Muscular Christianity is a philosophical interpretation of Christianity that centers on the moral and physical beauty of athleticism. It has had many proponents over the years, but few as colorful as the Reverend Frederick Wedge. Historian Gary Entz has the story.
There are many philosophical interpretations of Christianity that have been put forward over the centuries, but one of the liveliest is that of Muscular Christianity. The movement started in England in the mid-nineteenth century and is characterized by a belief in patriotic duty, discipline, self-sacrifice, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism. Perhaps the most famous American evangelist of Muscular Christianity was the Reverend Billy Sunday, a baseball player who gave revivals across the country in the early twentieth century. However, there was another evangelist of Muscular Christianity almost as famous as Reverend Sunday, and this one came right out of the Northwoods.
Frederick R. Wedge, sometimes better known by his fighting name of Kid Wedge, was born in Michigan in 1880. Wedge’s father was killed when he was two, and his mother died when he was only eight. Young Wedge was sent to live with his father’s brother, who lived in the town of Pelican in Oneida County, Wisconsin. Oneida County was rough logging country in 1888, and Wedge was soon working in the logging camps surrounding Rhinelander.
All that lumberjacking made Wedge big and tough, and by his late teens he had already acquired a reputation as a hard drinker and fighter to be reckoned with. He enjoyed drunken brawls and when in town he could be counted on to start a bar fight. Judge Paul Browne said that Wedge “was one of the hardest drinkers and toughest fighters that ever came before my court. One of his favorite pastimes while in his cups was fighting policemen, making it necessary for them to use their clubs every time before he could be taken to jail.” In all, Wedge spent 105 days in the Oneida County Jail.
When he turned 18, Wedge became a professional heavyweight bareknuckle boxer and took on the ring name of “Kid Wedge.” Bill Daniels, another local boxer, became his manager, and by 1906 he had fought in at least seventy professional bouts throughout the country.
In 1906, Wedge was converted to Christianity by Reverend Hay Red Bell, a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute. Wedge found the message of Muscular Christianity appealing, and at his last scheduled professional bout against Guy Buckles in Omaha, Wedge announced his retirement and offered Buckles a Bible in lieu of a fight. Buckles thought it an insult and punched Wedge in the nose. The two ended up beating each other to a pulp.
Wedge had no education and was illiterate, but he married in Nebraska and his first wife encouraged him to better himself. He returned for a time to the Northwoods, worked as a lumberjack, and took night classes. He graduated from Rhinelander High School and went on to earn a college degree. Wedge became an itinerate minister of Muscular Christianity and preached in many venues across the country, but probably most notably at San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. However, he never lost his rough Northwoods edge. He continued to drink, used rough language, had a quick temper, and married multiple times, but he never lost his faith. Wedge died in 1953.