Washington Gladden (1836-1918) was pastor of First Congregational Church in Columbus for 32 years. In 1891, he was a delegate to the international congress of Congregationalists in London. He was also moderator of the Congregational Church in America, helped settle an anthracite coal strike in 1902, and was known as a social reformer.
The Congregationalist Church is a Protestant faith that originated during the 1500s. Like other Protestant faiths, Congregationalism opposed many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It also felt that the Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England, was too Catholic in its teachings. King Henry VIII of England formed the Anglican Church during the early 1500s after the Catholic Pope refused to grant the King an annulment from his first wife. In response, Henry VIII formed his own church. Technically, the Anglican Church was a Protestant Church since the Pope was not in charge of it, but in reality, the general practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church continued to exist in the Anglican faith. Congregationalists rejected the hierarchy and rigid practices of both the Catholics and the Anglicans. Rather than following the dictates of a single human individual, Congregationalists believe that Jesus Christ is the head of each congregation. In England, Congregationalists faced religious persecution for their beliefs from followers of the country's official faith, Anglicanism.
The first Congregationalists to come to the New World were the Pilgrims in 1620. The faith grew quickly, eventually expanding westward. Congregationalists arrived in the Northwest Territory during the late 1700s. People on the frontier appreciated having a greater say in the teachings and practices of their churches. Most of Ohio's Congregationalists came from the New England area. In 1809, they constructed the first frame church in Ohio at Marietta. Most Ohio Congregationalists originally settled in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Due to the small number of church buildings, ministers, and schools in the region, the Congregationalists and Presbyterians shared their resources. By the 1820s, most major Ohio towns and cities, including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Marietta, had Congregationalist churches. The Congregationalists also established numerous communities in the state, including Berea, Oberlin, and Tallmadge. The most important Congregationalist in Ohio during the early nineteenth century was probably David Bacon. Bacon actively sought Native American converts to Congregationalism, achieving only limited success. He also was responsible for the founding of Tallmadge. Ohio's Congregationalists also were early advocates of higher education, establishing Oberlin College in 1833, Marietta College in 1835, and Defiance College in 1850. Oberlin College was the first school in Ohio to actively seek African-American students. It also was the first coeducational college in the United States.