Sources for the history of Unity Home | North Unitarian Church, New Bedford

A collection of documentary sources for the history of Unity Home, or North Unitarian Church, in New Bedford, Mass. (N.B.: “First Congregational Society” was the name of First Unitarian through much of this era.)

Concise institutional summary of major events:

c. 1894 — Mission to immigrant communities of North End of New Bedford begun by First Congregational Society (Unitarian) of New Bedford in rented rooms.
c. 1903 — A building on Tallman St. built for the mission, now called Unity Home.
1904 — Evening worship services begin.
1905 — Bertram Boivin becomes Assistant Pastor of First Congregational Society, in order to oversee Unity Home.
13 April 1909 — Bertland Worth Morrison ordained and installed as minister at Unity Home, by First Congregational Society.
17 June 1917 — Leon Sherman Pratt ordained at Unity Home.
1917 — Meetings begin to establish North Unitarian Church as an independent congregation.
23 May 1923 — Members of North Unitarian Church vote to give up church charter.
1926-1937 — No ordained minister, Unity Home under the charge of Florence Cross nee Parkins.
1939 — Rev. Duncan Howlett of First Congregational Society begins moving Unity Home towards becoming an independent church again.
1940-1943 — Rev. Maja Capek is director of Unity Home.
8 October 1944 — North Unitarian Church has a new charter, takes on independent existence; simultaneously ordains and installs Orval Simeon Clay.
1946-1956 — Student and retired ministers.
1958-1968 — Supply preachers (not in fellowship with the AUA or UUA).
1971 — North Unitarian consolidates with First Unitarian.

Documentary sources:


1894 North End Mission

Rev. Paul Revere and Anna Clapp Frothingham established a Unitarian mission, or settlement house, in the north end of the city in 1894. It operated in rented space at first.

Ida Hodgin recorded that Unity Home was established as 1016 Acushnet Ave.

From an unsigned handwritten manuscript in the church archives, titled “How our church began,” giving the history of North Unitarian Church:

“In the year 1889 Mr. Paul Revere Frothingham came to New Bedford as assistant minister to Mr. Potter who was the minister of the Unitarian Church on Union and Eighth St. He had a very pleasing personality and was liked very much by young and old alike.

“In the year 1892 Mr. Potter tendered his resignation and Mr. Frothingham then became minister of the church.

“It wasn’t long after Mr. Frothingham became minister that he began looking around to see what he would do to improve the community. With Mrs. Frothingham they started a club for girls, called ‘Girls Social Union’ they met in the chapel of the Unitarian Church. There were classes in sewing, millnery, & cooking, besides having fun playing all sorts of games. This was given free of charge to any girl who was interested in becoming a member.

“In 1894 it was decided to hire rooms in the North end of the city 1651 Purchase St. where the girls could meet and they would be nearer their homes as they all lived in the north end of the city. It was in the same rooms Mr. Frothingham established a free kindergarten and secured a trained teacher for the children. Later this kindergarten was taken over by the city and called the ‘North end Day Nursery.’

“The beginning of this movement is quite interesting, for at that time a Bohemian man living in the north end, having read of the day nursery and of a sermon by Mr. Frothingham translated was deeply impressed, and said this is what I believe, and would like my children to go to the Sunday school where Mr. Frothingham is the minister. The children went to Sunday school, soon other children joined, and this was the beginning of our Sunday school. Don’t know the exact year but think it might [be] 1896 or 1897.

“Sunday school was held in a house 1378 Acushnet Ave. just across from St. Anthony’s church…. The Sunday school became so large in attendance that we were over crowded, so Mr. Frothingham decided we should have a place of our own. So in 1901 Unity Home was built….”

“History of North Unitarian Church” by Rev. David Rankin (minister of First Unitarian from 1968-1974), in the newsletter of the Inter-Church Council:

“In the early 1890’s there were several waves of migrations into the North End of the sity which consisted primarily of people from England and the central and eastern countries of Europe.

“The young minister from the First Unitarian Church, the Rev. Paul Revere Frothingham, saw the opportunity of establishing a center in the North End for both church and social work. In 1894 three rooms were procured in what was then Sharples’ Bakery on Acushnet Ave., in order to serve the needs of the migrants and to help integrate them into American society. These first rooms were known as the North End Mission; but a year later, when larger quarters were found on Tallman St., the North End Mission was renamed Unity Home….”

