Peter Marshall? E. W. Palmer? Mary Morain? Stanley Sykes? Horace Mann? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of the following inspirational quotation?
A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.
These words are often attributed to someone named Peter Marshall, but I have seen other individuals credited.
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in January 1944 in the U.S. military newspaper “The Stars and Stripes”. Multiple editions of this periodical were published, and the saying was included in the London and Northern Ireland editions: 1 2
GI Philosophy. A different world can never be built with indifferent people.
GI was a nickname for soldiers in the U.S. Army. No specific name was given for the originator of the adage.
The expression has been connected to Peter Marshall because he held the prominent position of Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, and he popularized the maxim by including it in two prayers in 1947 and 1948. Detailed citations are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In March 1944 a newspaper in Kansas printed an instance while acknowledging a paper in Iowa. No attribution was given. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3
From the Des Moines Tribune.
No, a different world can never be built by indifferent people.
In 1946 the saying was used in a speech at a meeting of the civic organization Rotary International: 4
E. W. Palmer of Kingsport, Tenn., a past director of Rotary International who made the main address, told the 350 delegates that “this is the era of the second chance. We had our first chance after the first world war and failed to measure up to the opportunities of that chance.”
He asserted that “a different world can never he built by an indifferent people”…
In June 1947 the adage was used as an epigraph for a column by Lloyd and Mary Morain in “The Humanist” journal. The words were placed between quotation marks signaling that the expression was already in circulation, but no attribution was given: 5
“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”
On December 12, 1947 Peter Marshall who was the U.S. Senate Chaplin included the maxim in a prayer for the legislative body: 6
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, be gracious unto Thy servants, the Senators of the United States. Give them strength for the tasks of this day and guide them in their labors. When they are tempted to wonder if a righteous peace is not an impossible dream, remind them that Thou are not senile, or asleep, or defeated. A different world cannot be built by indifferent people. Let us never give up hope of the possibility of change.
On April 13, 1948 Peter Marshall again included the saying in a prayer: 7
Help us to work with Thee that it may be a good day with good things done.
We know that a different world cannot be built by indifferent people.
May there be no apathy in this place, no lukewarmness when we should be hot.
In 1973 a leadership workshop was held at Marymount College in Salina, Kansas, and the saying was used as a theme. The linkage to Marshall was remembered: 8
The workshop theme was taken from Peter Marshall’s statement, “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”
In 1978 a multi-school art show was held in Henrico County, Virginia, and one student incorporated the saying in his artwork: 9
Or they sought to inspire, as did Stanley Sykes’ painting accompanied by his hand lettering of “A different world cannot be made by indifferent people. …” He attends Fairfield Middle School.
In 2006 the adage was included in the book “A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility into the Curriculum” where it was attributed to the famous 19th century champion of universal education Horace Mann: 10
A different world cannot be built by indifferent people. —Horace Mann
In conclusion, this adage appeared in the 1940s, and the authorship was anonymous. The editors of “The Stars and Stripes” called it the “GI Philosophy” in 1944. Peter Marshall, the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, popularized the maxim by including it in two prayers in 1947 and 1948, but he probably did not originate it. QI has found no substantive evidence of authorship by Horace Mann.
Image Notes: Senate side of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Image released into the public domain by the author Scrumshus. Obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Illuminated candle and book logo on title page of the book “Prayers offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall” from U.S. Government Printing Office.
(Great thanks to Lisa Dorman Boyles whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1944 January 11, The Stars and Stripes (London Stars and Stripes), Hash Marks, Quote Page 2, Column 2, London, Middlesex, England. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1944 January 11, The Stars and Stripes (North Ireland Stars and Stripes), Hash Marks, Quote Page 2, Column 2, Belfast, Ulster, Northern Ireland. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1944 March 3, Kansas City Star, New World, Quote Page 12, Column 5, Kansas City, Missouri. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1946 April 26, Florence Morning News, Brookshire Is Made Governor By Rotarians, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Florence, South Carolina/ (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1947 June (Summer Issue), The Humanist, Volume 7, “Do You Know?” by Lloyd and Mary Morain, (Epigraph for article), Quote Page 32, Published by the American Humanist Association, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1949, Prayers offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall, D.D. / at the opening of the daily sessions of the Senate of the United States during the Eightieth and Eighty-first Congress 1947-1949, (Prayer on December 12, 1947), Quote Page 40, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link ↩
- 1949, Prayers offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall, D.D. / at the opening of the daily sessions of the Senate of the United States during the Eightieth and Eighty-first Congress 1947-1949, (Prayer on April 13, 1948), Quote Page 56, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link ↩
- 1973 September 2, Salina Journal, Leadership workshop held at Marymount, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Salina, Kansas. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1978 May 14, Richmond Times Dispatch, Henrico Schools’ Art Show Vivid, Entertaining, Inspiring by Thomas R. Morris, Quote Page C1, Column 4, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 2006, A Practical Guide for Integrating Civic Responsibility into the Curriculum, Edited by Karla Gottlieb and Gail Robinson, Second Edition, Appendix A: Films, Quotations, Articles, Quote Page 69, Community College Press, A Division of American Association of Community Colleges, Washington, D.C. (Google Books Preview) ↩