Walking with the Saints

Julia Vida Dutton Scudders

Educator, Writer, and Welfare Activist in the Social Gospel Movement.

Julia Vida Dutton Scudders is described as “Educator and Christian Socialist” She was born in Madurai, India, in 1861, the only child of two missionaries, David Coit Scudder, a Congregationalist missionary, and Harriet Louise (Dutton) Scudder. Her father was accidentally drowned in 1862 and she and her mother returned to the family home in Boston. She and her mother joined the Episcopal Church when she was a teen.

Julia Scudder attended private secondary schools in Boston and was graduated from the Boston Girl's Latin School in 1880 and then Smith College, where she received her BA degree in 1884. The following year she and Clara French were the first American women admitted to the graduate program at Oxford. She was influenced by York Powell and John Ruskin, also  Leo Tolstoi and George Bernard Shaw.  She also became influenced by Fabian Socialism. She and Clara French returned to Boston in 1886.

Julia Scudders taught English literature from 1887 at Wellesley College, where she became an associate professor in 1892 and full professor in 1910.

She was one of the founders, in 1887, of the College Settlements Association. She and Emily Greene Balch were also involved with the establishment of the CSA's third settlement house venture Denison House in Boston. Scudder was its primary administrator from 1893 to 1913.

When Clara French died in 1888, Julia Scudder joined the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, a group of Episcopalian women dedicated to intercessory prayer and social reconciliation. She also joined the Society of Christian Socialists, which, under the Rev. William Dwight Porter Bliss, established the Church of the Carpenter in Boston and published The Dawn.

In 1893 Scudder was a delegate to the convention of the Boston Central Labor Union.   Later, she helped organize the Federal Labor Union, a group of professional people who associated themselves with the American Federation of Labor.

 In  1894–96, Scudder spent a year in Italy and France studying modern Italian and French literature.

If you’re like me, you find this list of memberships and accomplishments a bit overwhelming.  But they continued into the next century, too.  She kept on!

In 1903 Scudder helped organize the Women's Trade Union League. The same year she became director of the Circolo Italo-Americano at Denison House.

In 1911 she co-founded the Episcopal Church Socialist League and joined the Socialist Party. Scudder attempted to reconcile the conflicting doctrines of Marxism and Christianity. She became controversial in 1912 when she supported striking textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and spoke at a strike meeting. Wellesley resisted calls for her dismissal as a professor. 

In Scudder's famous speech, she declared:

“I would rather never again wear a thread of woolen than know my garments had been woven at the cost of such misery as I have seen and known past the shadow of a doubt to have existed in this town....If the wages are of necessity below the standard to maintain man and woman in decency and in health, then the woolen industry has not a present right to exist in Massachusetts.

Unlike Eugene Victor Debs and many other Socialist leaders, Scudder supported President Woodrow Wilson's decision to intervene in the First World War in 1917. In 1919 she founded the Church League for Industrial Democracy.  

From 1919 until her death, Scudder lived with Florence Converse Wellesley. She lived with Helena Dudley from 1922 until Dudley's death in 1932.

In the 1920s Scudder embraced pacifism. She joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1923, the same year she gave a series of lectures before the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Prague.  She became a vigorous pacifist.

Scudder retired from Wellesley in 1927 and received the title Professor Emeritus. She published an autobiography, On Journey, in London in 1937, and a collection of essays, The Privilege of Age, She was the first woman published in the Anglican Theological Review.   

Vida Dutton Scudder was known for love of scholarship, a deep sense pf social activism and a vibrant spirituality.  She said there was one sure way of directly helping on the Kingdom of God.  That way was prayer.  Prayer may be the mightiest force in the world.

Scudder received a further degree from Smith College in 1922 and also a degree from Nashota  House . 

Vida Dutton Scudder died October 9, 1954.

In 1889 Scudder joined the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, a devotional order. In 1890 she joined the Society of Christian Socialists in Boston, which was founded by W. D. P. Bliss. She was also a member of the Brotherhood of the Carpenter and was active in the Christian Social Union. In 1911 Scudder helped to found the Episcopal Church Socialist League, and in 1919 she helped to establish the Church League for Industrial Democracy. After World War I she became a pacifist and in 1923 she joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation. During her retirement years she studied the Franciscans. In 1931 she published The Franciscan Adventure, which made her a leading Franciscan scholar. Among her many books were Social Ideals in English Letters (1898), The Social Teachings of the Christian Year (1921), and her autobiography, On Journey (1937). Scudder died in Wellesley, Massachusetts.