“In the North End Mission and then in Unity Home, regular worship services were conducted on Sunday morning, a Sunday school was formed with Mrs. Frothingham as first superintendent, and a large number of church and social activities were undertaken….”



Unity Home building was built. Building formally opened on the first Saturday in May, 1903. total cost of land and building: $13,172.89.

In the July 1, 1903, AUA Yearbook, Unity Home is not listed; it is listed thereafter.


1904 William Geohegan listed as minister

In the July 1, 1904, AUA Yearbook, Geohegan is listed at Unity Home.

According to the unsigned manuscript, worship services began at Unity Home in 1904: “In 1904 we start [sic] having the first church services at night. Mr. Brunton was the minister…” [unsigned manuscript, p. 1]. Perhaps Rev. William Brunton, then minister of the Fairhaven Unitarian church, preached in Unity Home upon occasion?


1905-1906 Bertram D. Boivin

In the July 1, 1905, AUA Yearbook, Boivin is listed at Unity Home.

ODHS Mss 42 Subgroup 2 Series D Folder 1:

In a letter, Boivin accepts the “call extended to me by First Congregational Society in New Bedford to become its Assistant Pastor in special charge of its mission work at Unity Home for one year at a salary of $1200.”


1906-1910 Bertland Worth Morrison

1915 AUA Yearbook: “Bertland Worth Morrison was born at Greenleaf, Wis., May 19, 1872, and died at San Diego, Cal., May 7, 1915. In early life Mr. Morrison devoted himself to the jeweler’s trade, and spent part of his time at his trade during his theological course at Meadville… …After graduation he was in charge of Unity Home, New Bedford, Mass., where he was ordained and installed April 13, 1909…”

In the July 1, 1909, AUA Yearbook, Morrison is listed at Unity Home.
In the July 1, 1910, AUA Yearbook, no one is listed at Unity Home.

From “Unity Home Report for 1909,” signed by Bertland W. Morrison, in ODHS Mss 42 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 3 Folder 1:

“Sunday school is the most important work, with an average attendance of about 25. Sunday evening worship services attract an average of only a dozen people. Many other activities go on in Unity home.”

From ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

A report by William Geohegan dated 23 January 1911. Rev. Bertland W. Morrison was present at Unity Home for the first six months of the year. After Morrison leaves, says Geohegan:

“The committee looked about for some one else to take up the work and was fortunate enough to find Rev. George H. Howes willing to do so as soon as he could conveiently arrange to be released from the parish he was then serving. By the first of October, Mr. Howes was free to begin his ministry at Unity Home….”


1910-1913 George Henry Howes

In the July 1, 1911, AUA Yearbook, Howes is listed at Unity Home.
In the July 1, 1912, AUA Yearbook, Howes is listed at Unity Home.
No one listed in July 1, 1913, AUA Yearbook.

From the “Annual report of the Committee on Unity Home” for the year ending 26 January 1914, in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“On May 12 the committee received the resignation of Mr. Howes and it was accepted.

“In August Mr. Buckshorn was engaged as minister of Unity Home at a salary of $1200.00 a year. He came to us just before Thanksgiving. He is much interested in the work and is liked by the parishioners.”


1913-1915 Louis Henry Buckshorn

From Unitarian Word and Work: The Monthly Bulletin of the American Unitarian Association, National Alliance of Unitarian Women, Young People’s Religious Union, and Unitarian Temperance Society, May, 1914 (vol. 17 no. 8), p. 15:

Mrs. Sherman reports on the new Unity Home Branch in New Bedford: “Mrs. Buckshorn, until now president of the Vineyard Haven Branch, an experienced Alliance woman, finds eighteen or twenty women, with their local work well in hand, prepared to be led into the fellowship privileges of the Alliance. Under these circumstances the progress of our new branch will be interesting.” Norton is most grateful to her sister branches for their response to the appeal for help in furnishing the parsonage. At New Bedford perhaps the most important local work just now is influence and financial assistance in keeping the church open week days, with an attendant.

