Rev. Dr. William Henry Ryder was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on July 18, 1822. He studied at the Pembroke Academy in New Hampshire and the Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York. He was ordained in Concord, New Hampshire, on October 11, 1843, and served the Universalist Church there for about two years before being called to the church in Nashua, New Hampshire.
In 1848, he resigned from his pastorate to take an extended tour of Europe, including seven months study in Berlin. He then traveled from Berlin to Jerusalem. From 1850 to 1860, he served the Universalist Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and from 1860 to 1882, St. Paul's Universalist Church in Chicago. He received honorary degrees from Harvard (1860) and Lombard University (1863). He died in Chicago on March 7, 1888.
An early abolitionist, Ryder also organized an industrial school for African American children as an agency of his church in Chicago after the Civil War. A wise investor, he contributed both during his life and through his will to institutions such as the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children, the Chicago Old People's Home, Lombard University and its Divinity School (which was later named for him), and denominational organizations.
The Chicago Daily Tribune (March 8, 1888, p. 1) summed up his life: “He was earnest, eloquent, and impressive, and his charity knew no bounds.”
From the will of the Rev. William Henry Ryder “I give and bequeath to the Board of Trustees, to be chosen and elected by the State Convention of Universalists. Of the State of Illinois, whether acting in an incorpo- rated and associated capacity as is herein- after provided, the sum of ten thousand dollars ($10,000), to have and to hold the same to them and their successors in office and assigns forever, …and the net income derived therefrom to use and expend, at the discretion of said Board of Trustees, for the support and relief of superannuated Universalist Clergymen and for needy and destitute widows of Universalist Clergy- men, who at the time of their death may reside in the State of Illinois. …But, in case the annual income from the fund last named shall be found by such Board of Trustees to exceed the just demands made upon it by the destitute Universalist Cler- gymen and the Widows of the Universalist Clergymen residing in the State of Illinois, then it shall be competent for said Board of Trustees to employ and use the unexpend- ed balance of such income from said fund remaining in their hands at any annual meeting of said Convention for the similar cause of need in other states in which no similar provision is then made for the relief of needy Universalist Clergymen and the Widows of Universalist Clergymen.”
Google Play Books free e-book: Biography of William Henry Ryder, D.D. by John Wesley Hanson, D.D. Universalist Publishing House, 1891
St. Paul’s Universalist Church
In May 1866, James A. Sheahan, Esq., wrote the following: “The Reverend Dr. Ryder is one of the most generally known, and at the same time popular clergymen in Chicago. He is a man of unbounded charity in his views, a ripe scholar, and a polished rhetorician.
The earnestness and dignity with which he discharges the duties of his office, have that naturalness that never fails to give these qualities the force that should always be the result of them. His personal property is not limited to the members of his own religious society, it is as extensive as is his acquaintance, and thousands who have never seen or heard Dr. Ryder, have learned to admire and esteem him for his professional and official virtues. When called to St. Paul’s, he was pastor of the Universalist Church at Roxbury, Massachusetts, here he had been since 1850. Previous to that time, he had spent several years in Europe, and in the far east. At Berlin he remained long enough to acquire a knowledge of the German, and profit under the lectures and teachings of Neander and other philosophers and scholars. He is yet a young man, and in his own church ranks among the highest of the clergy.” (Note: St. Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.)