Robert Henry Boll
1875-1956

A Biographical Sketch On R.H. Boll, Written In 1917

Robert Henry Boll was born June 7, 1875, which makes him at this writing forty-two years old. The birth-place was Badenweiler, a small but far-famed watering place in the heart of the Black Forest, Southern Germany. His mother, whose maiden name was Magdalena Ulman, was born in Altbreisach on the Rhine and his father, Max Boll, in Schliengen. Both parents were ardent Catholics. In the Cathedral at Freiburg there stands the marble statue of one Bernard Boll, first Archbishop of Freiburg, an illustrious kinsman on the father's side. As for the mother, it was her wish that Robert should be a priest, a wish in which he himself shared enthusiastically. But in God's good providence he was hindered even from beginning that career. 

The father seems to have had no such influence over the son as the mother exerted; and that partly because he died before Robert was ten years old, while his mother lived and kept in touch with him in one way and another until her death, when he was twenty-two. The mother (who never came to this country) was described to me by German friends who knew her as a beautiful woman of most expressive faces, strong intellect, and high ideals. The son remembers her with love and longing and speaks of her in tenderest terms. The father, say these friends, was of rather a roving disposition. He removed the family to Basel in Switzerland when Robert was three years old; and after a short residence there, to Karlsruhe in Germany. Thence, following a hard experience, the bitter memory of which lingers to this day, the father brought the family to Muhlhausen and from that place to Freiburg, a beautiful city not many miles from the River Rhine.

Here Robert went to school. Here the younger of his two sisters died, and in the same year his father also. At eleven he entered the Lyceum or Latin School. Though a lover of books and precocious also, the German school system seemed to him needlessly severe. But perhaps that hard training accounts in part for the strong student habits which have characterized him ever since, and for more than the average power of concentration throughout long periods of study. But if it was good in the end, it was not pleasant; and often relief was found in communion with nature in long walks through the German woods, and in the companionship of a mother who was to the son, adorable.

When Robert was fourteen, the mother married again; and it turned out as it so often does, that the step-father cared not for the child at all, nor the child for him. This incongeniality and the loosening of the bond between him and his mother that naturally came with it, paved the way for Robert's departure to America. With an aunt by marriage (Mrs. Ulman), and other friends who were sailing September, 1890, he came to this country and stopped for a brief period with them in Zanesville, Ohio. It may be of some interest to say, that the present sketch is being written in Zanesville where the writer has been at pains to trace things accurately and gather much information, in addition to that furnished by Brother Boll himself.

In Zanesville, Robert worked for a time and found it tough enough for a school boy utterly unused to it, and of a frame somewhat slight besides. As a musician, an artist, or a story writer, had he given himself to one of these pursuits, he might have "made good" and made his head save his heel; but at manual labor he has never been a great success having no turn for it - though he is not a whit worse at that or at anything else than he makes himself out to be. For several years after this, he was a farm laborer - in Tennessee, where he went after leaving Ohio. It was in that state that he obeyed the Gospel. Brother Sam Harris took his public acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Lord and it was in Columbus Brittain's pond (near Nashville) that he was baptized on Sunday, April 14, 1895. The manner of his gradual relinquishment of Romanism which led to this step and his turning toward original Christianity is of great interest, but cannot be fully related here.

In the fall of that same year, 1895, he entered Nashville Bible School where J.A. Harding was still president. By reason of Brother Harding's mighty faith in God he was taken in to "work his way" - although all such chances were in fact filled before he applied. Robert had walked twenty miles through the rain to present himself at the school; and in God's good leading it was this comparatively little thing which touched the big Harding heart, and led to his admission. Brother Boll considers himself greatly indebted to J.A. Harding and feels the greatest appreciation also of his teaching. He has paid back what money was spent upon him; but the debt of love that is due can never be repaid.

His first sermon was preached in a mission meeting at the Nashville jail; and the first protracted meeting was at a schoolhouse named "Accident," not far from Nashville. The following account of that first meeting, written some time ago by Brother Boll himself will interest the reader:

"It was through the enthusiasm of my friend Bob McMahon (who in the meanwhile had also entered the Bible School), that I was inveigled into holding my first protracted meeting - which meeting well-nigh played out in the middle of it. Bob had made arrangements for the affair without having half consulted me about it. He just 'knew' I could 'hold a meeting.' It was to be at 'Accident,' a little log school house that sat as if blown there by some favorable accident on the hillside by the big road, near Bob's home. And it was too small a thing in Bob's eyes to start in for a week's meeting - two weeks seemed too common even; we must arrange for a three weeks' campaign at least. So he pulled; and I, however reluctantly and diffidently, tumbled into assent with his ambitious plans. The date was June 15, 1896.