Handwritten report for 1915 (no title) in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“The Home was not open during the summer, and when Mr. Buckshorn returned in the autumn there seemed to be some friction. He tendered his resignation to take effect Nov. 1st and the Committee feel they were most fortunate in securing the services of Mr. and Mrs. Wood who came from the East End Settlement House in Boston. Mr. Wood has entered into the work with great enthusiasm.”

AUA Yearbook, July 1, 1920

“Louis H. Buckshorn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec. 17, 1865. In his early youth he followed the printer’s trade, but later his mind turned towards the ministry. He entered the Meadville Theological School…

“He was in charge of Unity Home, New Bedford, from 1913 to 1915, when he returned to Westford, his first parish, and served until April 20, 1919. He died in Westford on July 6, 1919…

“Mr. Buckshorn was an expert horticulturalist, a lover of flowers…”

From the General Catalogue of the Divinity School of Harvard University, 1915. Listed under class of 1896:

“Louis Henry Buckshorn. 1.

“b. Cincinnati, O., Dec. 17, 1865. Grad. Meadville Theological School, Pa., 1895. Westford (UN. Cong.), Apr. 1896 (Ord. Oct. 7, 1896)- Dec. 15, 1900; Concord, N. H., Dec. 1, 1900-July 1, 1909; Vineyard Haven, Dec. 1, 1909-1913 ; Unity Home, New Bedford, 1913-.”

A letter by Buckshorn appears in the Feb. 20, 1915, number of Survey: A Journal of Constructive Philanthropy

“To The Editor: Can you give me the source of your information about the recent work of the International Institute of Agriculture? I would like to get more of it to scatter among the farmers in institute work.

“We need farm missionaries, versed in the practical making good of land, dairy, and orchard problems. The academic touch and go is that, and that only. Too much off the top. Horny-handed men who have made good in all three divisions, to travel together from farm to farm, meeting dad with all the problems that are incident and accident to the special place, with mother’s problems and Johnny’s, hit right on the spot. So much better than sending Johnny to an agricultural college, or an academic collegian to scrape loose his book knowledge at some county center for the elevation of the outlying farmers and farms.

“The uplift and the how-to-do-it-better farm education must come from the ranks of the men, and not from the collegiate academicians. There must be a radical change in the mental equipment and purpose of ministers and school teachers going into the country districts — a change that will have to include a knowledge of the purpose and the burdens of the country.

“Until this latter thing is done, all others will fail. The ‘Lubinating’ things will then flash out of the midst of the country folk themselves, spontaneously and illuminatingly.

“Glad to see you dip into the country affairs in the Lubin work. Splendid.
New Bedford, Mass.”

A poem by Buckshorn appeared in The Chautauquan, periodical of Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, published by T. L. Flood Publishing House, Meadville, Pa.

“I Wonder If in Heaven”

I wonder if the daffodil
Its golden glow doth safely lift
Above the blue dome’s sunny rift?

I wonder if the pinky bloom
Beneath the winter’s remnant gloom
Can send aloft its sweet perfume ?

I wonder if the caroled note
From oriole and red-breast throat
On heaven’s stillness ever broke ?

And answer came:
The sunset in the parting west
Hangs low, in dream, its golden crest
On gentle evening’s soothing breast.

The quiet pose of darkling air
Breathes forth a vibrant fragrance rare,
Like beds of bloom secreted there.

And twinkling stars on heaven’s brink
Seem straying notes that sight must link
With song ear hears from bobolink.”


1915-1916 ——— Wood

Reports during this era talk about the overcrowding of the Sunday school, and the need to expand the building.

Unity Home Committee report dated 1917 (probably January, 1917), in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

Mr. Wood resigned as minister in October 1916. “Mr. Leon Pratt, a young man just out of the divinity school, was engaged for the work of the Home and took charge the last of November.”


1916-1918 Leon Sherman Pratt

At Harvard Divnity School 1914-1916, according the Harvard Alumni Directory of 1919.

Unity Home Committee report dated 1918 (probably January, 1918), in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“On June 17th [1917] Mr. Pratt was ordained and now as a full-fledged minister can marry the members of the parish so inclined.”

in 1917, a church organizes as a separate institution from Unity Home, is called “North Unitarian Church.”

