Rev. Gotwald was the son of Daniel and Susannah (Krone) Gotwald, both natives of Pennsylvania and of German ancestry. Rev. Luther Alexander Gotwald was born in York Springs, Adams County, Pennsylvania on January 31, 1833. The elder Rev. Gotwald was a prominent minister of the Lutheran Church and reportedly was "one of the most able and eloquent Lutheran ministers of his time". Daniel Gotwald was born in Manchester Township, York County, Pennsylvania, on December 16, 1793. Daniel's German immigrant parents were Andrew and Mary Magdalene Gottwald. Daniel was christened January 26, 1794 in Quickel's Church, Conewago Township, Pennsylvania. Daniel and Susannah were married on July 22, 1819, in York, Pennsylvania by Rev. Dr. John George Schmucher, the then forty eight year old pastor of Christ Lutheran Church of York, Pennsylvania and the father of famous Lutheran theologian and educator,Samuel Simon Schmucker. Daniel lived in York, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a carpenter, until the birth of his third child. In time, Daniel came to see himself as a very sinful man who was in great peril of "eternal death".
Daniel began preaching on his own, drawing surprisingly large crowds. However, Rev. John George Schmucher approached Daniel and convinced him that he needed a formal education in Luthernism. For a year and a half, Daniel walked five miles every week through the very thick "Penn's Woods" to York to recite to the elder Rev. Schmucker -- no small feat at the time. However, in time, this manner of instruction only whetted his taste for an even better education in the Lutheran ministry. So, he sold his home and moved his family to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to begin his full and regular course of theological study in the Lutheran Theological Seminary there as preparation for his work in the ministry. He studied there for two and a half years under the Seminary's founder, Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker, who later said Daniel was "one of the most diligent and successful students that the Seminary ever had. Daniel Gotwald was among the first to graduate from Getttsburg Seminary.
Daniel had two pastorates, one in Adams County, Pennsylvania and one in Centre County, Pennsylvania. His pastorate in Centre County served sixteen churches, one being over seventy miles away, which required him to be on the road much of the time. Daniel was an ardent abolitionistin his ministry. Moreover, he fervently espoused the cause of temperence, which caused some to accuse him of being a "Methodist". Rev. Luther Gotwald gives this further description of his father's imposing physical characteristics, which undoubtedly served him well in his ministry:
Luther's father always preached in German and never in English. Rev. Luther Gotwald reported, in his own autobiography, as to his father's German language preaching that "As an orator and preacher he possessed great power. His voice was one of remarkable compass and sweetness. His thoughts logical and good, his imagination fine, his gestures graceful and wonderfully expressive, and his manner all earnestness, pathos, fire; his own soul all alive with the truth he was uttering, and his auditors held spell bound and weeping under his moving exhaltations of truth and his powerful appeals. The elder Rev. Gotwald had a fiery temper, which his son, Luther said often caused his father great embarassment and remorse. However, Luther went on to give this amusing account of the effect of his father's equally fiery eloquence in the pulpit, albeit in German.
Luther's mother, Susannah Krone Gotwald was a devout lady who taught her children her own deep piety and her own stern virtues. His mother could not read English. However, she read her German language bible every day. She often went along with her husband on his ministerial travels, but she always made her home in her native Pennsylvania. Prof. Luther Alexander Gotwald had seven brothers and five sisters. They were, Eliza Ana Gotwald who was born March 5. 1820, George Andrew Gotwald who was born May 6, 1821, Sarah Anna Gotwald who was born November 13. 1822, George Andrew Gotwald who was born July 22, 1824. Leah Gotwald who was born Junuary 1, 1826, Daniel Isaac Gotwald, who was born November 21, 1827, Susan Caroline Gotwald who was born in 1830, Luther Alexander Gotwald who was born January 31, 1833, Mary Catherine Gotwald who was born February 10. 1835, Washington Van Buren Gotwald who was born November 10, 1836, Jacob Henry Gotwald who was born October 6, 1838 and William Henry Harrison Gotwald who was born September 2, 1841. Four of their children died in childhood. George Gotwald, died at Liverpool, Pennsylvania at the age of two. Sarah Anna Gotwald died at Liverpool at the age of eleven months. Leah Gotwald died June 7, 1826 at Liverpool October 10, 1823 at the age of six days. Mary Catherine Gotwald died at Aaronsburg, Pennsylania on May 20, 1842 at the age of seven.
Luther's father, Rev. Daniel Gotwald died on March 11, 1843 in Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania after an illness of three months and three days and at the age of forty-nine years, two months and twenty-six days. "The attendance upon his funeral was immense. Three ministers officiated, Rev. Mr. Harris of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Mr. Eggers of the Lutheran Church, and Rev. Mr. Fisher of the German Reformed Church. He was buried in the Evangelical Lutheran Church yard at Aaronsburg.
Rev. Daniel Gotwald's death left his wife of twenty-five years, Susannah with their eight surviving children to bring up and with meager financial means to do it. He left her with only a modest home and a few acres of land. Even so, this remarkable lady managed to bring up children who went on to distinguish themselves.