"So after the school had closed I stayed around some days. A few days before that 'appointment' was due (I shook in my shoes at the thought of that) there was a prayer meeting at the Bible School chapel; and it happened that there were present a number of notable men of God: David Lipscomb, E.G. Sewell, T.W. Brents, J.A. Harding, J.W. Grant and J.W. Shepherd. The assembly was small and I do not remember how it came about, but I made a talk in the imposing presence of those brethren. As we went out Brother Shepherd slapped me on the back and said to me, 'Go right ahead; you will come out all right' - which was but a kind word dropped by the way, but it helped me so greatly that I never forgot it.

"The big meeting started off fairly well, but after the first flush of curiosity had passed the audience dwindled to a few, and then fewer; and these looked bored; yawned, smiled, and a few young couples who were there for their sweet company's sake, did valiant courting. And my lofty looks were brought very low and my speech and my preaching became weaker and more stumbling and halting. On Wednesday night, which had been particularly dispiriting, I ventured the suggestion to Bob on the way home, that it might be well to close Sunday. Bob said he thought so too. That was a blow I had not expected, for Bob's faith and comfort had alone upheld me. The first effect was to arouse me. I could do something and I simply would. So Thursday I went in for a special effort. I picked out the best theme I had in reserve and felt rather confident that I could talk for an hour on it and to edification. But my big sermon failed me more miserably than any previous one. I got entirely through with it in twenty minutes and stopped with a feeling of being lost in the woods. On the way home that evening it was Bob who suggested that the meeting ought to close Sunday - if not sooner; and that straw broke my back. The next morning I took my Bible and fled to the woods, where I spent the day crying, praying, studying; and on Friday night, like a poor sinner to the gallows, I went back to 'Accident' to preach. But lo - how it came no man could trace - there was a new atmosphere, a larger audience, a new interest, and to every one's astonishment (my own especially), I preached with ease and power. And that proved the turning point. Saturday night the attendance was unusual, and I preached if anything better; and Sunday night it was said that such a crowd had never before been seen at the little school house. Well, the meeting ran over two weeks, and about seven were baptized in the course of it. Often since then I have found that when I came to the end of myself God was a never-failing help, and that when I was weak I was strong."

For several years after this - one whole year, and in the other years through the vacation period, Brother Boll preached wherever he could; in barns, in school-houses, in church-houses, in the open, under arbors; and his work bore good fruit.

In 1900 he left the Bible School, but he did not cease to be a student, nor to go to school. His special study ever since has been the Bible in various languages. His knowledge of its facts is remarkable, and his grasp upon its spiritual truths, profound. About this time also, his work as a preacher began in good earnest: in Texas, in Tennessee; in Kentucky; and in evangelistic meetings frequently in other states. In 1903 he made a first visit to the congregation at Portland Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, where the beloved George A. Klingman had labored seven years, and in 1904 took up the work there, one year (1910-11) excepted, during which he taught the Bible department of the Lawrenceburg, (Tenn.) High School on behalf of that nobleman of God, J.H. Stribling - he has remained with the Portland Avenue congregation ever since. In Louisville he was married to Miss Villette Schang, and three children have been born to them, of whom the first, Madeline, God took when she was two years old.

R.H. Boll excels as a preacher, a teacher, and a writer, of religious truth. In which capacity of the three he is the strongest would not be easy to say. In his preaching he denounces sin terrifically, but brings hope and "strong encouragement" to all who hear. He is logical, his outlines being well arranged and easily remembered; but he is not logical in the sense of being dry or merely intellectual in appeal.

