The Reverend William Henry Ryder

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian.

During the course of our nearly 200-year existence, we have had a number of interesting persons serve as our minister. Our 17th minister, William Henry Ryder, replaced Sumner Ellis. Ryder served only a little over a year with our First Universalist Society from 1882 to 1883, but went on to success in another related career. Also, his offspring were quite accomplished in their lifetime pursuits.

William Henry Ryder came to Cincinnati from the pulpit in Malden, Massachusetts. He had served the Universalist Church in Malden from 1873 to 1882, but, for unknown reasons, had spent part of that time in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ryder was installed as minister in Cincinnati on September 1, 1882. At the ceremony, Reverend Gibbs of Buffalo, New York, delivered the sermon at the Plum Street Church. Ryder’s term with the First Society was brief as he resigned in October 1883. Conversations were held between him and the board of trustees in late summer of that year and his services were extended to October 1. At the October meeting, an invitation was extended to a Reverend White of Woonsocket, Maine, to present himself as a candidate for the open ministry. However, Ryder was eventually replaced by Elmer Pember. Reverend Ryder’s salary while serving our church was $250 per month. The overriding theme of his short year with our church was financial stability and the difficulty in collecting and generating pew rentals. One of the issues discussed at Board of Trustees meeting during his tenure was stopping the annoying whispering between choir members during Sunday services.

Ryder was born on July 24, 1842 in Elyria, Ohio, the son of Oliver and Harriet Ryder. His father was a merchant. Ryder was ordained in the Universalist faith in 1869. He served as a pastor in Watertown, Wisconsin, before his move to Malden. After his brief stay in Cincinnati, Ryder joined the faculty of Andover College in 1888. He taught Greek and Theology, specializing in New Testament Interpretation. Ryder remained with the college until his death in 1918.

Ryder first married Mary Elizabeth Bushnell. They had five children, the last of whom was born two months before her death in Ann Arbor in 1878. One of their children, Frederick Bushnell “Jack” Ryder, was the first paid football coach at Ohio State University. After leaving that position he became a sports writer, eventually working for years with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Another son, Arthur W. Ryder, became a linguistics professor specializing in Sanskrit. He taught at Harvard and The University of California at Berkeley. He was noted for his translations of the Bhagavad Gita and was proclaimed by Time magazine to be the greatest expert in Sanskrit of his time. One of Arthur’s most famous students was J. Robert Oppenheimer* who took a break from his physics studies to devote time to the study of Eastern philosophy.

After the death of his first wife, Ryder married Ada Tripp. They had one son, Charles, who became a physician and leading figure in the treatment of tuberculosis, working in a sanitorium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Ryder passed away on April 6, 1918. He is buried in the Phillips Academy Cemetery in Andover.

It should be noted that a generation earlier, another William Henry Ryder served the Universalist Church. He was a prominent and well-published minister in the faith and lived from 1822 to 1888. It is not believed that the W. H. Ryder who served the Cincinnati church was any relation to the other William Henry Ryder.

* When Oppenheimer witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” An interesting article on this is in Wired magazine. Ed.

Image: Plum Street Church, where Rev. Ryder was installed as minister.

Image source: Newspaper archives.