Luther's older sister, Eliza Gotwald, married Rev. Jacob Scherer of Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania in May of 1845, when Luther was elven years old. Rev. Scherer became the second Lutheran minister in the State of Illinois. Rev. Jacob Scherer was born in Botetourt County, Virginia. He graduated from Pennsylvania College in 1841 as the valedictorian of his class and two years later from Gettysburg Seminary. He served his first pastorate at Indianapolis, Indiana from 1843 until 1845. Rev. Scherer then had ministries at Wabash County, Illinois, at Olney, Illinois and at Shelbyville, Illinois. He, with six other ministers, organized the Lutheran Synod of South West Virginia on September 20, 1841 at St. John's Church, Wythe County, Virginia. Rev. Scherer died near Shelbyville, Illinois, on October 15, 1851 while Luther was living as a guest in his home shortly before he left for Springfield, Ohio to begin his studies at Wittenberg College. Eliza remarried a man with the same name as her later first husband, Jacob Scherer. He was actually a distant relative of her first husband. Perhaps predictably, there was no way this second husband could come up to her first one in Luther's estimation. To begin with, he was a farmer and not a clergyman. Luther describes him as "a kind husband, but a man of little culture and no energy. Eliza died in Hillsboro, Illinois, at the age of forty one on September 25, 1855. Luther said of her, "Eliza was a noble Christian women, a dutiful daughter, a kind sister, an affectionate wife, a loving mother, and a patient and self denying Christian, willing to suffer the loss of all things.
Luther's brother, George Andrew Gotwald was a practicing physician in Slaterford, Pennsylvania. However, Luther still considered him to be the black sheep of the family. He reports that "For many years he was no Christian." But then, Luther continues with great relief that "when forty one years of age, he professed to give his heart to God, and has ever since lived a consistent Christian life." Luther attributes this great miracle to his "pious mother", who erstwhile prayed every day for forty years for that conversion and her son's resultant salvation. George was married to Miss Lizzie Rolinsen, of New Harmony, Posey County, Indiana, whom Luther pronounced to be "an excellent Christian woman".
Strangely, Luther does not seem to have known much about his older brother, Daniel Isaac Gotwald. He was a printer who died in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849 when he was twenty one. Luther says of him that "He was, I think, nobel and upright in all his deportment, respectful and happy in his disposition, and a genial favorite among all who knew him. At the time of his death, several of the Cincinnati papers spoke very favorably of him." Luther admits that he does not even know whether Daniel Isaac was a Christian, but continued that "Fervently do I hope that he was, for it is a dreadful thought that any of those we love, and especially one so dear as a Brother, should be called unprepared, from time into eternity, there to suffer forever for the misdeeds of this life.
Rev. Gotwald's brother, Rev. Washington Van Buren Gotwald, was a Lutheran minister in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He attended Pennsylvania College from which he graduated in 1860. He served for one year as Tutor in the Preparatory Department at Gettysburg. He was a member of the Philo Literary Society and of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. After a two years’ course in the Theological Seminary, he was ordained by the Pennsylvania Synod at its meeting in 1862 at Reading, Pennsylvania. He served first for four years as minister at Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1866, he became the minister of St. John’s Lutheran Church at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His work in both of these ministries was widely praised. Unfortunately, he died at Lancaster on June 10, 1869. His early death was greatly mourned by his parishioners and colleagues.
Luther's younger brother, Rev. William Henry Harrison Gotwald also became a Lutheran minister. His wife was Annie C. Murray. He attended the public school during the winter and worked on a farm during the summer until he was eighteen years of age. He attended the Aaronsburg Academy and prepared himself for college. He entered Pennsylvania College in 1861, but his education was interrupted by the Civil War. After the Civil War, he reenrolled in Pennsylvania College and graduated from there in 1866. In the fall of that year, he became principal of the Aaronsburg Academy and continued as its principal for two years. Luther proudly notes that "It was during his Principalship that this Academy had a larger number of students in attendance than at any other time either before or since. Rev. William Henry Harrison Gotwald was ordained in the Lutheran ministry in 1868. His first ministry was at Loganton, Pennsylvania which had been a part of his father’s last charge. During his carrer in the Lutheran ministry, he served several churches and held a variety of offices in the Lutheran Church. In April 1873 became pastor to the Lutheran Church at Milton, Pennsylvania and continued as its pastor for nearly fifteen years, when he had to resign due to bronchial troubles. While he was serving as pastor at Milton, Pennyslvania, he was also President of Susquehanna Synod for three years and Chairman of the Examining Committee for many years. He served as a member of the Milton School Board for twelve years, being its President for three years. He was the originator and organizer of the Pennsylvania State School Directors’ Association and was its President for three years. He was a delegate to the General Synod and Director of the Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Ocala, Florida, where he had gone due to his health. However, he built a Lutheran Church at Martin, Florida. He organized the St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Washington, D. C. and served as its pastor until June of 1897. He died on March 12, 1921.
Luther's younger brother, Jacob Henry Gotwald was a respected surgeoun, who died heroically at sea close to Charleston, South Carolina at the age of twenty four during the Civil War (discussed below).
Susan Crone Gotwald, who survived her husband by forty-four years, died in her sleep on July 17, 1881 in Aaronsburg, Centre County, Pennsylvania. Rev. Gotwald said this of his remarkable mother in his autobiography.
