order on the earth would fulfill the promise of the Kingdom of God as a present reality. Then all things would be organized into a society in accord with the divine will. He constantly denounced the rich as he preached a gospel of social redemption. Because he was a leader of the Kingdom movement, his lectures and sermons gained a wide hearing during the droughts, labor strikes, and financial panics of the 1890s.

Herron's views during this time became increasingly radical both theologically and economically. By 1900 he was preaching a hard-line socialism that was deterministic. Instead of followers, he found he was gathering critics and opponents who viewed him as an opponent of social and religious order. Consequently, Herron left college teaching to help with the organizing of the American Socialist Party. In May 1901 he married Carrie Rand at Rochester, New York, in a service conducted by a Christian socialist minister, William Thurston Brown, author of Socialism and Primitive Christianity (n.d.). They then moved to a villa in Fiesole, Italy.

On June 4, 1901, Herron was defrocked by the Congregational church of Grinnell for having deserted his wife Mary in favor of Carrie Rand. The alimony Mary received was likely provided by Carrie Rand. His personal problems and removal to Italy did not forestall Herron's political activities, and in 1904, Herron nominated Eugene Debs at the 1904 Socialist Convention. When Elizabeth D. Rand died in 1905, she left a bequest to establish the Rand School of Social Science. The Herrons now lived abroad among socialists, especially in Germany, where Herron was a movement leader. In 1914 Carrie Rand died.

Herron was deeply disturbed both by the outbreak of World War I and by the failure of socialists to remain unified. Instead of maintaining a pacifist unity, the socialist movement fractured into nationalist supporters of the war effort and those opposed to the war. He began assisting President Woodrow Wilson with reports on German morale prior to American entry into the war. During the war he acted as an American interpreter of Wilson's war aims.

After the war Herron turned to interpreting Wilson's peace aims. He wrote The Defeat in the Victory (1921). He was disappointed both by the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles, which he saw as a betrayal. He died in Munich, Germany, on October 9, 1925.

Andrew J. Waskey

See also: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company ; Debs, Eugene (1855–1926) ; Socialism, Christian


Briggs, Mitchell P. George D. Herron and the European Settlement. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1932.

Brown, William Thurston. Socialism and Primitive Christianity. Chicago: Charles H. Kerry and Co., n.d. http://www.scribd.com/doc/48277590/Socialism-Primitive-Cristianity-William-Thurston-Brown . Accessed January 4, 2013.

Cort, John C. Christian Socialism. Maryknoll, NY: Maryknoll, 1988.

Handy, Robert T. “George D. Herron and the Kingdom Movement.” Church History 19 (1950): 7–115.