William C. Blair Set the Pace

Dan Graves, MSL

William C. Blair Set the Pace

The Rev. William C. Blair knew how to work hard. The record of his achievement was great, and yet he felt it necessary to apologize to the Sunday School Union. He had fallen sick, he said, and illness had forced him to rush over parts of his territory.

His report was important to the future of the Sunday School Union which had formed only in 1817 (under the name Sunday and Adult School Union). Many pastors were doubtful about its work. Some disliked his concern for black people. Others were afraid that the interdenominational organization would steal their converts. All feared wasting their limited resources.

Hired in 1821 to be the first Sunday-school missionary of the American Sunday-school Union, William set to rest any question of the value of a paid missionary. "There ought to be eight or ten Sunday-school missionaries in every state," he said. The record of this Presbyterian minister's work showed why.

He had ridden out to undertake his new job on this day, August 4, 1821. Twelve months later he reported that, working alone most of the time, he had covered about 2,500 miles in six states, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. He had founded 61 new Sunday schools, visited 35 others, and revived twenty that had gone under. In addition, he had started six societies to spread Christian tracts and had founded four adult schools.

William's report, and reports by other Sunday school workers, such as the Rev. Timothy Alden, President of Allegheny College, showed the Union what could be done and what still needed doing. The leadership committee was so impressed that they hired two more full-time missionaries.


  1. Rice, Edwin Wilbur. The Sunday School Movement 1780-1917 and the American Sunday-School Union 1817-1917. (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1917 reprinted 1971).
  2. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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