Luther Alexander Gotwald was the fifth child of his parents. He was baptized by the famous Samuel Simon Schmucker, himself, who was a great friend of his father and who had come to Petersburg to assist his father at a Communion Season. He lived most of his younger days in Petersburg, Pennsylvania. Rev. Gotwald said this of his native town of Petersburg in his autobiography:
Rev. Gotwald undertook his early studies at an "academy" near his home of which, as an adult, he admitted to remembering little. At the age of ten, he had to go to work as a clerk and errand boy in various stores to help support his family. He also worked as a carpenter and a carriage maker. However, Luther later wrote, "my desires for further education prevented me from so concentrating my mind at these trades as to make a success of them. I remember keeping books in the drawer of my work bench and at every spare moment, I would take occasion to read from them. In fact, my employer said that my mind was so set on the books that I managed to spoil more lumber than I was worth and I was discharged. His sister, Eliza lived "out west", so he decided to follow her. Of this move, he reports.
In the Spring of 1851 and at the age of 19, Luther Gotwald entered Wittenberg College, a Lutheran college in Springfield, Ohio in the Preparatory Department. He only had fourteen dollars when he arrived and he had to work to pay his way. He remained at Wittenberg until his Sophomore year. There is a book written by his Lutheran cleric, great grandson, Rev. Luther A. Gotwald, Jr., called The Gotwald Trial Revisited (the "Gotwald heresy trial book" for short). The book states that Luther took up with college sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth King, who was only fifteen years old at the time. Luther met Mary Elizabeth King through her brothers. She had three brothers, David King, Jr., Robert Quigley King and Samuel Noble King, who were his classmates at Wittenberg. The Gotwald heresy book notes that the King family was sufficiently wealthy to send all three of them to college at the same time. Not only that, the King Family lived close enough to the Wittenberg campus that they were able to walk to class. However, Luther became so infatuated with her that his family feared it would adversely affect his studies. So, they pulled him out of Wittenberg and sent him to Pennsylvania where he continued his studies in Lutheran theology. In 1855 he entered Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg from which he graduated with honors in 1857. Next he entered the Theological Seminary of Gettysburg and after taking a two year’s course graduated from that institution in 1859. The Lutheran Synod of West Pennsylvania ordained Luther Alexander Gotwald at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. A year later the same Synod licensed him to preach.
Once he had completed his studies, he made haste to return to Springfield to claim Mary Elizabeth King as his bride. Mary Elizabeth King married newly ordained Rev. Luther A. Gotwald on October 13, 1859 in her home, which was called at the time the “King Homestead”, located at 2 Ferncliff Place, Springfield, Ohio (today the Chi Omega Sorority House of Wittenberg University). His bride, Mary Elizabeth King was born April 1, 1837, in Tarlton, Ohio. She was the daughter of David and Almena (Caldwell) King. Her father, David King was probably born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Almena Caldwell King was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire on August 16, 1809. However, she moved with her parents when she was young to early Portsmouth, Ohio, which is in southernmost Ohio at the confluence of the Scioto River and the Ohio River, where her father established a successful carpentry business. Both of Mary's parents had been orphans. Her father, David King, was found as a toddler wandering the streets of Baltimore, Maryland during a yellow fever epidemic in which both his parents presumably died. David knew only his own name and could tell nothing about his parents. He was found in a Baltimore hotel and taken in by a Robert Quigley who had a farm near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, who reared and educated him.
Upon attaining adulthood, David King obtained an apprenticeship as a store clerk in Portsmouth, Ohio, where he met teenage Almena Caldwell. However, her older brother and father fell from a small boat and drowned in the nearby Scioto River. Soon thereafter, Almena’s mother died of grief. Her Uncle Hannibal Gilman Hamlin (first cousin to Lincoln’s first Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin) became the guardian of her and her brother, Hamlin Caldwell, moved them to Cincinnati and saw to their education, David King married her there when she was seventeen. Rev. Gotwald wrote a loving biography of his parents-in-law in which, ever the defender of what is right, he still saw the need to point out sternly that Almena was too young to marry at seventeen. The Kings moved to Tarlton, Ohio, where they opened a general store. Several of Robert Quigley’s (her father’s foster father) grandchildren moved to Springfield, Ohio. So, David and Almena King moved there as well in 1840. David proceeded to build a significant portion of early downtown Springfield, which was known for long thereafter as "King's Row". Unfortunately, David King died on August 8, 1849 in a cholera epidemic, which he contracted while caring for other victims of the outbreak. According to the Gotwald heresy book, Almena built the Ferncliff Place homestead (which was out in the country when first built) to get her boys away from the bars near their home in Springfield proper.
Mary King Gotwald was lavishly praised in the Gotwald heresy trial book as a perfect minister's wife. Her obituary added in this respect that “Mrs. Gotwald was always interested in church activities. She was also active in missionary development in the Lutheran church at large.” Luther and Mary King Gotwald had nine children: seven sons, and two daughters who were named respectively, David King Gotwald; who was born October 31, 1860, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania; George Daniel Gotwald, who was born September 18, 1862 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania; Robert Caldwell Gotwald, who was born September 25, 1864 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Luther Alexander Gotwald, Jr., who was born October 26, 1866 in Dayton, Ohio, but who died young on July 11, 1881; Frederick Gebhart Gotwald, who was born May 11, 1869, in Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania; William Washington Gotwald, who was born June 2, 1871 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and who died young on May 2, 1888; Charles Hamlin Gotwald, who was born August 25, 1874 in York, Pennsylvania and died in infancy on July 12, 1875; Almena Gotwald, who was born June 29, 1876 in York, Pennsylvania; and, Mary Susan Gotwald; who was born August 2, 1879 in York, Pennsylvania.
