Bishop William Taylor (1821-1902)
Our University’s Namesake
By Dr. Robert F. Lay
What comes to your mind when you hear the name Taylor University? Life-changing experiences you had on campus? Recent accolades of the University and its accomplishments? If you are like most people, you think of almost anything except William Taylor, the namesake of our University after 1893. This is hardly surprising. Who, on hearing the name Harvard, thinks of its namesake John Harvard?
Some ask if our University was named for Hudson Taylor, the legendary missionary to China. That’s a step in the right direction: both Hudson and William Taylor (no relation) burned with evangelistic zeal, and both believed in self-supporting missions and indigenous church leadership. But while Hudson Taylor remained in China for his entire career, William Taylor traveled and preached on every inhabited continent.
William Taylor was an evangelist, author and missionary who served the Methodist Episcopal Church for more than half a century (1842-1896), during which he pioneered independent missions to Australia, India, Latin America, and Africa. He was, moreover, American’s first missionary bishop to Africa (1884-1896). Taylor was a towering figure to many of his contemporaries, both in physical stature and achievement. While his independent ways made him a thorn in the flesh to some, he was hero to others, and in the early 1890s he became the official endorser and namesake of our university.
For the first half-century of its existence, the Methodist College at Fort Wayne (as our University was formerly known) served and struggled as an institution of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After that, the board searched diligently for a sponsoring organization to put the school on a solid financial basis. The college was sold to the National Association of Local Preachers, a coalition of Methodist lay-ministers—stalwart pioneers who served the Methodist Church of the late 19thcentury in roles specially reserved for non-clergy. Methodists of this same stripe, belonging to the historical Northern Indiana Conference, had originally founded the Fort Wayne Female Seminary in 1846 in order to prepare their daughters for a career in teaching. Now, in the early 1890s, the Local Preachers Association saw the college as a place to prepare Christian ministers and missionaries embodying their ideals. They “founded” a new identity and mission for the school by (1) relocating the campus to rural east central Indiana, far from the corrupting influences of the city; (2) appointing educator and holiness evangelist Thaddeus Reade, thus aligning the school with the holiness movement; and (3) securing the endorsement, and renaming the college in honor, of William Taylor, whose life and self-supporting missions exemplified the historical values of the Methodist laity.
William Taylor was well-known as a “self-made man” throughout America and the British Empire. His renown gift of preaching, his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and his dogged determination to follow the call of God no matter the cost, led him far and wide in the fulfillment the great commission. Now just a few years from retirement, Taylor had traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, preaching the gospel, planting churches and schools, and founding missions on every inhabited continent. His great heart for the lost, as well as his maverick, entrepreneurial spirit endeared him to lay-Methodists everywhere, making him a representative figure for our University.
Read more about Bishop William Taylor by reading Dr. Lay’s new book.