Judson Memorial Church (New York, N.Y.)

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In 1838, a small group in Greenwich Village, dissatisfied with local churches, founded the Berean Church on the corner of Bedford and Downing Streets. Fifty years later, under the direction of Rev. Edward Judson (1844-1914), a new church was built and named Judson Memorial Church in memoriam to Edward's father Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), the first missionary to Burma. Edward Judson chose as the new location of his church the south side of Washington Square Park, because he wanted to reach out to the neighboring Italian community. His goal was not to convert, but to help supply this community, and any other community in need, with the necessary tools to become successful and independent.

Edward Judson's mission for the Judson Memorial Church was to create a ministry devoted to social outreach, which would meet the needs of the city and of its growing immigrant population. Some of the social service programs developed during Rev. Judson's tenure included a health center, an employment service, sewing and cooking classes, a community woodpile, and the delivery of fresh milk from New Jersey farms.

Judson Church's mission of social outreach continued throughout the years following Edward Judson's ministry. Beginning in the 1950's under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Spikeand continuing under Rev. Howard Moody, Judson Memorial Church established programs designed to help those in need despite the controversial or sometimes, unpopular nature of that help. The church, for example, established local networks to aid women who needed abortions, housed and cared for drug addicts and runaway teens, established a Professional Women's Clinic for women engaged in prostitution, and helped provide medical resources for people with AIDS to name only a few of it's progressive programs.

The Judson Memorial Church supported a radical arts ministry. The groundwork for involvement in the arts had been laid by Edward Judson's gospel sings and moving picture shows during the early years of the church. However, the Judson Arts Ministry did not fully take shape until the late 1950's when church members polled local artists to determine how the church could best assist the arts community. The results of this inquiry indicated that artists needed space in which to create and show their work. The Judson Memorial Church responded by making the space of the church available to artists for art exhibitions, rehearsals, and performances. The church also assured that this space was to be a place where these artists could have the freedom to experiment in their work without fear of censorship.

In 1957, the Judson Memorial Church offered gallery space to Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, and Robert Rauschenberg, who were then unknown artists. In 1959, the Judson Gallery showed work by Pop artists, Tom Wesselman, Daniel Spoerri, and Red Grooms. The Judson Gallery became the first home to the "happenings" movement of the 1960's. Hosted by the Judson Group, these "happenings" included Ray Gun Spex and Jim Dines' presentation of an environment called Apple Shrines.

In 1959, the Judson Literary Quarterly, Exodus, was published under the aegis of the Judson Studio. This anthology of poetry edited by Howard Hart and sold in local bookstores, included poems by William Godden, Robert Hanlon, and John Williams. Volumes I, II, and III of Exodus were published in the spring of 1959, the fall of 1959, and the summer of 1960, respectively. Exodus later became The Judson Review, edited by Rev. Al Carmines and Don Katzman. Volume I of The Judson Review was published in 1963 and included the poetry of Jackson Mac Low, Diane Wakoski, and Joel Oppenheimer.

In 1961, the Judson Poet's Theater was founded by Robert Nichols and Chuck Gordone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a "free-wheeling" Sunday-school teacher at the church. The Judson Poet's Theater laid the foundation for "off off" Broadway theater, by producing plays by Rosalyn Drexler, Chuck Gordone, Maria Irene Fornes, Robert Nichols, Sam Shepard, and Lanford Wilson. In 1967, Rev. Al Carmines restructured the group and renamed it the Judson Musical Theater. The Judson Musical Theater produced musical theater performances throughout the late 1960's and the 1970's.

The Judson Dance Theater, which began in 1962, provided a venue for dancers and choreographers such as Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, David Gordon, and Yvonne Rainer to create and show their work. Among others, these dancers and choreographers shaped dance history by creating post-modern dance, the first avant-garde movement in dance theater since the modern dance of the 1930's and 1940's. Judson Dance Theater was founded by a group of young choreographers who had taken Robert Dunn's choreography course at the Merce Cunningham studio from 1960-1962. These choreographers decided to present a concert of work they had created during the Dunn course. Judson Memorial Church welcomed the group and provided space for rehearsal and performance. A Concert of Dance #1, open to the public and free of charge, was presented at Judson Memorial Church on July 6, 1962. This concert proved to be the beginning of the evolution of post-modern dance.

The term Judson Dance Theater requires some additional clarification. In its most narrow sense, the term Judson Dance Theater refers to the choreographers associated with the cooperative group formed after the Dunn course that adopted this name and produced concerts at Judson Memorial Church. These concerts, which were titled numerically as A Concert of Dance #1 (July 6, 1962) through A Concert of Dance #16 (April 29, 1964), grew out of weekly workshops held at the church. However, the term Judson Dance Theater has been used in a broader sense to refer to choreographers who were associated with the Judson Memorial Church, although they were not part of this original group. It is in this broader sense that the term Judson Dance Theater is used in reference to this collection.

