I’m out in Chicago leading a workshop. While I’m there, I’d thought I’d treat you to some interesting Unitarian history.
The following comes from an unsigned manuscript in the First Unitarian church archives. This manuscript, titled “How our church began,” gives the history of North Unitarian Church, which merged into First Unitarian in 1971. It should be obvious that when the author refers to a “Bohemian man,” she means someone who literally came from Bohemia, a part of Europe now part of Germany and the Czech Republic. Thus, the “Bohemian man” is a recent immigrant to the United States.
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 [church]. Don’t know the exact year but think it might [be] 1896 or 1897.
In other words, back in the early 20th C., at least one Unitarian church was willing to promote outreach to recent immigrants.