Luther says of his deceased son, Charles Hamlin Gotwald, "he was was ever a frail, delicate child and was not destined to live long. . . . In the summer of 1875 he was brought to Springfield, Ohio, on a visit and died there at the home of his grandmother [Almena Caldwell King] on Monday, July 12th, 1875. He was buried in the family lot in Ferncliff Cemetery.
Luther says of his deceased son, Luther Alexander Gotwald, Jr., "His death was due to lock jaw, resulting from accidently jumping on an iron rake while playing in Leber’s yard, South Beaver Street, York, Pennsylvania, a week before, July 4th 1881. His early education was received at the York County Academy and he was examined and ready to enter the Freshman Class at Pennsylvania College the following September. . . He was buried in the family lot at Springfield, Ohio, Ferncliff Cemetery. The funeral at York was attended by the Sunday School in a body and by his fellow students of the Academy in a body.
Of his deceased son, William Washington Gotwald, Luther writes:
Mary Gotwald's mother, Almena Caldwell King died of diabetes on May 30, 1878. Rev. Gotwald had been out West on Church business and stopped in Springfield on his return train trip to find Almena on her death bed. He immediately telegraphed for Mary to come by train. He was at Almena's side when she died and was undoubtedly a great comfort to her. Unfortunately, Mary was unable to arrive until the next day. After Almena's death, various family members, including Mary's unmarried sister, Sarah Jane King lived in the King Homestead. When Luther and Mary Gotwald first returned to Springfield to serve as a minister, they first lived in the parsonage of his Church. However, when he became a Professor at Wittenburg, Luther and Mary Gotwald moved into the King Homestead on Ferncliff Place with Sarah Jane King, whom he called in his David King biography "one of the sweetest and best 'Old Maids' that the world has ever had". They continued to live in the King Homestead for the rest of their lives. They were living there at the time that Luther’s famous heresy trial took place at nearby Wittenberg College.
Rev. Gotwald first ministry was in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, where he remained until 1863. The Gotwald heresy trial book states that, during this ministry in Shippensburg, his wife, Mary was able to thoroughly enjoy living among members of the Quigley family, who had brought up her orphan father and after whom her brother, Robert Quigley King was named. He then became the pastor in Lebanon, Pennsylvania for two years, where he preached until 1865. He went from Lebanon in 1865 to serve as the pastor to the First Lutheran Church at Dayton, where he remained until 1869, when he had to resign his ministry because of throat problems, which forced him to take a year off from the ministry to recuperate. In October of 1870, Rev. Gotwald had recovered and was able to assume the ministry at the Lutheran Church in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he preached until 1874. Dr. Gotwald received his honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Pennsylvania College in 1874, some fifteen years after completing his initial studies. Afterward, for nearly twelve years he was pastor of Saint Paul’s English Lutheran Church in York, Pennsylvania. In December of 1885, he returned to Springfield and became pastor of the Second Lutheran Church there for three years, which was to be his last pastorate. In December of 1888, he was fatefully elected to the Professorship of Practical and Historical Theology in the Wittenberg Theological Seminary in Springfield.
Prof. Luther A. Gotwald, D.D. made many intellectual contributions to his beloved Lutheran Church during his long service to it. He was a frequent contributor to the Quarterly Review of the Lutheran Church, published at Gettysburg and authored various other papers and periodicals, including a number of pamphlets on historic and ecclesiastical subjects. Two volumes of his sermons were published, which were widely praised. He also authored his 1879 learned work, “Church Orders: Of the Necessity of a Right Call to the Ministry.”
Rev. Gotwald served as a Director of Wittenberg College from 1865 until 1869, a Trustee of Pennsylvania College from 1873 until 1885, a Director of the Gettysburg Theological Seminary from 1871 until 1880, a member of the Board of Lutheran Home Missions from 1881 until 1885, President of the West Pennsylvania Synod from 1873 until 1876 and a member of the Board of Church Extension from 1874 until 1885. He was often a delegate to the Lutheran General Synod.
He helped found the Third Lutheran Church in Springfield in 1887. He later helped found in Springfield the Fifth Lutheran Church in 1891, the Fourth Lutheran Church in 1898 and the Calvary Lutheran Church in 1900.
Dr. Gotwald was a stanch Lincoln Republican and, during the American Civil War, he was a strong Union man. He did all he could to further the interests of the Union cause. To illustrate Rev. Gotwald's feeling toward slavery, his autobiography reports this incident from his youth:
Lutheran Minister, Reverend Abraham Essick writes in his diary that he bumped into Rev. Gotwald on May 8, 1861 at the train depot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (right after the April 13, 1861 fall of Fort Sumter), who was taking his family to Springfield, Ohio to leave them there (without doubt at the King Homestead, with his mother in law, Almena Caldwell King), while he joined the Union Army to serve as a Chaplain or even a private. Rev. Gotwald did not so serve, probably for health reasons. While apparently not formerly enlisted in the Union Army, he did serve as the chaplain for a group of Shippensburg soldiers who were getting ready to go off to war. This ended in March of 1863, when he assumed a parish in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. There were many Confederate sympathizers in Lebanon. So, Rev. Gotwald's unwavering support of the Union cause was not popular with all his parishioners. When the Confederate Army invaded the North in June of 1863, he was forced to move his family to safety with his mother, who lived in Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania.
