Oliver Stearns was born in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, on June 3, 1807. He received an AB from Harvard in 1826 and an AM in 1829. While serving as a tutor in mathematics at Harvard, he studied at the Divinity School and graduated in the class of 1830. He was ordained by the Second Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1831, and served that church until April 1, 1839. He served the Third Church of Hingham, Massachusetts, from July 1, 1839 until October 1, 1856, when he was called to the presidency of the Meadville Theological School. There he served until 1863, when he was appointed Parkman Professor of Pulpit Eloquence and the Pastoral Care at Harvard Divinity School. From 1869 to 1878, he was the Parkman Professor of Theology. On April 25, 1870, he was appointed Dean of the Divinity School. He retired in 1878 and died in Cambridge on July 18, 1885. Although he was well-grounded in traditional theology, he embraced both historical biblical criticism and transcendentalism and was one of the few ministers to exchange pulpits with Theodore Parker. Like Parker, he was an early advocate of abolition as the solution to slavery.
For more information, see Heralds of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Samuel A. Eliot. Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1952. Vol. 3, p. 344-347 [Photo: bMS 1446/214]