20th C. UU history timeline

I’m in the middle of preparing a timeline of North American Unitarian and Universalist (and Unitarian Universalist) history for an adult class. I’d love to hear from you:– in your opinion, what are the dozen or so most important 20th C. events in U, U, and UU history? (I’ll give my attempt at such a timeline later on.)

22 thoughts on “20th C. UU history timeline

  1. DairyStateDad

    1984: The UUA affirms religious services of union for same-gender couples. I believe it did so before the United Church of Christ, making it one of the first, if not the first, religious bodies to recognize same-sex unions.

    Of course the merger.

    And, probably, the early 30s (?) signing of the Humanist Manifesto, bearing the signatures of a number of Unitarian as well as some Universalist clergy.

    James Reeb’s martyrdom in the Civil Rights struggle.

  2. John A Arkansawyer

    If you mark James Reeb’s death at Selma, you must mark Viola Liuzzo’s death as well. She was killed twice: Once in the dark by racists in a car, and again in broad daylight, when Hoover, the FBI, and their willing accomplices in the media assassinated her character.

  3. Jeremiah

    If we’re talking about the merger, it’s worth noting that the youth saw this coming DECADES before the older folks. The UCA and AUA wanted the merger in ’35.

    But that has only made me cranky, thinking back on this. The last century, if anything, has been a trend of the repeated institutional disembowelment of youth-based leadership. Probably want to gloss over the unpleasantries when roping in converts.

    FWIW, I think it is a significant event, but it brings up so many other issues.

  4. Bill Baar

    I’d add what seems to me to have been a great collapse of many Universalist Churches in the 20s and 30s. Especially Urban ones (at least in Chicago) which had been great prominent Churches. Then the empowerment controversy of the 70s. These were significant, not good, or happy events; but significant for sure.

  5. Bill Baar

    PS I think UU history of the past century pretty important to reflect on…most of the time were talking Parker and Channing and Emerson, but it’s really the preaching of our Fathers and Grandfathers we should be looking at…Great Grandfathers for some of us.

  6. Steve Caldwell

    I would include James Barrett:


    He is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who was shot and killed while performing abortion clinic escort duties in Pensacola FL. His widow was also shot but she survived.

    Lt Col Barrett is our “James Reeb” of reproductive choice health care access. Additional details on Lt Col Barrett’s sacrifice can be found in the UU “Sexuality and Our Faith” for grades 7-9.

    The Arlington Cemetery link provides a photo of his grave marker with a flaming chalice engraved on it.

  7. Philocrites

    Some that I’d include:

    “Unitarians Face a New Age”: Frederick May Eliot and the Commission on Appraisal reorient Unitarianism, mid-1930s

    Fellowship movement and “Beacon Series” of religious education curricula, post-WWII

    Selma voting rights campaign, 1965; deaths of James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo

    Black Empowerment controversy

    Women in Religion movement and the revision of the Principles and Purposes

  8. Jeremiah

    Bill @4: That is an interesting issue. The largest Universalist Church in Maine, First Universalist of Portland, no longer even exists. It sat well over 1,000 people and had the largest organ in the state. To this day, all that remains are bits of its clock in a mediocre (at best) urban park. The issues leading to the collapse are definitely worth talking about, given the love and work that went into so many extinct churches.

  9. VB

    Not being deeply versed in the details of early 20th-century UU history, the first thing that sprang to my mind was the rejection of and then rediscovery of spirituality. By this I mean the transition from a liberal Christian to a Humanist denomination, and then the transition from Humanist to _________ denomination (fill in the blank with whatever you would call us now — New Age? Multiculti? Or, perhaps, finally truly fully Unitarian?)

    Certainly, our prominent involvement in the civil rights movement was one of our proudest accomplishments. And Bill Sinkford’s election was something noteworthy, IMO.

  10. Victor

    Recommend including significant events from the history of the chalice, e.g., the creation of the symbol in 1941 intended to be used for “papers” to help refugees escape Nazi Germany, and also the GA event in the early 1980’s (can’t find the exact date) when Rev. David Pohl decided to light a chalice during the Service of the Living Tradition, and those attending brought the idea to their home congregations.

    In the same vein, would include some history on the use of the “Spirit of life” hymn, which is sung in most UU congregations.

    Anything else which defines a typical UU Service I think is important to include since the emphasis should be on the evolution of the faith – not social justice (important, but not the primary emphasis since many faiths also engage in similar social justice efforts).

    How “early” 20th century are you researching?

  11. Victor

    …or. stated another way, how the social justice efforts of the early 20th century informed and influenced the development of our faith…

  12. Dan

    Dairy State Dad @ 1 — Great stuff, thanks.

    John Arkansawyer @ 2 — Yes, Viola Liuzzo needs to be next to Reeb.

    Jeremiah @ 3 — AUY and UYF merged in 1953, not 1935, according to Follow the Gleam, the definitive history of U and U youth movements. Many of the youth leaders that made that happen in 1953 went on to become denominational leaders who helped make the denominational consolidation happen in 1961, so I don’t believe this is a case of youth disempowerment at all — it’s actually a story of what we should be doing, holding on to our youth leaders and moving them into positions of denominational leadership. I see it as a shining example for us to follow.