Luther's brother, Dr. Jacob H. Gotwald was the chief surgeon on board the ship, “Keystone” under the command of Rear-Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont in the fight at Charleston, South Carolina. His ship was participating in the blockade of Charleston Harbor, when, on January 31,1863, a Confederate shell hit the ship's boiler causing it to explode and kill several of its crew. Dr. Jacob H. Gotwald was scalded to death while rendering surgical aid to one of the wounded men. He was found still clutching the bandage. Tragically, this death occurred on Luther Gotwald's thirtieth birthday.
Luther's younger brother, Washington Van Buren Gotwald was a theological student at the Gettysburg Seminary at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg and actually got caught up in the prelude to the battle.
Luther's brother, William Henry Harrison Gotwald suspended his studies for the ministry and joined the Union Army. He served at the Headquarters at Camp Curtin, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during the War. Interestingly, the Civil War did bring a family to the King Homestead in Springfield, Ohio for the duration. Mary King Gotwald's father, David King had staked his brother in law, Hamlin Caldwell to a cotton business in then booming Scottsboro, Alabama, which business flourished. He married Southern belle, Martha Jane Snodgrass, started a family and even owned slaves. However, when the Civil War began, his New Hampshire roots won out, which placed his sympathies with the North, making him a "damyankee" and not for succession. Those sentiments, plus his family kinship to then Vice President and ardent abolitionist, Hannibal Hamlin, from whose family he took his first name, made his position in Scottsboro untenable and forced him to flee to the North with his family. However, his sixteen year old son, David King Caldwell had been reared in the South and was every bit the southerner. He ran away and attempted to enlist in the Confederate Army, which forced his father to prevail upon his brother in law, Confederate Colonel John Snodgrass to reject his enlistment and send him back to his family, which he did, to the utter humiliation of young David. Hamlin Caldwell then weathered the Civil War with his sister, Almena Caldwell King in the King Homestead in Springfield. Unfortunately, this experience, plus losing a child while living in Springfield, was too much for his southern wife, Martha Jane, whose mental condition deteriorated greatly during her stay in Springfield. She remained mentally incompetent for the rest of her life. David King Caldwell, however, attended Wittenberg College while they were in Springfield. After the war, the family promptly returned to Scottsboro, where they stayed and prospered.
Rev. Gotwald's brother in law, David King, Jr. served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army and actively fought in many major battles, including the Battle of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Col. David King was for many years after the war the Grand Marshall of the Springfield Memorial Day parade. Rev. Gotwald's brother in law, Samuel Noble King enlisted in the Union Army as a private, but earned a battlefield promotion to Lieutenant and ended the War as a Captain in the Union Army. Rev. Gotwald's sister in law, Sarah Jane (Jennie) King was active in the Sanitary Society (which promoted better sanitary conditions for Union soldiers) in Springfield during the war.
Rev. Gotwald was tried for heresy by the Board of Trustees at Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio on April 4 and April 5, 1893. In his book The Gotwald Trial Revisited, Rev. Luther A. Gotwald, Jr. tells the story of this trial in blow by blow detail of why and how the author’s famous ancestor was tried for heresy on a charge of “false teachings”. This charge was brought by three members of the First Lutheran Church of Dayton, Ohio, who were members of the Wittenberg Board of Trustees. These Board members alleged that his teachings espoused the doctrine of the “General Council” denomination of the Lutheran Church. The author states that “As unusual as it is for a theological professor to have such charges preferred against him, what is even more unusual is the fact that the two competing denominations were making overtures toward closer cooperation with hopes of their eventual merger.” According to A History of Wittenberg College, "the 'trial' of Professor L. A. Gotwald at Wittenberg, in 1893, arose from fear that the liberal traditions of the college were threatened by a rising 'exclusive and conservative spirit' symbolized by Gotwald. As the Gotwald heresy trial book put it, "The 1890s were times when Lutheran were choosing between two identities -- Lutherans who were adapting their teachings and practices to Protestant America following the lead of Dr. Samuel Simon Schmucker; and those who sought their role as maintaining the understandings of the Lutheranism of the Sixteenth Century Reformer Martin Luther. Both sides maintained they were true. Professor Gotwald was defended at this trial by Judge Joseph W. Adair of Noble County, Indiana. At the conclusion of the trial, it is telling that even the prosecutors joined in the unanimous vote for his acquittal.
The charges that Professor Gotwald was not teaching correct Lutheran theology swirled around quite some time before formal charges were brought to the Wittenberg Board of Trustees. It undoubtedly owed much of its genesis to Rev. Gotwald's ministry in Dayton in which he became embroiled in many stormy debates about church doctrine with some other church leaders. It reached the point that his health gave out and he had to resign his ministry and spend a period of time away from the ministry to recover. It was no coincidence that his most vocal critics and accusers came from Dayton. Perhaps most damaging in the leadup to the trial were articles in the Lutheran Evangelist that named "Luther Gotwald as a teacher not fit to teach in a General Synod Seminary".
A minority of the Wittenberg Board of Directors, consisting of Rev. Ernest E. Baker, Alexander Gebhart and Joseph R. Gebhart sent a minority report to the Miami Synod Convention, which was held in Springfield, Ohio on October 5 through October 7 of 1892, requesting that it investigate whether Prof. Gotwald "gloried in the idea that the logical interpretation of the [Augsburg Confession, i.e., orthodox Lutheranism] would lead to the doctrinal basis of the General Council (i.e., unorthodox and, at the time, actively competing Lutheranism). The Board of Directors, after lengthy debate, pointedly supported all their facaulty of their seminary.
