Charles Taze Russell

Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), American religious leader, founded a sect known as Russellites or Millennial Dawnists, which provided the nucleus for the Jehovah's Witnesses sect.

Charles Taze Russell was born on Feb. 16, 1852, in Pittsburgh. His parents awed him at an early age with grim tales of hellfire and damnation. While helping his father build the family's chain of clothing stores, Russell began to question the validity of including the concept of eternal damnation in Christian dogma. Bible study, fascination with the Millerite, or Adventist, movement, and his own inability to reconcile hell with the Christian concept of mercy caused him to develop a personal theology which he began to teach others.

Unlike other Adventists, Russell believed that Christ's Second Coming might be invisible. When others were disappointed because Christ's much-predicted advent did not seem to occur in 1874, Russell, who believed it had happened invisibly, wrote The Object and Manner of Our Lord's Returning. He and a like-thinking Adventist, N. H. Barbour, published Three Worlds or Plan of Redemption (1877), which declared that a 40-year harvest of souls had begun which would end in 1914 with the termination of the time of the Gentiles and the coming of God's Kingdom. In 1879, having broken with Barbour, Russell started his magazine, The Watch Tower and of Herald of Christ's Presence, destined to become a major voice in religion in the United States and abroad. In ensuing years he wrote his major theological work, the six-volume Studies in the Scriptures, which served as the dogma for Russellites during his lifetime.

After 1900 Russell encountered agonizing problems. His wife, Maria Frances Ackley, left him in 1897, after 18 years of childless marriage, amid tension over her role as associate editor of the Watch Tower. In 1903 she sued for divorce, and a scandalous case involving accusations of alleged affairs between Russell and women parishioners was dragged through the courts. In 1909 Russell moved his headquarters to Brooklyn, New York City. In 1911 the Brooklyn Eagle charged the "Pastor" with profiteering in the church's sale of "miracle wheat" to members, who were told it would produce fantastic yields. In 1914 the long-awaited end of the age of the Gentiles did not materialize, forcing Russell to revise his texts.

Russell was still popular in many quarters and was something of a hero to Zionists, whose cause he championed. He traveled widely to visit his many congregations and while in Texas on Oct. 31, 1916, died of a heart attack. His last request, to die in a toga, was adhered to by using Pullman sheets.

Further Reading on Charles Taze Russell

There is no standard biography of Russell, but he is discussed in a number of studies of Jehovah's Witnesses, some laudatory, some denunciatory, few balanced. Some useful sources are Milton S. Czatt, The International Bible Students: Jehovah's Witnesses (1933); Herbert Stroup, The Jehovah's Witnesses (1945); and William J. Whalen, Armageddon around the Corner (1962).