Childhood & Religion

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born 25 May 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second of eight children born to the Rev. William and Ruth Haskins Emerson. Only four of Emerson's seven siblings survived to adulthood. Just before Emerson's eighth birthday, his father passed away from stomach cancer, leaving his mother a widow with six children.

Emerson attended the best schools available to an intelligent young New Englander at the time. He attended Boston Latin for grammar and high school and Harvard for college. A middling student at university, Emerson taught grade school part-time to earn money. When he graduated from Harvard in 1821, he took a job teaching at a girls' school run by his brother William.

"Thoughts on the Religion of the Middle Ages," Emerson's first published piece of writing, appeared in November 1822 in Christian Disciple and Theological Review magazine. Emerson was the son of a Unitarian minister, who himself was descended from a line of Unitarian ministers. His professional calling seemed all but etched in stone. In 1825 Emerson enrolled at the newly formed Harvard School of Divinity, while continuing to teach. It seemed clear that the young Emerson, who preferred to go by Waldo, was also destined for the pulpit.

By 1829, Emerson had been ordained and appointed pastor of Second Church, Boston. He had also become engaged to an 18-year-old woman named Ellen Tucker, whom he married on 30 September 1829. Emerson seemed to have everything a young pastor could want - his own church and a lovely young wife to sit in the front pew. Tragically, things did not go as expected.

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