I'm currently reading up on religion during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era for an independent study class that I am taking. One of the major figures that inevitably comes up when dealing with the Gilded Age is the great revivalist D. L. Moody. I recently read God's Man for the Gilded Age by Bruce J. Evenson.
Moody got his start in Christian work around the Civil War era in Chicago's inner city. Along with his partners at the local YMCA, Moody built the largest Sunday Schools in the nation. His work was so well-known that it even earned a visit from none other than the sixteenth president, Honest Abe himself. Moody's main ministerial emphasis at this time was among the poorest of the "urchins" that wandered the city streets.
In the early 1870s, Moody took a trip to England that started out quite inauspiciously, with only 6 people attending one mid-day service. What led to Moody's success in the British Isles and later in America was his ability to draw most conservative and moderate Protestants together while also utilizing the local news media to draw attention and create excitement about his meetings. Evenson emphasized the part that the newspapers had in spreading the news about the revival.
One of the things that I found most interesting about the Moody's American stops was the description of what was going on at the time in America. The Panic of 1873 (actually an economic depression) was still causing widespread deprivation among the wide majority of Americans. The people who actually supported the revival financially were the well-to-do. In New York, people as wealthy as Cornelius Vanderbilt attended the meetings, in which Moody claimed that the main problem with America was the emphasis on obtaining wealth in this life. Interestingly enough, at this same New York revival, the papers complained that the people who most needed it--the poor--were not present, and that the revival would not be as successful as it otherwise would have been. This statement is quite ironic considering where Moody got his start, and it also shows that good Christianity in Gilded Age American church history was for many people associated with middle class success.