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Eric Sandweiss
Editor, Indiana Magazine of History

Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Indiana history journal examines Indianapolis minister’s theory of “parasite paupers”

April 10, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.--The March 2008 issue of the Indiana Magazine of History offers two articles on the lifework and legacy of Rev. Oscar McCulloch, nationally known pastor of Indianapolis's Plymouth Congregational Church from 1877 until his death in 1891.

Historian Brent Ruswick looks at the pastor's changing views of the poor, beginning with his infamous mid-1880s speeches and writings concerning Indianapolis' "Tribe of Ishmael," an extended family whom he believed to be biologically conditioned to behave as parasites, draining the resources of society. By the end of his life, however, McCulloch had come to believe that the poverty of the Ishmaels and others like them was largely a product of social conditions and that the poor could be helped by the proper type of charitable aid.

Rev. Oscar McCulloch

Rev. Oscar McCulloch

Indianapolis editor and researcher Elsa Kramer examines the legacy of McCulloch's work upon 20th-century eugenicists who sought to improve the human race through better breeding. Kramer discovers that McCulloch's early writings on pauperism gained new influence in the first decades of the 20th century, through the now-discredited work of social scientists such as Arthur Estabrook of the Carnegie Institute's Eugenics Records Office.

The issue's third article looks at the rough-and-tumble world of Methodist circuit riders in Indiana from the 1820s into the 1840s. Author Riley B. Case, a retired United Methodist minister, draws from the autobiography of pioneer Methodist preacher Eli Farmer to paint a picture of the hard work and sacrifice required to preach the gospel on the midwestern frontier.

The Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the history department of Indiana University Bloomington. The magazine's Web site can be found at For general information on the articles, contact the editorial office of the magazine at 812-855-4139.