In observance of the bicentennial of the birth of Samuel Simon Schmucker (1799-1873), several Lutheran synods, educational institutions and historical societies will hold a series of events comemorating Schmucker's long and eventful career and the many contributions he made to American cultural life.
Samuel Simon Schmucker was born in Hagerstown, MD, into a Lutheran parsonage family who moved to York, PA when he was 10 years old. Void of any functioning institutions of higher learning under Lutheran auspices in the area, young Schmucker attended the University of Pennsylvania and Princton Theological Seminary. After graduating from Princeton, he vowed to improve the state of education in his denomination and Commonwealth.
With the support and encouragement of his friends and others, Schmucker became the chief founder and first professor of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 1826. During his thirty-eight years as its chief instructor, he helped prepare some 500 men for the Lutheran ministry.
In 1832, he became the chief found of the Pennsylvania College, the forerunner of Gettysburg College, which is one of the fifty oldest colleges in the Untied States today. Since 1834, it has awarded some 25,000 undergraduate degrees. While the seminary has always been governed by supporting Lutheran synods, the college has been under Lutheran influence, but not control. Schmucker wrote into its charter that no person should be rejected as a student, faculty member, or trustee" on account of his conscientious persuasion in matters of religion." He remained an active member of the College Board of trustees for more than forty years.
In the days before public high schools, Schmucker was one of the founders and leading supporters of an academy in Gettysburg for the education of young girls. He also encouraged Daniel Alexander Payne, the first black to attend the seminary. Years later, after he had become a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and president of Wilberforce University, Payne paid tribute to the good influence Schmucker had on him at a critical time in his life, and continued to write him for advice.
A globally recognized forerunner of the modern ecumenical movement, Schmucker believed that the Lutheran church had grown from its sixteenth century theological standards and was ready to take its place in cooperating with other evangelical denominations. Even before the Civil War, he was opposed to those who desired to emphasize traditional Lutheranism and to reaffirm the historical standards of the church. While many of these opponents were recent immigrants, they also included many of his earlier associates, students, and even a few of his own children. Although Schmucker soon found himself in the minority, he held his ground, leaving to later generations the task of continuing the argument.