“History of North Unitarian Church” by Rev. David Rankin, in the newsletter of the Inter-Church Council:

“[Unity Home] was more than fulfilling the expectations of its founders. It served a variety of needs at a time when few institutions in American society were concerned with the poor, the migrant, the non-English-speaking people. It was a social agency. It was a community center. It was a house of worship. In all of these ways the Home attempted to serve the whole man [sic]. It was in 1917 that the members, apparently feeling that religion should play a more integral part in the affairs of the Home… voted to form a religious society. The Rev. Leon Pratt was installed as the minister and regular worship services were conducted in the chapel on Sunday mornings. It was not until 1920, however, that the organization was legally incorporated as the North Unitarian Church of New Bedford.”

“North Unitarian Church Book 1917-1920,” in ODHS library, entry for 12 March 1917:

“Mr. Pratt called the meeting to order…

“…statement was read which might be used as a basis for membership of the church.

” ‘This church accepts the religion of Jesus holding that true religion is summed up in love to God and love to man. We the undersigned holding these principles unite for the worship of God and service of man.'”

At this meeting, William Geoheagn “spoke at length.”

Entry for 19 March 1917:

They decide to call the new church “North Unitarian Church.”

Entry for January 1918 [no day given]”

“It was voted to give Mr. Leon S. Pratt leave of absence and to keep the position of minister of the North Unitarian Church open to him if he wishes to resume his work there at the end of his service for the Y. M. C. A.”


1919 Edith S. Bean serves as a director of Unity Home.

Unity Home Committee report dated 27 January 1919, in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“In May, before Mr. Geohegan went away [from First Unitarian], Mr. Ribchester was authorized to secure a candidate for Unity Home…. Miss Edith E. Bean, a social worker, was finally procured, giving up her position in Attleboro to take up the work here September 1st.

“You can imagine our consternation three days before she was due, to hear from Mr. Pratt….” Mr. Pratt gracefully withdrew.

Unity Home was used as an emergency hospital during the influenze epidemic in the autumn of 1918, Miss Bean serving as night nurse.

Entry for 17 June 1919:

“Special meeting of all committees called to decide upon the general feeling of the said committees in regard to having a minister or not.

“General feeling of committees was in favor of a minister, but held no manner of disfavor of services rendered by Miss Bean.”

Still no minister as of 18 July 1919.


1919-1923 Samuel Louis Elberfeld

From the New Bedford Daily Standard of 18 November 1922 (clipping in North Unitarian Church files of ODHS):


Meeting Held in Unity Home
Last Evening Acts
Against Pastor


Final Action in North Unita-
rian Church Up to
Center Committee

At a meeting of members of the North Unitarian Church held in Unity Home, Tallman street, last night, a vote was taken on the dismissal of the Rev. Samuel L. Elberfeld, pastor of the church. There were 36 members present, and the voted was 26 for dismissal, and three for his retention. There were seven blanks cast.

According to previous announcements, the meeting was called for the purpose of discussing the future policy of the church, bearing on the question of whether the social and athletic activities are to be carried on as extensively as they are at present, or whether they are to be made subservient to the work of the church proper.

The meeting resolved itself into a discussion of the dismissal of the pastor. The vote it is said did not represent the sentiment of the full church body for the reason that there are at least 125 accredited members of the parish, and that our of this number only 36 were present. Of the 36 who attended, it was pointed out that the majority was entirely out of sympathy with the pastor. Members of this majority, it is said, were the instigators in the removal proceedings that were first brought to light as a result of a meeting a week ago. It

(Continued on Page 2.)

Otherwise It Will Be Met Outside Says Rev.
Samuel L. Elberfeld — Has Interested Him-
self Largely in Social and Athletic Activities
— Sunday School Shows Steady Increase

Continued from Page One.

was said that those who are favorable toward the pastor failed to attend the meeting.

Not Informed.

After the vote was taken, is was agreed by the members of the parish not to give the results to the newspapers until Mr. Elberfeld had been informed of the action taken at the meeting.

When seen by a Standard reporter this morning, Mr. Elberfeld said that he had not received notice of the results of last night’s meeting. He was then told what had been done.

Mr. Elberfeld said, “All I can say is that my work has been successful. I have not been a failure.” He then said that he wanted to remain noncommittal. “I think you had better not ask me questions,” he suggested, adding, “It is bothering me too much.”