Further, a majority of the Wittenberg Board of Directors had little heart to hear the heresy charges against Prof. Gotwald. In fact, the Wittenberg Board of Directors as well as the Miami Synod Convention passed up the chance to act on these heresy charges against Prof. Gotwald, brought by this minority of the Wittenberg Board of Directors. Some Wittenberg Theological Seminary faculty members even tried to talk the accusers out of their intention to take action against Rev. Gotwald.
Even so, these accusations motivated Prof. Gotwald to assure the Wittenberg Board of Directors in writing on October 31, 1892, that he had "never contemplated a change in the doctrinal basis of the General Synod". His assurance included a list of the theological positions he accepted and those he rejected. He requested the opportunity to go before the Board and make this assurance in person. However, at this point, the President of the Board saw no need, after their lengthy discussion at their regular meeting, to call a special meeting to deal with what it seemed to consider frivolous accusations.
The Gotwald heresy trial book states that "the three rebuffed accusers from Dayton were determined all the more to bring the matter to the Wittenberg Board of Directors for final resolution in a formal heresy trial in the Spring of 1893." Thus, these detractors continued to argue that while Prof. Gotwald started with orthodox Lutheran doctrine, his interpretation of that doctrine and his teaching, based on his logical extension of that doctrine, ended up in unorthodox beliefs and teachings. The persons who formally brought charges against Rev. Gotwald before the Directors of Wittenberg College were, of course, his arch detractors, Ernest E. Baker, Alexander Gebhart and Joseph R. Gebhart. They based their charges on what they said he had said to them personally, what he had said at various Lutheran functions and even what had been written about him in his biography in a Lutheran publication as to what he believed himself and as to what he intended to teach his students. The Gotwald heresy trail book says that Professor of English and Latin, Charles Lewis Ehrenfeld, was also heavily involved behind the scenes in the drafting of charges against Professor Gotwald. Professor Ehrenfeld had recently survived a student request to the Wittenberg Board of Director that he be dismissed, but still had resigned from Wittenberg as a result. The charges, as initially filed, were that "The said Luther A. Gotwald, D.D. is DISQUALIFIED to be a Professor of Theology in Wittenberg College." They included a list of seven charges, all of which probably may be summed in the charge that he was not teaching "the type of Lutheranism that dictated the establishment of Wittenberg College, that animated its founders in undertaking it, and in whose interests the original trust was created. Under Board rules, the filing of these formal charges required Board President John L. Zimmerman to call a special Board meeting to hear evidence regarding those accusations. He called that meeting to begin at 2:00 P.M. on April 4, 1893 in the Wittenberg Recitation Hall, located in the College Building on the Wittenberg campus. The accusing Board members persuaded a reluctant Board Member, Rev. E.D. Smith to serve as the initial prosecutor. Judge Joseph W. Adair and Pastor G.M. Grau, D.D. represented the defense.
At the outset of the trial, the defense moved that the charges be made more specific. The Board required the prosecution to do so. There was much heated argument over what those specifics should be. When the Board finally adopted the amended charges to be tried, "the accusers refused to bring the amended charges claiming that the altered charges were not their charges." The original prosecutor, Rev. E.D. Smith, also declined to continue, since the amended charges were not those that he had agreed to prosecute. Board member, Rev. M.J. Firey, D.D. reluctantly agreed to continue the prosecution of the case against Prof. Gotwald on the amended charges.
Rev. Firey had little luck in prosecuting the case, since the original accusers all steadfastly refused to participate in any way and, unlike in a regular court of law, he had no way to force their testimony. All the rest of the testimony he called at the trial from fellow faculty members and even a student was basically supportive of Prof. Gotwald. With no help from the instigators of the charges, M.J. Firey could not make his case. The trial ended abruptly in acquittal, before Prof. Gotwald had a chance to put on the bulk of his defense – apparently to his great disappointment. Twenty five court members voted to acquit, including prosecutors Rev. M.J. Firey and Rev E.D. Smith. His three accusers, Ernest E. Baker, Alexander Gebhart, and Joseph R. Gebhart abstained from the vote. If it is not crystal clear what this trial was all about, it is because what were clearly the vague and generalized charges against Rev. Gotwald never did come into focus, since his accusers refused to participate in the process of bringing them into focus. For instance, the prosecution was asked at the trial to define the word "fundamental" in its charges, which it could not or would not do. Nevertheless, Wittenberg later published and distributed Prof. Gotwald's unpresented defense to these unclear charges.
Still, his accusers later stated in The Lutheran Evangelist that the proceeding against Prof. Gotwald had been a "mock trial." They even threatened to appeal the outcome to the Ohio Supreme Court, but they never did and, of course, legally, they never could appeal the outcome of a church trial to a secular court.
Following the trial and at least in partial response to the publicity attending it, the General Synod at Canton and the General Counsel of Fort Wayne, Indiana made large steps in resolving the differences between them. The General Synod and the General Council joined into the United Lutheran Church in America on November 15, 1918 in New York City. John L. Zimmerman, who presided at the Gotwald trial, was elected to its Executive Board.
