Alford Carleton was born on March 26, 1903 in Albany, New York, the son of Arthur Seldon and Mary Chamberlain (Wilson) Carleton. Alford attended Oberlin College from 1920-24 and participated in the college’s Y.M.C.A. cabinet. As a member of this organization, Carleton participated in weekly prayer services, bible studies, and assisted in local missions. After graduating from Oberlin College with an A.B. degree in 1924, he accepted a commission as a missionary teacher for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) of the Congregational Church that same year. His assignment was at the Near East Mission in Turkey and Syria, an association he was to maintain until he returned to the United States in 1954 to serve as executive vice president of the ABCFM, later the United Church Board of World Ministries.
In 1927, Alford returned to the United States to attend the Hartford Theological Seminary, in Hartford, Connecticut, from which he graduated with a B.D. degree in 1930. During this time spent in the United States, Alford also served as the traveling secretary of the Student Volunteer Movement. Following his graduation from the Hartford Theological Seminary, he was ordained into the Congregational Church. He continued serving as a missionary in the Near East Mission but returned on furlough in 1936 to earn his Ph.D. in Ottoman history from the Hartford Seminary Foundation in 1937.
Dr. Carleton returned to Aleppo, Syria in 1937 as the president of Aleppo College. In public life, during the war years, he was a representative of the American Red Cross in North Syria (1941–1944), representative of the United States Government on the International Tire Rationing Board in North Syria (1941–1945), Selective Service Officer for the United States government in Aleppo (1942–1945), and a member of the Aleppo mayor’s committee for the Planning of Educational Advance (1946). In 1947 Great Britain awarded him the King’s Medal (British) for “service in the cause of freedom.” His years in the Middle East made him a recognized authority on the social, political, economic, and religious life there.
After serving as president of Aleppo College for seventeen years, Dr. Carleton returned to the United States to serve as executive vice president of the ABCFM. His first major task was to guide the Congregational Church in a merger with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, creating the United Church of Christ. Resulting from this merger, the ABCFM, formerly a branch of the Congregational Church, became the United Church Board of World Ministries. He served as executive vice president of the board from 1954 to 1970.
During his years as director of missionary work in the field, he was long a proponent of changing the Board’s method of operation dominated by foreign intervention to a system whereby local parishes administered the missionary churches. He pursued this policy change while he was a member of the executive committee of the World Council of Churches. Rev. Dr. Avery Post said Carleton “was respected throughout the world for his perspectives concerning international relations and his deep understanding of interfaith and intercultural realities.” He was also the author of numerous articles appearing in church-based publications such as The Missionary Herald, Women and Missions, and Advance.
Dr. Carleton served as a consultant on the Near East Program of the Ford Foundation and was a trustee of several Mainline Protestant bodies such as the Hartford Seminary Foundation, the Andover Theological Seminary, and Emerson College. Included among his honorary degrees are a DHL from Williams College in 1956, a DD from the University of Chicago Theological Seminary in 1962, a DLL from Emerson College in 1962, and a DD from Heidelberg College in 1964.
Dr. Carleton married Mary Dorrofield Cashmore on February 1, 1929. Mary Cashmore was born in Fredricka, Delaware, but spent most of her early life in her hometown of Jericho, Vermont, where her father, Dr. William Cashmore, was a pastor of the Congregational Church. She earned her degree of bachelor of philosophy from the University of Vermont in 1924. After teaching high school for year in Barton, Vermont, Mary traveled to Aleppo, Syria, under the auspices of the Women’s Board of Missions of the Congregational Church. Mary and Alford first met in Aleppo while they were teaching at American mission schools. Mary returned to the United States with Alford in 1927, where they were married in 1929 and commissioned together for a lifetime of missionary service by the ABCFM. Mary Cashmore Carleton served in the Near East Mission with Alford until 1954 when Mr. Carleton accepted the Board’s executive vice president position and the family returned to the United States. The Carletons had three daughters, Muriel Elizabeth (A.B. 1950), Anne Marie (A.B. 1954), and Caroline May (A.B. 1957).
Dr. Carleton retired in 1970 to Haworth, New Jersey and died August 22, 1983 at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 80. Burial was in Boston, where Alford served as the executive vice president of the ABCFM and, later, the Board of World Ministries of the United Church of Christ.