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Dear Valentine: Douglas and the Lutheran Observer

by Ronald R Johnson (

One of the biggest boosts to Douglas’s career as both a minister and an author was the invitation to contribute, on a regular basis, to The Lutheran Observer, a weekly newspaper published in Baltimore from 1840 to 1915. The invitation came from the Rev. Dr. Milton Valentine, who was editor of the Observer from 1899 to 1915.

In a letter to Douglas dated June 25, 1906, Valentine described himself as “intently scanning the horizon” for new writers. Douglas had sent him something before, apparently, and he wrote to Douglas on June 2oth asking him to contribute again. Douglas responded quickly. The essay he sent pleased Valentine so much that he wrote to Douglas on the 25th asking him to be a regular contributor:

“The very first communication you sent me showed promise of great aptness for this kind of work, and I think I have not observed a more marked development in gifts for it than in your case. Your style is clean, clear and direct. You not only think clearly but you have the power of finely and forcibly expressing your thoughts. The Church is in great need of just such talents as yours…”

That was all Douglas needed to hear. For the next five years, Douglas’s articles spiced up the Observer, tackling controversial issues with boldness, imagination, and a powerful command of the English language. “There is not another man in our Church who could have written that article of yours,” Valentine said on another occasion (October 11, 1911).

Milton Valentine was a godsend for Douglas: full of praise and encouragement while giving Douglas a free hand. Although the Observer seems to have had a wide circulation within the denomination, Valentine didn’t micromanage, even when Douglas spoke frankly on hot topics (which he did regularly). Douglas’s articles in the Observer made him a rising star within the Lutheran Church in America. These publications, and his many speaking engagements around the country, put his name on many people’s lips within the denomination.

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