Even so, as is true with virtually all major denominations, the debate between the conservative and liberal persuasions of the Lutheran Church continues today. For instance, as this Wikipedia article on Lutheranism puts it, "Today, Lutheran groups vary on the nature and limits of biblical inerrancy, with each group claiming to represent the true Reformation position. Conservative groups tend to stress biblical inerrancy, confessionalism, and the orthodoxy of 17th century Lutheranism, while liberal groups seek to make use of the higher criticism method of biblical interpretation. As the Gotwald heresy trial book puts it, in "the Twenty-first Century, in the wake of the ecumenical movement, Lutherans are again being challenged to identify their reasons for being and knowing their true identity. Readers will find many of the same issues which dominated the trial of Luther Gotwald are still with us today, making it a good reason for becoming acquainted with its issues and how they were dealt with.
He was then cared for by his son George, his daughters, Almena and Mary Susan Gotwald, who were living in the King Homestead during the time period, and, of course, by his ever-faithful wife Mary Elizabeth for the next five years. The fact that he did recover some of this health is evidenced by photos taken of him standing and smiling and in the fact that he participated in the founding of the Calvary Lutheran Church in Springfield in 1900 -- the year of his death. However, he died in Springfield, Ohio later that year on September 15, 1900. As his Grandson, Luther A. Gotwald, Sr. reports it, "on [that] evening, as he sat in his chair by his desk, he had just asked his wife to open the Bible and read their evening lesson together. Suddenly, as a result of another heart attack, he passed away, painlessly and quietly". The fact that his trial had not damaged his esteem at Wittenberg can be seen in the fact that the President of Wittenberg, Dr. Samuel A. Ort delivered an eloquent oration at his funeral which was full of affection and praise for the reverend professor. Among the many words of praise Dr. Ort had for Professor Gotwald was that "he gave himself without grudging to the effort of advancing the prosperity of Wittenberg College. Through term time and vacation period, he toiled for the larger development of our higher educational concerns. He was a man truly valuable to Wittenberg College in all its affairs." He also called him "A noble comrade, a true yoke fellow, we must extol him and say, his value to Wittenberg College was beyond price."
Mary Elizabeth King Gotwald died on November 13, 1919, also in Springfield, Ohio. Rev. David H. Bauslin, Dean of Hamma Divinity School of Wittenberg College was one of the speakers at her funeral. They are buried in Ferncliff Cemeteryin Springfield, Ohio, not too far from their home.
All of the Gotwald children who survived to adulthood became respected and prominent citizens.
Their son Dr. David King Gotwald (who went by "King Gotwald") became a prominent physician in Springfield, who was known for his modest billing for his services. Dr. King Gotwald kept no financial records on his patients. Instead, once a year he sent them all the same bill of fifty dollars with a promise of caring for them during that year. He received his early education at the York County Academy and the York Collegiate Institute. He began his medical carrer by studying pharmacy in a drug stores in York and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvnai. He next read medicine with a Dr. Jacob Hay of York. Ultimately, he entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1878 and took a complete four years’ course in medicine, from which he graduated with honors in 1882. He shared the “Henry C. Lea” Prize of two hundred dollars for the best graduating thesis, with Mr. Horace F. Jayne, there being 117 in the class. He was then honored by the appointment of resident physician in Blockeley Hospital in Philadelphia. In the fall of 1883, he married Julia B. Kurtz of York, Pennsylvania. He moved his practice to Springfield, Ohio on April 1, 1895. He built his own stately home two houses north of the King Homestead, at 505 North Fountain Avenue, Springfield, Ohio and even closer to Wittenberg College than the King Homestead. This home was recently restored and looks very much as it did when Dr. Gotwald had it built. In 1898, as Assistant Surgeon of the Ohio National Guard, he served with his regiment, the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in the Spainish American War in Cuba. He served as a Director of Wittenberg College. His son, Rev. Dr. William King Gotwald followed the family calling into the Lutheran ministry and university teaching. He attended Wittenburg College and Hamma Divinity School. He earned his PhD. from John Hopkins. He had Lutherean pastorates in churches in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Wapakoneta, Ohio. He taught history at West Virginia Wesleyan College at Buchanan, West Virginia. He was a Professor at Newberry College, South Carolina. In his last nine years he was a Professor of Ancient and Medieval History at Wittenberg College.