    Bill @ 4 — Yes, the decline of Universalists (and many Unitarian congregations) in the 20s and 30s is important.

    Bill @ 5 — I already have a good 19th C. timeline, I just need help with 20th C.

    Steve @ 6 — thanks, good idea.

    Chris @ 7 — Excellent, just what I needed!

    VB @ 10 — I think what you’re talking about is the humanist/theist controversies? Otherwise, I’m not sure what you mean by the “rejection of spirituality” — not an easily defined phrase, not one that many historians of religion use.

    Victor @ 10 — History of flaming chalice as symbol is important, absolutely! And while I’m not convinced about “Spirit of Life, that reminds me of another feminist liturgical innovation, the Water Communion, which I think is more widespread than “Spirit of Life.”

    You ask: “How ‘early’ 20th century are you researching?” Not just “early”, but the whole century: 1901-2000. Any ideas you have would be great.

  13. steven rowe

    Clarence Skinner and his attempts to have mold Universalism for the 20th century
    Charles Street Meeting House -the Universalist approach to a universalist religion (we can argue it’s sucess – but it’s what the UUA still tries today)
    the near bankruptcy of the UUA in the late 1960s, the sell off of many of the historic properties, etc. – this cash loss still affects the UUA now.
    the removal of the label “Christian” from the Unitarian (1930s?) and Universalist (1950s) denominational periodical.

  14. Dan

    Jeremiah @ 15 — This is a historical argument worth investigating, but I’m going to argue that you haven’t yet adequately supported your argument.

    We Would Be One by Wayna Arnason and Rebecca Scott (the 2005 revised ed.), at present the definitive historical account of Unitarian and Universalist youth movements, puts a somewhat different interpretation on the evidence. Arnason and Scott state that talks between the YPRU and YPCU came about in the context of the cooperative ventures between the respective denominations — this was when the AUA and the UGC had created the “Free Church of America.” In Arnason and Scott’s interpretation, (pp. 32-34), the two youth organizations appear to be pretty much in step with their parent denominations. The AUY’s vote for organic union in 1935 is less surprising considered in this context — it’s even less surprising given the financial difficulties facing both youth organizations. Arnason and Scott quote Clinton Lee Scott as saying “there was evidence that the Universalist youth also desired merger, but under pressure from denominational officials action was ‘postponed’ for another year.”

    It’s a big step from that one statement from a 1957 secondary source written by Clinton Lee Scott, to your contention that “the Universalists denied this [merger] for almost 20 years.” I’d need to see additional citations from primary source material before you convince me of your position. As for citing the Andover Harvard Theological School Library’s Web site, I’d be wary of that for at least two reasons: (1) I have found minor but serious factual errors elsewhere on their site (e.g., misspellings of names, incomplete statement of contents of manuscript boxes in which I have done research); and (2) historical interpretations on their site, such as the one you cite, do not cite primary source material and are not attributed to reputable scholars.

    Why not make a trip down there to look through the relevant documents? Maybe you could find primary source materials that conclusively prove that both the AUY and UYF wanted merger, that the UGC blocked the UYF from approving merger and continued to block it for the next 18 years. I think it’s entirely possible that what you say is true, I just need to see better evidence to support your claim. You could start with the UGC approaching other denominations (other than the AUA) with merger proposals; then you’d have to document this as the motivation behind whatever pressure was brought to bear on the UYF in 1935. This would make a very interesting paper for the UUHS journal.

    But until you make that case, 1953 remains the significant date supported by incontrovertible evidence that AUY and UYF did in fact merge — so that’s what I think should go on the timeline.

  15. Dan

    steven rowe @ 14 — Charles St. Meeting House, or at least Kenneth Patton, will be on there. Patton is easier to mention since he created the 1964 hymnal. Also of interest is that Patton lit a flame at the opening of every worship service at Charles St. Meetinghouse, and the thing that he lit looks a awful lot like the early flaming chalice designs that were lit in worship services.

    The late 60s UUA financial disaster, and Robert West shepherding the financial recovery, are excellent points.

  16. steven rowe

    for the youth argument, there was a
    “Southern Religious Liberal Young People’s Federation” met July 13-15, 1937 at the Burruss Memorial Church near Ellisville, Mississippi.

    this was both Unitarian and Universalist youth. not sure how long the SRLYPF lasted, but it did exist.

  17. steven rowe

    oh, being the only source of this organization on the internet (at least right now). I can state my source as noted was the Universalist Leader. the UL being the denominational paper (the paper later became the Christian Leader before switching back to UL).
    so, the Universalists did allow coverage of one youth merger in the denominational paper, without an editorial explaining how bad it was……

  18. earthbound spirit

    Norbert Capek’s Unitarian evangelism in the Czech Republic, internment by Nazis, martyrdom – and invention of another widely-practiced UU ritual: flower communion (or ceremony). His work was sponsored by the AUA, so I think this counts! (And please put the little “v” shaped mark over the capital “c” in his name, where it belongs, unlike our hymnal.)

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