From The Unitarians and the Universalists by David Robinson (247):

DIETRICH, JOHN HASSLER (14 January 1878, Chambersburg, PA-22 July 1957, Berkeley, CA). Education: B.A., Franklin and Marshall College, 1900; M.A., Franklin and Marshall College, 1902; graduated from Eastern Theological Seminary (Reformed Church), Lancaster, PA, 1905. Career: Minister, St. Mark's Church, (Reformed), Pittsburgh, PA, 1905-Il; entered the Unitarian ministry, 1911; minister, First Unitarian Society, Spokane, WA, 1911-16; First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis, MN, 1916-38; minister emeritus, 1938-57.

John H. Dietrich was one of the founders and major spokesmen for the Humanist movement in early twentieth-century Unitarianism. His intellectual and spiritual life began on conservative grounds, however, with his upbringing and early ministry in the Reformed Church. During his seminary training and first pastorate in Pittsburgh, Dietrich found it increasingly difficult to speak his mind on theological issues without encountering the creedal restraints of his church. After a long conflict with conservative elements that led eventually to his defrocking on charges of heresy, Dietrich entered the Unitarian ministry and began to articulate the Humanist message that became such an important aspect of the dialogue of modern liberalism. Word of his unusual preaching at his first Unitarian pulpit in Spokane reached Charles F. Potter, then at Edmonton, Alberta, who was moving in the same direction as Dietrich. After Dietrich moved to Minneapolis, he met Curtis Reese of Des Moines and found support for his convictions. During the 1920s and 1930s Dietrich made the pulpit of the First Unitarian Church in Minneapolis a major locus for the dissemination of Humanist thought. His Humanist Pulpit series distributed published versions of his sermons and made his ideas available to a wider audience. He saw a major part of his mission as the reinvigoration of intellectual preaching: when preaching "has fallen into almost unparalleled contempt, Ill have done all that I can to dignify, magnify, and glorify it" ("Ten Years in a Free Pulpit," p. II). He must have had some success, for he continually filled his church to overcrowding to hear his lengthy discourses. Dietrich claimed the distinction of being the first Unitarian minister to have preached Humanism regularly and "attempted something like a reconstruction of religion in harmony with it" (p.6). His religion was naturalistic, heavily influenced by evolution and bounded by science. "If human life is to have meaning we must give it that meaning," he wrote in 1934, an indication of how far the radical impulse of liberal religion had traveled in the early twentieth century ("What I Believe," Humanist Pulpit, 7 [1934], p. 174).


A. The Fathers of Evolution and Other Addresses (Minneapolis, 1927); The Significance of the Unitarian Movement (Boston, 1927); The Humanist Pulpit, 7 voIs. (Minneapolis, 1927-34); Humanism (Boston. 1934).

B. Who Was Who in America 6, 112-13; 'Ten Years in a Free Pulpit" (autobiographical), in Humanist Pulpit, vol. I (Minneapolis. 1927); Carleton Winston, This Circle of Earth: The Story' of John H. Dietnch (New York, 1942); Charles H. Lyttle, Freedom Moves West (Boston, 1952); Mason Olds, Religious Humanism in America: Dietrich, Reese, and Potter (Washington. DC, 1978).