History and Heritage

The progressive creativity that marked the 1826 founding of the oldest continuing Lutheran seminary in the Americas became the red thread that runs through the Gettysburg tradition of preparing leaders for the church’s mission. In 1832, the Seminary moved from modest quarters in the center of town to its present location on a ridge overlooking the borough from the west.

Samuel Simon Schmucker, a leading churchman in American Lutheran circles for three mid-19th century decades, founded the seminary and neighboring Gettysburg College to fill the specific need for American-trained clergy. Schmucker also led in a number of the voluntary societies of the Evangelical Protestantism of his time, serving the cause of social justice, Bible promotion, and mission outreach. An articulate Lutheran anti-slavery activist, he supported the Underground Railroad by harboring fugitive slaves in his barn and home. He encouraged Daniel Alexander Payne, who was the first African-American to receive his theological education in a Lutheran seminary (1837). Payne later became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first president of Wilberforce University.

In 1838 Schmucker pioneered a call for greater Christian unity in his "Fraternal Appeal to the American Churches." But waves of new Lutheran immigrants intent on building their own church bodies, together with a growing concern among Lutherans in America for confessional purity, contributed to a climate of suspicion on confessional matters, even within Gettysburg's own constituency of pastors and churches. Strong resistance to Schmucker's confessional proposals eventually resulted in the split of the faculty and the creation in 1864 of a new seminary in Philadelphia. These two constituencies, the General Synod and the General Council, together with the United Synod of the South (and its seminary) came together again in 1918 in the formation of the United Lutheran Church in America, making the three seminaries partners in the same ecclesial organization and prefiguring today's Eastern Cluster.

On July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the campus became a battleground and then the center of the Confederate line for two days. The cupola of the Old Dorm served as an observation tower first for Union and then for the Confederate officers. From that day and for two additional months, the rest of the building served as a hospital for the wounded from both sides. Occupying soldiers made a special effort to scatter and destroy the papers and books of the anti-slavery Schmucker. Today a newly formed Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation, closely connected to the Seminary, seeks to preserve three historic campus buildings and provide historic interpretation for the public.

The Seminary revealed its characteristic pioneering role by creating the first faculty position in Christian Education (M. Hadwin Fischer, 1926), in Sociology and Psychology (Bertha Paulssen, 1940's), and Stewardship (William O. Avery, 1989). Paulssen was also the first tenured woman professor in a Lutheran seminary. And the first woman to be ordained by an American Lutheran church body, Elizabeth Platz, was educated at Gettysburg.

In 1967, the Seminary joined seven other Washington area seminaries and became a founding member of the Washington Theological Consortium, expanding the scope of educational and ecumenical opportunities for its students.

The Seminary's further reach into the ecumenical and public life of the nation took the form in 1971 of the Lutheran House of Studies, in Washington, D.C. This program lives on in what is now named the Lutheran Center for Theology and Public Life, Washington, D.C. Always balanced in its focus, the Seminary's Town and Country Church Institute provides a curricular concentration for students preparing for small town and rural ministry settings.

In the last decade, Gettysburg strengthened its intra-Lutheran linkage as a partner in the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries of the ELCA, joining with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

Today, the Seminary carries on its rich tradition of theological education. Excitement and intensity have followed the Seminary all through its course. Whether it be Confederate soldiers ransacking Schmucker’s library, intense discussions about the course of confessional identity, or debates about when a young person should receive Holy Communion for the first time, Gettysburg has been an exciting place to study theology. Here students prepare to serve as pastors, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, associates in ministry, and informed lay people in service to the church’s mission. The excitement is lived in and around a hospitable 52-acre campus where individuals and families share a wealth of opportunities to study and live in a nurturing spiritual and academic atmosphere.


Seminary Presidents  
Samuel Simon Schmucker   1826-1864
James A. Brown 1864-1881  
Charles A. Stork 1881-1883  
Milton Valentine 1884-1903  
John A. Singmaster 1903-1928  
John Aberly 1928-1940  
Abdel Ross Wentz 1940-1950  
Harry F. Baughman 1950-1962  
Donald R. Heiges 1962-1976  
Herman G. Stuempfle 1976-1989  
Darold H. Beekmann 1990-2000  
Michael L. Cooper-White 2000-