In the 1970's, the Judson Memorial Church hosted various art shows and multi-media events. Most notable among these multi-media events was the People's Flag Show of November 1970, a six-day exhibition of painting and sculpture on the theme of the American flag. The exhibit and the accompanying symposium, featuring speeches by Abbie Hoffman and Kate Millet, attracted widespread attention from the public, the press, and the police. During the final days of the exhibit, three of the contributing artists were arrested, Rev. Howard Moody was served with a summons, and the District Attorney closed the exhibit on charges of desecration of the American flag.

In the 1980's, the Judson Memorial Church sponsored various political theater performances, such as those by the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater. These performances included Insurrection Opera and Oratorio, performed in February and March of 1984. In this performance, the Bread and Puppet Theater, under the direction of founder, Peter Schumann, used opera and the company's now signature oversized puppets to convey an anti-nuclear message.

The Judson Memorial Church celebrated its Centennial in 1990 with performances and symposia involving many of the artists who had been involved with the arts ministry in the 1960's and 1970's. The Judson Memorial Church continues its support of the arts and its social outreach to the community today. Among the church's present day arts-related activities is a free dance concert series coordinated by the dance organization, Movement Research, and held at the Judson Memorial Church on Monday evenings.


1838: Berean Church founded 1881-1913: Edward Judson Ministry 1890: Building of Judson Memorial Church 1914-26: A. Ray Petty Ministry 1922: Health Center Opens 1926-37: Lawrence Hosie Ministry 1930's: Social Action Fellowship 1948: Health Center Converted to Student House 1949-56: Robert Spike Ministry 1951: Community Center Opens 1956-1992: Howard Moody Ministry 1958: Judson Gallery Opens 1959: Judson Literary Quarterly: Exodus Published 1961-1981: Al Carmines Ministry 1961: Judson Poet's Theater Founded 1962: Judson Dance Theater Founded 1963: Judson Review: Volume 1 Published 1967: Judson Musical Theater Founded 1965-1969: Judson Chamber Concerts 1970: People's Flag Show 1975: Grace House Renovations 1977: Jubilee Renovations 1978: Prostitution Project Begins 1980: Bread and Puppet Theater Performances 1984: AIDS Task Force Established 1990: Centennial 1991-92: Centennial Renovations 1992-93: William Malcomson Interim Ministry 1993-2002: Peter Laarman Ministry

From the guide to the Judson Memorial Church Archive, 1838-1995, (© 2012 Fales Library and Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Franklin Furnace Ephemera Collection, Compiled by Matthew Hogan, ca. 1970 - 2007 (Bulk 1985 - 2007) Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Franklin Furnace Ephemera Collection, Compiled by Matthew Hogan ca. 1970-2007 (bulk 1985-2007). Fales Library & Special Collections
creatorOf Judson Memorial Church Archive, 1838-1995 Fales Library & Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bread and Puppet Theater. corporateBody
associatedWith Brownmiller, Susan person
associatedWith Brown, Trisha, 1936- person
associatedWith Carmines, Al person
associatedWith Childs, Lucinda person
associatedWith Dine, Jim, 1935- person
associatedWith Drexler, Rosalyn person
associatedWith Dworkin, Andrea person
associatedWith Ferlinghetti, Lawrence person
associatedWith Fornes, Maria Irene person
associatedWith Gordon, David, 1936- person
associatedWith Gordone, Charles person
associatedWith Grooms, Red person
associatedWith Hart, Howard, 1927- person
associatedWith Judson Dance Theater. corporateBody
associatedWith Judson, Edward, 1844-1914 person
associatedWith Judson Gallery (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Judson Poet's Theater. corporateBody
associatedWith Katzman, Don, 1937- person
associatedWith Kramer, Larry person
associatedWith Krauss, Ruth person
associatedWith Mac Low, Jackson person
associatedWith Moody, Howard, 1921- person
associatedWith New York State Council on the Arts. corporateBody
associatedWith Nichols, Robert person
associatedWith Oldenburg, Claes, 1929- person
associatedWith Ono, Yoko person
associatedWith Oppenheimer, Joel person
associatedWith Rainer, Yvonne, 1934- person
associatedWith Rauschenberg, Robert, 1925-2008 person
associatedWith Spoerri, Daniel, 1930- person
associatedWith Wakoski, Diane person
associatedWith Waring, James person
associatedWith Wesselmann, Tom, 1931-2004 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Washington Square (New York, N.Y.)
New York (N.Y.)
New York (State) |x Genealogy |v Archival resources.
Art, Modern
Art, Modern
AIDS (Disease)
Christian giving
Church architecture
Church work with gays
Church work with women
Church work with youth

Corporate Body


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