Stephenson, Dr Thomas Bowman
1839-1912; e.m. 1860

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WM minister. He was the architect of a more socially-minded Methodism, through the establishment of two major institutions. The son of John Stephenson (1799-1861; e.m. 1822), he was born at Newcastle upon Tyne on 22 December 1839 and baptized by Robert Newton. He trained for the ministry at Richmond College and obtained a London BA. (Katherine Price Hughes, as a small girl, remembered his interest in photography, still in its infancy.) A Liberal in politics and musically gifted, he was prominent in the Forward Movement. His ministry was untypical. He sang in the streets and was the first to hire a theatre for use in his mission. In 1869, with the help of two laymen, he founded the NCH and in 1873 was set apart as its Principal.

Always eager to use everyone's talents (including the laity and females), he had employed a deaconess at Bolton in 1868. A visit to Kaiserwerth deaconess centre in Germany in 1871 encouraged him to develop opportunities for women to serve in the Church, through the 'Sisters of the Children' in the NCH and later through the Wesley Deaconess Order, following the publication of his book Concerning Sisterhoods (1890). He was the chief mover behind the admission of laymen to the WM Conference, first speaking for it in 1873 and becoming secretary of the Thanksgiving Fund in 1878. An expert money-raiser and publicist, he began magazines such as Highways and Hedges, wrote many hymns, especially for children, and composed a service book for them. He played a prominent part in producing the 1876 Supplement to the Wesleyan Hymn Book and the new WM hymn-book in 1904. His hymn 'Lord, grant us like the watching five' was included in the 1903 Hymn-book (765) and its 1933 successor (786).

He was elected to the Legal Hundred in 1880 and was President of the Conference in 1891. Many of his presidential sermons and addresses were published in The Words of a Year (1892). He received honorary doctorates from Grant University, USA in 1881 and from Victoria University, Toronto in 1888. In 1898 on the nomination of the Prince of Wales he was appointed an Honorary Associate of the Order of the Hospital of St. John in recognition of his philanthropic service. Excessive work and money-raising tours affected his health and forced him to relinquish his responsibility for the NCH in 1900 and for the Deaconess Order in 1907. He died in Finchley on 16 July 1912 and was buried at Ilford after a funeral service at Wesley's Chapel. In 2019 a memorial plaque was unveiled on the wall of Brunswick Methodist Church, Newcastle.

His daughter Dora Stephenson (b.1867), a Sister in the Home and the first Wesley Deaconess, was an important spokeswoman for both organizations, e.g. at the Chicago Deaconess Conference in 1893. She emigrated to Canada after marrying in 1910.


'Dr. Stephenson's life was interwoven with much of the history of his time, his country and his Church. The Lancashire cotton famine, the establishment of a national system of education, the problem of emigration and the development of Canada, the establishment of closer relations between English and American Methodism, the admission of laymen to a share in the supreme governing authority of our Church, and the positioin of women in its work, are all matters which were woven into the very texture of his life; and with regard to many of them, his activities were full of influence in shapingthe course of events and the thoughts of men.'

William Bradfield, Life of the Reverend Thomas Bowman Stephenson(1913) pp.15-16

  • Methodist Recorder, 18 July 1912
  • William Bradfield, The life of Thomas Bowman Stephenson (1913)
  • Katherine Price Hughes, The Story of my Life (1945), pp.13-14
  • Cyril J. Davey, A Man for All Children (1968)
  • Gordon E. Barritt, Thomas Bowman Stephenson (Peterborough, 1996)
  • Brian Frost, with Stuart Jordan, Pioneers of Social Passion (Peterborough, 2006)
  • Oxford DNB