William Henry Ryder was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on July 18, 1822. He studied at the Pembroke Academy in New Hampshire and the Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York. He was ordained in Concord, New Hampshire, on October 11, 1843, and served the Universalist Church there for about two years before being called to the church in Nashua, New Hampshire. In 1848, he resigned from his pastorate to take an extended tour of Europe, including seven months study in Berlin. He then traveled from Berlin to Jerusalem. From 1850 to 1860, he served the Universalist Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and from 1860 to 1882, St. Paul's Universalist Church in Chicago. He received honorary degrees from Harvard (1860) and Lombard University (1863). He died in Chicago on March 7, 1888.
An early abolitionist, Ryder also organized an industrial school for African American children as an agency of his church in Chicago after the Civil War. A wise investor, he contributed both during his life and through his will to institutions such as the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children, the Chicago Old People's Home, Lombard University and its Divinity School (which was later named for him), and denominational organizations. The Chicago Daily Tribune (March 8, 1888, p. 1) summed up his life: "He was earnest, eloquent, and impressive, and his charity knew no bounds."
For more information, see his obituary in The Universalist Register (1889, p. 89) and Biography of William Henry Ryder by John Wesley Hanson (1891). The library's copy of the biography by Hanson is available here. [Engraving (credit: H. W. Smith) from Fifty Notable Years by John G. Adams (2nd ed., 1883, facing p. 283); a copy is available online here.]