A committee was appointed last night to confer with the committee of the First Congregational Society (Unitarian) to learn the attitude of this committee regarding the vote on the dismissal of Mr. Elberfeld, and to ascertain what future steps should be taken.

The power of removing Mr. Elberfeld is vested in this committee, which is appointed to have supervision of the work at North Unitarian Church.

Was in Boston.

The First Congregational Society committee consists of Thomas C. Knowles, chairman; Miss Emily Hussey, Miss Mabel hutchinson, Miss Augusta Thornton, and Miss Cecile Covell. Mr. Knowles, the chairman, was in Boston today, and his views as to what action may be taken by his committee could not be learned.

The difficulties involving the pastor, it was learned, were brought about by a certain faction who charged he was more interested in and giving more of his time to the development of the Sunday school, the Women’s club and the social and athletic activities, than to the work of the church proper.

This feeling was the occasion of a meeting of the parishioners which was held in Unity Home [the building owned by First Congregational Society (Unitarian) and built as a mission to poor immigrants, and used by North Unitarian Church] Friday night, Nov. 17, at which the future policy of the church was discussed and at which references were made about the pastor that involved his future. At the time it was said that the question of the pastor was not discussed, but it developed that the meeting was merely a preliminary to bring up the question of his dismissal.

Mr. Elberfeld has been connected with the North Unitarian church for more than three years.

[new column]

“There is one thing the churches today must recognize. That is, the active side of the young people’s life must be taken care of. If the churches don’t meet it, it will be met outside.”

In these words Rev. Samuel Elberfeld, pastor of the North Unitarian Church, today struck the keynote of his work in that parish. Mr. Elberfeld had consented to explain for the Standard readers the theories in the working out of which he has made many friends in the north end [of New Bedford] — and in the light of last night’s meeting of some of his parishioners, an active group of enemies.

Not an athlete himself but nevertheless deeply interested in sport, Mr. Elberfeld has as his sole outside activity the Church Basketball and Baseball Leagues. The former he has been president of for three seasons and was one of the framers of its constitution. He was largely instrumental in having included in the league’s rules a provision that a boy must be a regular attendant of church or Sunday school in order to represent that church in the league games.

Willing and Tireless Worker.

He is also president of the baseball league and was responsible for its organization last spring. A willing and tireless worker, his associates have found him always ready to draw on his small reserves of spare time to promote and maintain athletics for the boys who are faithful attendants of church or Sunday school.

Mr. Elberfeld came to the North Unitarian Church in 1918 and the first night he attended a Boy Scout meeting at Unity Home he found six boys out on the floor.

He is Scoutmaster of Troop 7 now, an organization which has at its weekly meetings about 40 boys from all sections of the North End. “We draw our Scouts from all over the North End — Baylies Square, Belleville avenue and some from the church school. Some of the brightest and best Scouts in the troop are from Belleville avenue,” Mr. Elberfeld said.

Mr. Elberfeld is a great believer in the disciplinary possibilities of basketball. So much so that every boys’ and girls’ club at the Unity Home plays the game. [N.B.: Unity Home had a gymnasium in its building.]

Must Back Up Services.

“We’re finding out,” he said, “that we must back up the Sunday services with some other interest. I have found the discipline of the basketball floor to have worked will. You can see it in the boys. When a boy is out on the floor the referee is his critic and the crowd on the sidelines sees his every move. If he can stand up under the official’s correction, the comment of the spectators and take everything in good part he’s bound to amount to something.”

That probably explains why included in the activities of the Unity Club (the girl’s society), the Unity Home Juniors, a group of boys from 12 to 16 years old, and the Young Men’s Club, are a few minutes of basketball each meeting night.

This is not without its result either. The first season of the Church Basketball League, the Unity Home team was runner-up to the championship Trinitarian five, losing the deciding game by one point. Last year the team went through the season and again this season will be among the members of the league. Last summer the Unity Home was one of the first to enter the new Church Baseball League.

Summing up his efforts along these lines, Mr. Elberfeld said, “Without neglecting the intellectual and spiritual side of church life I have emphasized the social and athletic activities, I believe with success. A proof of this is the steady increase in the size of my Sunday School.”

Elberfeld was gone by March, 1923. A Miss Hussey took charge of the Sunday following his departure.


