The Serenity Prayer and Law Librarian Research

One of the most emailed stories in yesterday’s New York Times was one by Laurie Goodstein entitled Serenity Prayer Stirs Up Doubt: Who Wrote It? Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), once vice president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, is generally credited as the author of the Serenity Prayer. See the online version of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The Times article reports the findings of Fred Shapiro, the Associate Law Library Director at Yale’s Lillian Goldman Law Library:

Now, a law librarian at Yale, using new databases of archival documents, has found newspaper clippings and a book from as far back as 1936 that quote close versions of the prayer. The quotations are from civic leaders all over the United States — a Y.W.C.A. leader in Syracuse, a public school counselor in Oklahoma City — and are always, interestingly, by women.

Some refer to the prayer as if it were a proverb, while others appear to claim it as their own poetry. None attribute the prayer to a particular source. And they never mention Reinhold Niebuhr.

For the Yale Alumni Magazine article by Fred Shapiro cited in the Times story, click here.