Bishop Milton Wright

United Theological Seminary is a United Methodist seminary in Trotwood, Ohio just outside of Dayton in the Dayton metropolitan area. Founded in 1871 by Milton Wright (the father of Orville and Wilbur Wright), it was originally sponsored by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1946 members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ started a new denomination, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, with which the seminary then became affiliated. When that denomination merged with The Methodist Church in 1968, United Theological Seminary became one of the thirteen official seminaries of the new United Methodist Church. Though the seminary is affiliated with the United Methodist denomination, students come from many denominations and are ordained by a wide range of denominations upon graduation. The seminary houses a Presbyterian, Baptist, and United Church of Christ House of Studies. The seminary also has strong ties to the African-American church tradition, with a number of United graduates or former faculty members being major figures in the American Civil Rights Movement. In recent years, the seminary has become a leading center for discussion of church renewal.

In 1869, the General Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ voted to create and fund a seminary. The motion was suggested by Milton Wright, who later joined the seminary as the chairman of its first executive committee and named the seminary. The denomination’s publishing house was already located in Dayton, making the city an ideal location for its seminary. The school opened as Union Biblical Seminary in Dayton in 1871, operating with two full-time professors. In 1873 the seminary began admitting women. The first graduating class completed their studies in 1874, while the first woman graduated in 1883. An important early supporter of the school was the prominent Rike family, who founded and operated Rike Kumler Co. The school changed its name to Bonebrake Seminary in 1909 to honor Mary and John Bonebrake, who gave the seminary 3,840 acres of land in Kansas in an effort to raise revenue for the school. After the land was sold this amounted to a gift of nearly $100,000. Due to the seminary’s growing popularity and increasing enrollment, school officials had already been looking to expand the school’s campus. In 1911 the seminary, which had previously consisted of only one building, was able to buy a new 274 acre tract of land which was located a mile and a half away from the seminary’s previous plot of land. However, the school did not break ground to build any new facilities until 1920. Eventually the school constructed three buildings on the land, with the new campus being designed by the internationally-acclaimed Olmsted Brothers, who also helped design dozens of other national parks, university campuses, and landmarks around the world, including Biltmore EstateThe Jefferson Memorial, and Yosemite National Park and whose father, Frederick Law Olmsted, designed Central Park. The school was able to hire the Olmsted Brothers due to a sizable contribution from John Henry Patterson, the founder of the National Cash Register Company. The three buildings were all completed in 1923, at which time the seminary sold the building it had previously been occupying. The building was bought by the Evangelical School of Theology, which had formerly been located in Reading, Pennsylvania.

In 1943 the United States government established a top-secret testing site at the Bonebrake Theological Seminary for the Manhattan Project, where research was conducted on the creation of an atomic bomb and polonium was produced that would eventually be used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. In 1946, after a long period of division within the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, some members of the denomination decided to merge with the Evangelical Church, forming a new denomination which would be called the Evangelical United Brethren Church, with which the seminary then became affiliated. In 1954 United Theological Seminary was formed when the existing Bonebrake Seminary merged with The Evangelical School of Theology, which had previously bought the building the seminary had first occupied before moving to their new campus. Four of the faculty members from the Evangelical School of Theology moved to United to remain at the new seminary. A new library was constructed in 1952 and a new dormitory completed in 1957, while 1961 saw the completion of a new worship center. In 1968 the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church denominations merged. The United Methodist Church was formed by the merger, and the school became one of thirteen seminaries affiliated with the new denomination.

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