Oldham, Joseph Houldsworth, 1874-1969

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Epithet: Editor `The Christian News-Letter'

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000613.0x00012b

Joseph Houldsworth Oldham, pioneer of ecumenical missionary and social concern, was born in 1874 of Scottish parents in India. He was educated in Edinburgh and at Oxford from where he graduated in 1896. A religious conversion prompted Oldham to travel to India in 1897 to work with the YMCA where he stayed for three years, marrying Mary Fraser in 1898. Illness forced them to return in 1901 and Oldham went on to study theology at New College, Edinburgh and in Germany. On his return to Scotland he was twice an assistant minister but was unable to secure his own ministry. In 1908 he became organising secretary for the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, regarded by many as the starting point of the modern ecumenical movement, and he was subsequently secretary of the Conference Continuation committee. In 1912 Oldham founded the International Review of Missions which, under Oldham's editorship until 1927, established itself as the most prominent missionary periodical in the world.

During World War 1 Oldham worked to keep the spirit of internationalism alive through his writings and became a trusted adviser of the government on missions and German missionaries in particular. With the return of peace Oldham continued to promote the cause of co-operation between mission boards. He became the founder and secretary in 1921 of the International Missionary Council. He also travelled widely (often with his secretary Betty Gibson) and was especially concerned with education and the issues raised by colonial administration in Africa. His knowledge of both India and Africa thrust him into the role of mediator between Europeans, Africans and Indians in Kenya and his principle that African native interests should be paramount was embodied in government policy in 1923. Also in that year Oldham was a key figure in the establishment of a committee on Native Education in Tropical Africa. His Christianity and the Race Problem was published in 1924 and was his most substantial and successful book. After organising the first conference of missionary educators and colonial administrators in 1926, he was instrumental in securing funds for the founding of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures. From 1931 to 1938 he was its administrative director and responsible for much of the work which made Lord Hailey's African Survey possible.

Oldham continued, often in partnership with Lord Lugard, to advise on government and administration in Kenya, however he also remained concerned about the future of the Christian missions and the church. As a layperson Oldham grew more convinced of role of the laity in this future and the need for a co-operative relationship between religious and secular groups and, to this end, encouraged small study groups as a means of research. He was, from 1934, chairman of the research committee of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work and a key figure at the 1937 Oxford conference. His efforts were to influence Christian thinking for a generation and lead to the formation of the World Council of Churches.

During the Second World War he continued to encourage debate about lay responsibility in society. Through the meetings of his 'Moot' with such figures as T.S. Eliot and John Baillie and through his Christian Newsletter he initiated much new thinking about Christian responsibility in modern society. From his efforts the Christian Frontier Council developed. Oldham retired from public life to Dunford, Sussex but continued to write, particularly about Africa, and was involved with the formation of the Capricorn Africa Movement. He was awarded honorary degrees from Edinburgh (1931) and Oxford (1937) and appointed CBE in 1951. Oldham's wife died in 1965 and Oldham himself died in 1969 at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. Dr Kathleen Bliss, who collected much of the Oldham material together, worked with Oldham from the establishment of the Christian Newsletter and Christian Frontier Council and later worked for the Church of England Board of Education. She was a close friend of Oldham's and had intended to write his biography but died in 1989 before she could complete it.

From the guide to the Oldham Papers, 1892-1990, (Edinburgh University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Vol. CXVIII (ff. 389). Sept. 1941-June 1942.includes:ff. 1-3, 35, 39 Anne E. Robinson, wife of N L Robinson; Secretary, League of Nations Union, Darlington Branch: Correspondence between Lord Cecil and Anne E. Robinson: 1941.f. 4 Herbert Stanley ... British Library
referencedIn Polanyi, Michael. Papers, 1900-1975 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Malinowski, Bronislaw, 1884-1942. Bronislaw Malinowski papers, 1869-1946 (inclusive), 1914-1939 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Mott, John Raleigh, 1865-1955. John R. Mott papers, 1813-1978 (inclusive), 1880-1955 (bulk). Yake University Divinity School Library
referencedIn Papers of John Houldsworth Oldham, D.D., [1918-1958] The Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House
referencedIn John R. Mott Papers, 1813-1982 Yake University Divinity School Library
referencedIn Papers and letters concerning the lay Christian ecumenical society 'The Moot', 1939 GB 206 Leeds University Library
referencedIn Papers of Betty D. Gibson (fl. 1928-1960), 1907-1969 Edinburgh University Library
creatorOf Moot. Papers and letters concerning the lay Christian ecumenical society 'The Moot'. Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
referencedIn Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966. William Ernest Hocking Papers, 1860-1979 Houghton Library
referencedIn Papers of Joseph H. Oldham and Betty Gibson, 1912-1975 Centre for the Study of World Christianity
referencedIn Malinowski, Bronislaw, 1884-1942. Bronislaw Malinowski papers, 1869-1946 (inclusive), 1914-1939 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn International Missionary Council. Joint International Missionary Council/Conference of British Missionary Societies Missionary Archives, 1910-1945 (inclusive) [microform]. Yake University Divinity School Library
creatorOf PHYLLIS BOTTOME PAPERS. VOL. XXXI. (ff. 191).1. ff. 1-6v. Correspondence with H.R.H. Princess Alice May, Countess of Athlone; 1950-1963.2. ff. 7-34. Correspondence with Ruth Aspinall; 1956-1964, n.d.3. ff. 35-54. Dr. Maxwell Chance; 1940-1941..., 1922-1964 British Library
creatorOf Oldham Papers, 1892-1990 Edinburgh University Library
referencedIn Polanyi, Michael, 1891-1976. Papers, 1900-1975 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bliss Kathleen Theologian person
associatedWith British Council of Churches corporateBody
associatedWith Gibson Betty D fl 1928-1960 person
correspondedWith Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966 person
associatedWith International Institute of African Languages and Cultures corporateBody
associatedWith International Missionary Council. corporateBody
associatedWith Iona Community corporateBody
associatedWith Joseph Holdsworh Oldham and Betty D. Gibson person
associatedWith Malinowski, Bronislaw, 1884-1942. person
associatedWith Moot person
associatedWith Moot. corporateBody
associatedWith Mott, John Raleigh, 1865-1955. person
associatedWith Polanyi, Michael, 1891-1976. person
associatedWith Universal Christian Council for Life and Work corporateBody
associatedWith World Council of Churches corporateBody
associatedWith World Missionary Conference corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Iran, Asia Minor
Kenya Politics and government
India, Asia
Plymouth, Devon
Missions Interdenominational cooperation
Missions, German
Ecumenical movement


Birth 1874

Death 1969


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