1923 North Unitarian Church gives up charter.

Unity Home Committee report dated January 1924, in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

On 23 May 1923, “voted to give up their church charter, take the name of Unity Home, and affiliate with the First Congregational (Unitarian) Church.”


1924-1926 Leon Sherman Pratt

Unity Home Committee report dated January 1925 (first of two such documents), in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“Mr. Pratt is again in charge of the Sunday school & the other church work…”

Unity Home Committee report dated January 1925 (second of two such documents), in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

“On account of his work taking him out of town, Mr. Pratt has been unable to be with the Unity Home people at their week day activities.”

Unity Home Committee report dated January 1927 in ODHS Mss 42 Box 25 Subgroup 2 Series A Subseries 2 Folder 1:

Pratt resigned in 1926. Miss. Florence M. Parkins took over the Sunday school, October, 1926.


1926-1937 Florence M. Parkins, later Florence Cross aka Mrs. Robert Cross

Miss Parkins becomes Mrs. Cross as of the 1930 report.

The unsigned manuscript: “Mrs. Florence Cross took charge of the Sunday school in 1924 and was superintendent for 14 yrs. during that time there were no church services.”

See listing under Maja Capek for more on Cross.


1939 Duncan Howlett intervenes

In 1939, Howlett calls a meeting of Unity Home people to discuss their future.

The unsigned manuscript: “In 1939 Mr. Howlett became interested in the Unity Home group and started our church services again with Bob Holden who was a student at Harvard University. After graduating he became assistant minister in the largest church in Cleveland, Ohio. He was then called to be minister of the Unitarian Church in New Bedford.”


1939-1940 Robert J. Holden, student minister.

With help from Rev. Duncan Howlett of First Unitarian, church services began again in 1939. Howlett assigned student minister Holden to serve North Unitarian Church.

Holden became minister of First Unitarian after Howlett left, from 1948-1953. Holden worked at M.I.T. from 1953-1982; he was associate dean of students from 1962-1982. He died in 1988.


1940-1943 Rev. Maja Capek (1888-1966).

North Unitarian Church was listed once again in the 1942-1943 AUA Unitarian Year Book. Called “Unity Home Chapel Society,” with “Maja V. Capek” listed as minister, 1941 is given as the date organized.

From a typescript signed Audrey Steele giving her memories of North Unitarian Church.

“I started to attend Unity Home Sunday School when I was four years old.

“I have many fond memories of the years I attended there as I was growing up.

“We were a happy, congenial family-oriented congregation made up of many nationalities. All the children were close friends…. The Sunday School teachers I remember most were Miss Hanford, Miss Seguin, and my favorite Esther Grundy Grew….

“In those days we learned a lot from the Bible and we were taught the Unitarian creed which was popular and believed by the congregation. I will always remembeer we were taught, the fatherhood of god, the brotherhood of man, the leadership of Jesus, the salvation of character and the progress of mankind onward and upwards forever. We had many fine ministers. Those I remember most are Mrs. Robert Cross who was the church director for many years, Mrs. Majda [sic] Capek for her interest in the young people. She planned many things to do at the church service as on Mother’s day we would give each of the ladies attending church a plant or some flowers. She loved flowers. Before Mrs. Capek died I received a nice note from her saying she also had fond memories of Unity Home and especially of the young people.”

The unsigned manuscript: “Mrs. Capek came while Bob Holden was still here and in 1944 we started church services again, and reorganized with the name North Unitarian Church while she was still with us.” The unsigned manuscript is incorrect regarding 1944 date and new name of church (see below).

Maja Capek resigned in late spring, 1943 (her resignation is mentioned in the June, 1943, minutes of the Board).


1941 Beginnings of reorganization

Report of the Unity Home Committee, 1941:

“Perhaps the most outstanding development in the affairs of Unity Home during the past year has been the organization of a separate, unincorporated church, functioning under by-laws which aim to unite people in worship, coordinate their efforts in raising money…, and allow a greater freedom in the management of their own activities…. It in no way interferes with the control which this Society [i.e., First Congregational Society] exercises in matters of leadership, finance or management of the building…

“The morning worship for both adults and older children is very ably conducted by Mrs. Norbert F. Capek, who preaches the sermon, except for the last Sunday in the month, when Mr. Howlett generally preaches. These services are held in the northwest room, which has been cleared and set aside solely for use as a chapel. It is being steadily renovated and equipped for worship services.

