‘Iron Strength and Infinite Tenderness’: Herbert Gray and the Making of Christian Masculinities at War and at Home, 1900–40

  • Sue Morgan
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


In December 1949, the outgoing honorary chairman of the National Marriage Guidance Council (NMGC), the Rev. A. Herbert Gray, wrote to thank his colleagues for their presentation of ‘a first class lawn-mower’.1 The gift was a fitting metaphor for a man whose numerous publications on interwar Christian family life seemed to epitomise Alison Light’s renowned depiction of the anti-heroic ‘suburban husband pottering in his herbaceous borders’.2 For in stark contrast to most churchmen’s reluctance to discuss the dilemmas of modern marriage, Herbert Gray, a Free Church Scottish Presbyterian minister with unusually liberal views, pioneered an influential pastoral theology of married love during the 1920s and 1930s and, with it, a strikingly affective, sexualised construction of modern Christian masculinity. As this chapter will argue, his harrowing experiences as an army chaplain in World War I did much to inspire this important later work. Authoring over 30 books and essays on the socio-political relevance of modern religion, of which more than half were devoted to sex education and relationship counselling, Gray successfully anticipated governmental concerns over the perceived breakdown of family life and established himself as the venerated prophet of the marriage guidance movement: ‘To say that I admired and honoured him would not be enough … I truly loved him’,3 observed his friend and NMGC co-founder David Mace in 1948.


Hegemonic Masculinity Successful Marriage Western Front British Soldier British Masculinity 
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Further reading

  1. Brown, C. (1997) Religion and Society in Scotland Since 1707 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).Google Scholar
  2. Collins, M. (2003) Modern Love: An Intimate History of Men and Women in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Atlantic Books).Google Scholar
  3. Francis, M. (2002) ‘The Domestication of the Male? Recent Research on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century British Masculinity’, The Historical Journal, 45(3), 637–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Lewis, J., D. Clark and D. Morgan (1992) Whom God Hath Joined Together: The Work of Marriage Guidance (London: Routledge).Google Scholar
  5. Light, A. (1991) Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism between the Wars (London: Routledge).Google Scholar
  6. Madigan, E. (2011) Faith Under Fire: Anglican Army Chaplains and the Great War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Morgan, S. (2010) ‘“The Word Made Flesh”: Women, Religion and Sexual Cultures’, in S. Morgan and J. de Vries (eds) Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800–1940 (London: Routledge), pp. 159–87.Google Scholar
  8. Roper, M. (2005) ‘Between Manliness and Masculinity: The “War Generation” and the Psychology of Fear in Britain, 1914–1950’, Journal of British Studies, 44(2), 343–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Snape, M. (2005) God and the British Soldier: Religion and the British Army in the First and Second World Wars (London: Routledge).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. — (2011) ‘Church of England Army Chaplains in the First World War: Goodbye to “Goodbye to All That”’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 62(2), 318–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Zweiniger-Bargielowska, I. (2010) Managing the Body: Beauty, Health and Fitness in Britain, 1880–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Sue Morgan 2013

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  • Sue Morgan

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