ATWOOD, ISAAC MORGAN (24 March 1838, Pembroke, NY-26 October 1917, Canton, NY). Career: Universalist minister, Churchville, NY; Clifton Springs, NY; Watertown, NY; Portland, ME; Bridgewater, MA; Chelsea. MA,
c. 1859-c. 1879; editor, Boston Universalist, 1867-72; New York Christian Leader, 1873-74; minister, North Cambridge. MA, 1874-79; associate editor, Universalist Leader, 1874-1908; president. Canton Theological School (St. Lawrence University), 1879-98; general superintendent, Universalist church, 1898-1907; secretary, Universalist General Convention, 1906-12; professor of theology and philosophy, St. Lawrence University, and minister, Universalist church, Canton, NY, 1912-17.
A dirt-poor farm boy, Isaac M. Atwood aspired toward the wider cultivation that a college education would bring him, but he was thwarted by economic necessity from achieving that goal. At age eleven he was bound out to farm work to help support his family, and later in his teen years he worked as a mule driver, bartender, and stable cleaner. Meanwhile, he prepared himself for college. reading by candlelight, and injured his eyes in the process. By dint of this hard work. he qualified himself for Yale but had to decline the chance to go, in order to help his family. His life changed, however, when he took a teaching position in Corfu, New York, and came into the influence of the H. P. Porter family, prominent and cultivated Universalists. He converted from his Baptist faith to Universalism and began a long service then to the denomination as a minister, educator, and administrator. He served two decades as the head of the theological school at St. Lawrence and resigned that position to become the first general superintendent of the Universalist church. Atwood took the position at a point when a significant element in the denomination was hoping for a firmer organization. Atwood perceived his responsibility primarily as one that combined denominational extension with aid to existing churches and engaged in enormous travel and correspondence in pursuing those goals. As his son John M. Atwood recalled, "My father carried in the band of his hat the business of the Universalist Church" (Cummins, p.28). With Quillen H. Shinn, Atwood is one of Universalism's most distinguished churchmen of the late nineteenth century.
A. Latest Word of Universalism (coauthor. Boston, 1878); Walks about Zion (Boston, 1882); Revelation (Boston, 1889).
B. NCAB 10, 202; Who Was Who in America 1,36; Robert Cummins, "The General Superintendency of the Universalist Church of America," JUHS, 3 (1962), 14-29.