“Mrs. Capek has been Director of Unity Home activities for the past year, and this has been a fortunate arrangement indeed for Unity Home. With what we are able to give, it was never before possible to have a full time worker at Unity Home, and we are most grateful to the American Unitarian Association for their assistance in making it possible for Mrs. Capek to be with us.”

The new “unincorporated” church took the name “Unity Home Chapel Society.” It voted t o affiliate with the American Unitarian Association on 5 May, 1942.


1943-1944 Max Gaebler, student minister.

At the 3 October 1943 Board meeting, Gaebler is appointed “Director of the Church Activity” [sic]. By 27 January 1944, he is referred to as “student minister.”

Max Gaebler (1921- ) became one of the most prominent Unitarian ministers of his generation. Gaebler served as minister of First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wis., from 1952-1987. The Madison congregation grew substantially during his ministry there. After the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists in 1961, Gaebler spent a year at the UUA helping deepen relations with Unitarians and Universalists around the world. Along with Dana Greeley, Gaebler was invited to be a Unitarian Universalist observer at Vatican II.

The unsigned manuscript: “Max Gaebler a student came for a short time, after graduating from Harvard he became minister in a church in Westford Mass.”

Gaebler resigns as of June, 1944.


1943-1944 Reorganization

In 1943, Unity Home Committee was removed from First Congregational Society’s bylaws. Instead of this committee, oversight of Unity Home is given to the Board of the Unity Home Chapel Society, with the minister and the chair of the Board of Assessors of First Congregational Society as ex officio members.

On 14 September 1944, a meeting was held “for the purpose of organizing the church into a corporation and having each member sign the charter.” It appears that the church formally voted to incorporate on Thursday, 14 September 1944, but the minutes of this meeting are lost.


1944-1946 Rev. Orval Simeon Clay.

From “History of North Unitarian Church” by Rev. David Rankin, in the newsletter of the Inter-Church Council:

“In 1945, [North Unitarian] Church was re-incorporated so as to be almost entirely separate from the larger [First Unitarian] Church. The assessors of the First Church still controlled the real estate and the building and continued to manage a portion of the invested funds, but they made no effort to dominate their Northern friends….” But Rankin may have the date wrong.

An order of service in the ODHS Mss42:


“Presentation of charter
“Mr. C. A. Trafford, Jr.
“Chairman, Board of Assessors, First Congregational Society…
“…By this document you are incorporated under the laws of the state as a duly authorized religious body… …and you have become an independent religious body, and called a minister of your own.”

Participating in this service were: Rev. Dana Greeley, Rev. Frederick May Eliot, Rev. Duncan Howlett, Rev. Max Gaebler, Rev. Dan Huntington Fenn.

Clay tried to grow the church to the point where it could sustain a full-time ministry, but apparently became discouraged. He resigned in June, 1946.

He was a teacher at Beamer School, Woodland, Calif., in 1946-47, then was called as minister of the Community Congregational Church in Salida, Calif., in 1948. He last appears in the 1950-51 directory of the American Unitarian Association; presumably after that he was in fellowship with the Congregationalists. (AUA Yearbooks)

The unsigned manuscript: “In 1945 Mr. Orval Clay came and stayed till 1948 he left to go to California.”


1946 Dewey Pruett, student minister.

The unsigned manuscript says, “Mr. Lovell and Dewey Pruett were with us a short time both being students,” but I find no other record of Mr. Lovell; also, the unsigned manuscript has Pruett before Capek, which is clearly incorrect.

In September, 1946, the Board is still trying to find a minister; Pruett comes in perhaps October. Pruett is a student at Harvard.

Pruett’s letter of resignation, dated 1 December 1946, from the church archives:

“Having in my mind certain questions and in my life certain problems which I feel I cannot solve in my present situation and feeling that a change is absolutely necessary for my own mental and physical well-being, I resign as Minister of the North Unitarian Church of New Bedford.

“This resignation is to be effective today.

“I appreciate very much the brief time spent with you and the kind interest you have shown in my work.

“Sincerely yours, Dewey Pruett, Jr.”