Their son Rev. George Daniel Gotwald followed in his father's footsteps by graduating from Gettysburg Seminary and serving as a Lutheran clergyman in Kansas. From the time of his birth his parents consecrated him to the Lutheran ministry. They baptized him in infancy and confirmed him in Easter of 1876 in St. Paul’s Church in York, Pennsylvania.He attended York County Academy and graduated with honors form Pennsylvania College and was graduated in 1882. He attended the Theological Seminary at Gettysburg for three years. Afterward, he was ordained by the West Pennsylvania Synod in St. Paul’s Church at York, Pennsylvania, at the same altar at which he had been confirmed. He married Mary B. Baugher in the summer of 1885. His first ministry was the Mission Church at Salina, Kansas where he was "held in remarkably high esteem by both the congregation and the community. He was chairman of the Music Committee from Pennsylvania College which published The American College Song Book in 1882. In 1888, he became the pastor of the Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Unfortunately, he came down with pneumonia, contracted through a cold, which he caught at a funeral on Christmas Day of 1889. He died on January 12, 1890 after a ministry at Kansas City of only a year and two months. George's grandson, Prof. Robert Gotwald Remsberg became a highly respected philosophy professor at Wittenberg University. He was also an ordained Lutheran Minister and served as University Pastor. Wittenberg University still honors him with a scholarship it awards in his name. Their son, Robert Caldwell Gotwald became a well known architect, who designed many buildings in Springfield and elsewhere. His early education was received at the York County Academy and Pennsylvania College. In 1881 he entered the civil engineering department of Lehigh University at Bethlehem, Pennyslvania, from which he graduated in 1885. The Missouri Pacific Railroad hired him right out school, where for several years, he worked laying extensions to its system in south eastern Nebraska. He then became Assistant to the City Engineer of Omaha for several years. For "family reasons" he moved in Springfield, Ohio, in 1893, where he not only practiced engineering but also acquired a knowledge of architecture and soon built up a large business in that profession. He designed many of the most prominent buildings Springfield of that time. Buildings in downtown Springfield bore the Gotwald name. There was the Gotwald Building, which he designed for his brother, Dr. David King Gotwald and in which Robert Gotwald kept his office. There was the old YMCA Building, which was called the King-Gotwald Building. He designed several of the Lutheran churches in Springfield as well as the old Zimmerman Library Building at Wittenberg. He designed the old Springfield City Hospital in Springfield and was on the Springfield Board of Building Commissioners, at the time of his death, which was constructing the new Springfield City Hospital, which still stands and operates.
Their son, Rev. Frederick Gebhart Gotwald went to the public schools from 1875 until 1877 in York, Pennsylvania. He enrolled in the York County Academy until 1884. He attended the York Collegiate Institute for one year. In the fall of 1885 he entered the sophomore class of Pennsylvania College, but only completed one term, because on November third of that year, his father moved to Springfield, Ohio, and placed his two sons in Wittenberg College. He married Julia Agnes Small of York, Pennsylvania on June 10th 1897. He built a house next father’s in 1897. He graduated from Wittenberg in 1888. After college, he studied law in the office of Attorney John L. Zimmerman (who presided at his father's heresy trial) from September 1, 1888 until February 1, 1889. Probably to the overwhelming joy of his father, he entered Wittenberg Theological Seminary, where his father had become Professor two months earlier and began his preparation for the Lutheran ministry. He graduated on May 29, 1891, and was ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Miami in October 1891 at Dayton, Ohio. He became an instructor at Hamma Divinity School at Wittenberg College. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of Wittenberg College from 1894 until 1898. He became the Editor of The Lutheran World in 1885, where he served for fifteen years. He founded the Fifth Lutheran Church in Springfield in 1891 and served for many years as its pastor. In 1900, he organized the Calvary Lutheran Church in Springfield, Ohio. He was transferred to York, Pennsylvania in 1904, to become General Secretary of the Lutheran Board of Education in which position he served up until the time of his death on February 4, 1926. Before his death, he founded the Advent Lutheran Church in York, Pennsylvania in 1924.
Rev. Frederick Gebhart Gotwald was the father of Rev. Luther Alexander Gotwald, Sr., who graduated from York Academy, Gettysburg College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Rev. Luther Alexander Gotwald, Sr. served in the Mission Field of the United Lutheran Church in Madras Presidency, India. He held the position of Executive Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the United Lutheran Church. He was also the Executive Secretary of the Division of Foreign Missions of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. His son and the great grandson of the original Rev. Luther Gotwald, Rev. Luther Alexander Gotwald, Jr. is a Lutheran cleric and the author of the Gotwald heresy trial book. He was born to his missionary parents in India. He graduated from Gettysburg College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Central Pennsylvania Synod ordained him as a minister of the United Lutheran church. He had three pastorates in Pennsylvania and acted as an assistant to the Bishop of the Allegheny Synod. He retired in 1992.
The daughter of Luther and Mary Gotwald, Almena Gotwald was beyond doubt the "apple of her father's eye". He said of her, "She was a beautiful child, with large, dark eyes, and rich brown curls, resembling her father more than any of the children. She attended the Girls Seminary in York, Pennsylvania in 1884 and 1885. When the family moved to Springfield, she attended the "Northern Building" of the Springfield Public Schools until 1889. In 1889 she entered the first year of the Preparatory Department of Wittenberg College. After taking a full seven years course, she graduated in 1896. She then took charge of the King Homestead until her marriage in 1899. During this time she traveled extensively in Colorado, New York, Boston, and Chicago. In 1897 she was the bridesmaid at her brother Fred’s wedding in York, Pennsylvania. On October 12, 1899, she married Glenn M. Cummings, a young attorney from Mansfield, Ohio. The ceremony took in the same place (the west bay window) in the old King Homestead, where her parents were married forty years earlier. Her brother Fred performed the ceremony. She first resided in Mansfield, Ohio, but later moved to Cleveland, where her husband, Glenn became Chief Counsel of the Cleveland Trust Company.
Their daughter, Mary Susan Gotwald, like her sister, went to school at the Northern building, Springfield. She enrolled in the Preparatory Department at Wittenberg College in 1892, from which she also graduated in 1899 after a full seven years’ cours. In 1898 she spent the summer in Colorado. She has also visited Chicago, Chautauqua and several other destinations. Luther wrote proudly, "In college she was a good student and stood well in her class. Since her graduation, she has taken charge of the house and makes a splendid housekeeper. After Luther's death, she married attorney and jurist Hubert Clay Pontius, of Canton, Ohio who served as Prosecuting Attorney and Judge in Stark County, Ohio.