More on Eliza Tupper Wilkes

In the 2/9 June 1888 issue of Unity, a Unitarian newspaper, reported that Eliza Tupper Wilkes was the pastor of the Sioux Falls Circuit in Dakota Territory (p. 197). C[aroline]. J. Bartlett (later Caroline Bartlett Crane) was pastor of All Souls Church in Sioux Falls. Wilkes had founded the church in Sioux Falls, and Bartlett joined her there in 1887; by 1888, Bartlett had become sole pastor (Standing before us: Unitarian Universalist women and social reform, 1776-1936, by Dorothy May Emerson, June Edwards, Helene Knox, p. 128).

The following biographical notices from History of Minnehaha county, South Dakota, by Dana Reed Bailey (Brown & Saenger, ptrs., 1899, p. 740) tell about Eliza and her husband William. Note that William and Eliza lived apart for three years while Eliza was in California:

Wilkes, William A., was born in Fremont, Ohio, in 1845. He was educated in Marion, Ohio, and at the age of eighteen years removed to Dodge county, Wisconsin. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1871: then practiced law at Rochester, Minnesota, and at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was elected prosecuting attorney of El Paso county two years. In 1878 he removed to Sioux Falls, where he has since resided. In connection with his professional work he engaged in the real estate business for some years. In 1893, and again in 1897, he was nominated judge of the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit by the Populist party, but was defeated by Judge J. W. Jones, the Republican nominee. At the general election in 1896 he was elected judge of the County Court of Minnehaha county, and re-elected in 1898. While at the bar he was engaged in some of the leading cases before the state tribunals, has always taken an active part in public affairs, and is a good citizen.

Wilkes, Rev. Eliza Tupper, was born at Houlton, Maine; was fitted for college in New England, and graduated from the State University of Iowa; was educated for foreign mission work; entered the Unitarian ministry in 1868, and took charge of the Universalist church at Neenah, Wis., the same year; in 1869, was married to William A. Wilkes at the last mentioned place; moved from there to Rochester, Minn., where she had charge of a Universalist church; in 1872, removed to Colorado Springs, Col., where they resided six years, and during part of that time she preached in the Unitarian church at that place; came to Sioux Falls in 1878; was one of the foremost workers in the establishment of the Sioux Falls Public Library and the Ladies History Club; started the project of building All Souls church, and labored zealously until the work was accomplished; has been pastor of the Unity church at Luverne, Minn., for the last twelve years, except three years, when she was assistant pastor of the Unitarian church at Oakland, Cal. With such a record of good works, comments would be superfluous.

In the 15 February 1894 issue of Unity, in the column titled “Notes from the field,” there is notice of Wilkes’s professional arrival in the Bay area:

Oakland: From the weekly calendar of the First Unitarian Church, we learn that Superintendent Wendte has now an assistant in his pastoral work. On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 4, Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes preached what we take to be her inaugural sermon, Mr. Wendte preaching in the evening; and on the Wednesday following, a reception was given to the new assistant pastor. The calendar is prefaced by selections from 2 Kings xxii. 12-15, and Rom. xvi. 1, referring to woman as prophet and minister.

The California Outlook, in its issue dated Saturday 19 September 1914, reported on the race for the governorship of California. They describe Eliza Tupper Wilkes as a “Wilson Democrat,” and print a statement from her:

Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, Wilson Democrat, says:

“I am here to speak in the interests of Hiram Johnson for Governor of the State of California, because he never forgot the interests of women.

“In 1896, before the legislature put into effect this great reform, at that time Hiram Johnson, a young lawyer in Sacramento, went with me to the State House and introduced me to his friends and announced that he was for woman suffrage. He did not, like many others I know, wait until the votes were counted on that momentous election to decide that he was for woman suffrage.

“It would have amounted to very little, his espousing the cause of women at that time, if he had not followed it up by standing firmly behind every effort made in the last legislature to enlarge the sphere of women under the new life.

“It is not alone because he is for women, but because his acts have shown that he is for humanity. Every human measure which was presented at our last legislature found him firmly endorsing and backing it.

“I am for Mr. Johnson because of his record; because of what he has already accomplished and because I, with other women in this campaign, feel that we cannot afford for one moment to miss his strong hand at the helm of state.”

By this date, I believe Wilkes was no longer active as a Unitarian minister.

2 thoughts on “More on Eliza Tupper Wilkes

  1. Boston Unitarian

    It is not often that God’s Country (South Dakota) is mentioned in a Unitarian Blog. Many thanks for the fascinating history. Boston Unitarian
    (South Dakota born and raised)

  2. Sheila

    Hey Boston!

    I’m a Unitarian in the Chicago area but originally from Sioux Falls. I visited the church there once (not the original, which has been razed, but another small church they bought east of the Sioux River. That church has been sold, and the congregation now meets in Dow Rummel Retirement home chapel.

    I love the story of Eliza Tupper Wilkes, and I wonder if she and Richard Pettigrew ever crossed paths. He was a freethinker, for sure, but I don’t know that he ever joined a church.

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