A forwarding address for Pruett in Birmingham, Alabama, is attached to this letter.


1947-1949 Charles J. Speel II, student minister.

Speel (1916-2000) graduated from Brown in 1939, worked as a machinery designer in Providence, R.I., and joined the U.S. Navy Aircorps during the Second World War. After the war, he attended Havard Divinity School from c.1947-1956, earning his B.T.S., M.T.S., and Ph.D. He was ordained and installed as pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Cranston, R.I., and after a few years there became professor of Bible at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., where he stayed until his retirement in 1986. [from Monmouth College Web site]

The unsigned manuscript: After Orval Clay, “Then Charlie Speel took over for a short time he was a student.”

By December, 1947, the church school is down to 10 children.


1949-1951 Henry Niles, student minister.

The unsigned manuscript: After “Charlie Speel”, “Then that same year Mr. Henry Niles came he stayed until 1951.”

During 1949, the North End Guild was using much of the building, thus restricting the activities of North Unitarian Church. The North End Guild signed a lease with First Congregational Society, who still owned and controlled the building.

Niles left in January, 1951.


1951-1952 Donald A. Stout, student minister.

Stout was ordained 1953 Louisville, Ken., later minister of the Unitarian Congregation of South Peel, Ontario. [AUA Yearbooks]

The unsigned manuscript: “In Sept. 1951 Donald Stout came to us as a student.”


1953-1954 Rev. A. Robert Shelander.

Shelander had retired as minister of the Sharon, Mass., Unitarian church in 1949. [AUA Yearbooks]

The unsigned manuscript: “In 1952 Mr. Shelander was minister he was with us for 2 yrs.”


1954-1955 David Wellington Brown, student minister.

David W. Brown is still listed as a UU minister in the 2008 UUA Directory. After being ordained in 1956, he went on to serve congregations in West Upton, Mass., Dallas, Texas, Orlando, Flor., and Northampton, Mass.

The unsigned manuscript: “In 1954 Mr. David Brown a student stayed 1 yr. he is now minister in a large church in Texas.”


1955-1956 W. A. Stevens, student minister.

The unsigned manuscript has his name as “Warren Stevens.” The AUA Yearbook for 1960-61 lists him as “W. S. Stevens (Student)”.


1958-1965 Rev. Charles Hodges.

Not listed as a Unitarian minister in the AUA directory for these years. From the financial records, Hodges appears to have been hired to preach, but nothing more.

The unsigned manuscript: “In 1956 Mr. Hodges & Mr. Tracy associates ministers. Mr. Tracy left us to go to a church in Onset Mr. Hodges is still with the church 1964.


1965-1968 Rev. Donald James.

Again, from the financial records appears to have done preaching only.

In March, 1966, First Unitarian tried to exert control over the building by leasing Unity HOme to a community group called ONBOARD. At this time, First Unitarian’s minister wrote a letter trying to gain further control over the affairs of North Unitarian, asserting that according to the 1943 agreement, First Unitarian’s Board chair and minister served as ex officio members of North Unitarian’s Board; this assertion ignored the fact that North Unitarian had voted to become an independently incorporated church in 1944 thus voiding the 1943 provision (which was with the unincorporated Board of Unity Home Chapel Society).


1968-1971, no minister.


1971 — North Unitarian Church consolidates with First Unitarian.

Discussions towards merger (later consolidation) began prior to 1970. By 22 September 1970, North Unitarian had voted in favor of merging into First Unitarian; by 6 December 1970 First Unitarian had also separately voted in favor of such a merger.

House Bill no. 5153, dated 1 March 1970, was introduced (in part) as follows:

“…North Unitarian Church of New Bedford, Mass., was incorporated under the provisions of Section 23 of Chapter 36 of the Revised Laws onn May 8, 1920….

“The bill before your honorable bodies seeks authority for the North Unitarian Church to merge and consolidate into The First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, the continuing corporation, which shall also in all respects be a continuation of, and the lawful successor to, the North Unitarian Church…”

This bill was passed. Subsequently, both corporations voted unanimously in favor of consolidation, on 19 December 1971.


5 November 1974 — Unity Home building burns, is later declared a total loss, and is destroyed. The lot was leveled, leaving no physical reminder of Unity Home.

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