IRVINE, Alexander



19th January 1863 to 15th March 1941


Biographical Text

Irvine was a non-conformist preacher and social reformer who found fame as a writer. 

Irvine was born in Antrim on 19 January 1863, the ninth of twelve children. His father was a Protestant shoemaker, while his mother was Catholic. Irvine worked in his father’s business and also sold newspapers to bring money into the household, before joining the Royal Navy. In 1886 he married Ellen Skeets. Thanks to the education he had been given in the navy, Irvine was able to gain entrance to Oxford University, but after two years he felt the calling to become a missionary among the poor, and left the university. 

In 1888 Irvine and his wife and two young children arrived in New York, where Irvine began preaching in the poverty-stricken Lower East Side of the city. In 1890 his wife left him and returned to England. In 1892 Irvine suffered a breakdown and moved to Omaha, Nebraska to recover his health. Here he married again, to Clara Hazen, the daughter of a prominent politician. 

Recovered, Irvine and his new family moved to New Haven, Connecticut in 1898, where he became director of the YMCA and also enrolled at the divinity school of Yale University, graduating as a doctor of divinity. He also became involved with the Christian socialists, and befriended the author Jack London. During this period Irvine also began to write stories, often semi-autobiographical accounts based on his own early life. These sold extremely well and made him famous. 

In 1907 Irvine returned to New York to preach Christian socialism at the Church of the Ascencion. His political views were not to the taste of some in the church, and Irvine left the Church of the Ascencion in 1910 to concentrate on politics and writing. In 1911 he travelled to Los Angeles to manage the campaign of the socialist candidate for mayor of the city, Job Harriman. In 1913 he published a best-selling book, My Lady of the Chimney Corner, an account of the life of his mother, Anna Irvine. 

In 1916 Irvine returned to Britain where he was appointed Chief Morale Officer of the British army fighting on the Western Front during the First World War. By the end of the war he was a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, and was frequently a guest at great houses and 10 Downing Street. In 1921 he visited Dublin during the Irish Civil War, attempting unsuccessfully to conciliate the two sides and bring about peace. He travelled frequently between Britain and America, writing and giving speeches. He died suddenly in Hollywood, California on 15 March 1941. 

Irvine’s papers at the Rowntree conferences were simple and to the point. Industry needed to develop a conscience, and employers had to remember that their workers were human beings just like themselves. 

When you enter your factories next Tuesday morning, you will be up against the immediate problem of labour and oversight. You have tremendous power —use it kindly and with consideration. Help us to build a bridge over which masters and men may travel without shoving each other off into the water! If you want the maximum of work out of us, you can accomplish your aim better by kindness than by gruffness and brutality.  

Major works 

The Master and the Chisel, 1904. 

From the Bottom Up, 1910. 

My Lady of the Chimney Corner, 1913. 

God and Tommy Atkins, 1916. 

The Souls of Poor Folk, 1921. 

The Man From World’s End, 1926. 

A Fighting Parson, 1930. 



‘Alexander Irvine, 1863-1941’, Dictionary of Ulster Biography. 

‘Alexander Irvine, 1863-1941’,  

‘A valuable insight is provided in the diaries of Dr Alexander Irvine’,,  

Who Was Who. 

Original Source

‘The handling of men: leadership, discipline’, 1919, Scarborough
‘What the workers want’, 20 March 1920, University College, Durham


“IRVINE, Alexander ,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed August 5, 2020,