As a teacher of the Bible he has been instrumental under God in raising up many Gospel preachers. A number have gone out from his home congregation to bear the message; and many from all parts of our country almost, - east, west, north, south - have come in for the help and blessing of the classes which he conducts every winter in Louisville; among these many, the writer of this sketch. And whether it properly belongs in such a sketch or not, I cannot refrain from expressing here my appreciation of one thing specially: that Brother Boll has helped me be "a Christian only," an independent Christian separate from all ecclesiasticism, recognizing no authoritative teacher aside from Jesus Christ; bound by no string or human bond to any man or set of men, obliged to agree with no one but God.

It is, however, as a writer for the religious press, that the subject of our sketch is most widely known. In 1901 he became one of the editors of the Gospel Guide. In 1909 he became first page editor of the Gospel Advocate. This post he held for six years; and when in 1915 he resigned it, five other papers offered their columns to him. About that time he purchased the monthly magazine, Word and Work, removed it from New Orleans to Louisville, and assumed the work of publishing and editing that paper; in which work he continues - along with his preaching and teaching - to the present day.

- E. L. Jorgenson, A Biographical Sketch, Truth And Grace, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1917

Webmaster's Addenda: During Boll's last years of writing for the Gospel Advocate seeds of teaching on the subject of Premillennialism (the doctrine concerning the kingdom of Christ still to be started in the future) began appearing in his writings. Many of the articles in his GA column, Word and Work, began showing that the kingdom did not begin on Pentecost in Acts 2, but is still yet to come. This led to his departure from the Gospel Advocate in 1915. It was not until his editorship began on the paper, Word And Work, in Louisville, Ky, that his teachings on this subject came to be solidified and completely set out in print. He had a preacher training school in Louisville where he propagated his views. The student preachers in turn were spreading premillennial teaching throughout the areas where they ventured to preach. In many respects R.H. Boll is given the dubious reputation as being the father of premillennialism among churches of Christ in the early years of the 20th century. It is for these views the he is most remembered, though many times he stated that they were opinions which he held, that he in no way would cause division with. Sadly, division was the result.

E.L. Jorgenson, the writer of the above sketch, was a close friend and co-worker with R.H. Boll. In 1913 Jorgenson preached for the Highland Church of Christ in Louisville, Ky. He was assistant editor to Boll in the production of Word And Work in 1916. He espoused the millennial views of Boll in his writing, preaching and teaching. For a fuller discussion on the introduction of the teaching of Premillennialism and how its teaching affected Churches of Christ in the early 20th century read Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. III. pages 392-403

Back Issues Of Word And Work

Directions To The Grave Of R.H. Boll

Robert H. Boll is buried in the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. The cemetery is located at 791 Baxter Ave. (Hwy. 31). From I-64 take Exit 8 and turn left (west) go to next traffic light (should be Hwy ALT-60) Should see the cemetery on the right. However you will need to enter the cemetery from the Hwy. 31-E (Baxter Ave.) entrance. Do this by staying on ALT-60 until you turn right on Hwy. 31-E (Baxter Ave.) (North) then entrance should be up on right. When you enter the cemetery you will stay on the main road all the way to the rear of the cemetery. Be sure to print the map below as it will show you that Section 19 is in back to the rear and left side of the cemetery.  R.H. Boll is buried in Secton #19 #899 For more info, click on Cave Hill website below.

While At Cave Hill Cemetery Be Sure To Visit The Grave Of M.C. Kurfees

GPS Coordinates
N38 14.943' x W85 42.893'
Grave Facing West
Accuracy to 22ft.

 Cave Hill Cemetery
731 Baxter Ave.
Louisville, Kentucky 40204
#502-584-8363

Louisville, Cave Hill Cem. Section 19, #899

ROBERT H. BOLL

I Have Fought The Good Fight, I Have Finished The Course, I Have Kept The Faith
Henceforth There Is Laid Up For Me The Crown Of Righteousness, Which The
Lord, The Righteous Judge, Shall Give To Me At That Day, And Not To Me Only,
But Also To All Them That Loved His Appearing                           II Timothy 4:7,8


"Daddy"
June 7, 1875
April 13, 1956
Amen Come Lord Jesus


"Mother"
Dec. 22, 1889
Feb. 21, 1976

See R.H. Boll's Oldest Daughter, Madeline, In The J.H. Stribling Plot In Lawrenceburg, Tennessee

Note: Many thanks to Tom Childers, Freed Hardeman University, For Finding The Grave Of R.H. Boll And Sharing The Pictures With Us For Publication.

History Index Page

History Home