War and influenza, 1915-1919

A continuation of a documentary history of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

The years of the First World War proved difficult for the Palo Alto Unitarians. It was a congregation full of pacifists, but after the entry of the United States into the World War, the American Unitarian Association demanded that every congregation that received funding must support the war wholeheartedly. A financial report of the A.U.A. published in the June 6, 1918, issue of The Christian Register (p. 19) shows that the A.U.A. was paying their minister of the time, Bradley Gilman, $50 a month, or $600 a year.

The Palo Alto Unitarians had been accustomed to the pacifist views of former ministers Rev. Sydney Snow and Rev. William Short, but the war years forced them to accept the pro-war ministry of Bradley Gilman. The relationship with Gilman appears to have been strained; he left after only two years, and never served another congregation as minister; and the Palo Alto Unitarians tried to do without a minister for nearly two years.

New Unitarian Pastor (1915)

The church at Palo Alto has called to the vacant pulpit Rev. William Short, Jr., now in Boston, and highly recommended by those who know him, and also know the requirements of the church calling him. Mr. Short has accepted the call and will enter upon his ministry on the third Sunday of November.
— The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 15, no. 1, November, 1915 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), p. 7.

New Unitarian Pastor.— A reception in honor of the new Unitarian church pastor, Mr. William Short, Jr., who has recently arrived from the east, was held in the Unitarian church hall last evening.
— from “Palo Alto Notes” in The Daily Palo Alto [Stanford], vol. 47, no. 58, November 18, 1915, p. 3.


A “Centre of Liberalism” on the Peninsula (1917)

Palo Alto, Cal.— Unitarian Church. Rev. William Short, Jr.: The Palo Alto church has had a very interesting two years with Rev. William Short, Jr., as minister. Although new to the service, Mr. Short has brought to it an earnestness and vigor, and a great broad humanity, which have meant to the church increased growth in those principles upon which it is founded. In this tremendous national crisis, when the democracy of the country is on trial, the Palo Alto church has been one of the very few where the privilege of complete freedom of speech in the pulpit has not been restrained. The membership of the church is small, about forty in number, and the lack of moral support due to isolation from other centres of liberal thought is very keenly felt. The nearest sister church is in San Jose, eighteen miles distant, and the next nearest in San Francisco, over thirty miles in the other direction, the dominating note in the theology of the region being definitely conservative.

The congregation is of a vigorous and thoughtful kind, avoiding a deadly conformity of opinion. It has maintained its stand for the universal character of religion. The pamphlet-rack in the vestibule must be constantly refilled. In conformity with its Unitarian heritage, the church hall has given hospitality during the past winter to Mr. John Spurgo, the noted Socialist speaker; to the American Union Against Militarism, which is earnestly fighting the cause of democracy; and to Mme. Aino Malmberg, a refugee from the persecutions of Old Russia and an ardent advocate of the cause of oppressed nations. Two physical training clubs for women and girls have had their home in the hall, as well as a dub to encourage the finer type of social dancing. The church passed a resolution of approval of the visit of Mr. Short to Sacramento in March in the interests of the Physical Training bills. The Women’s Alliance at its annual meeting was fortunate in having as guests Dr. Franklin C. Southworth and Mrs. Southworth and Secretary Charles A. Murdock. It has been the privilege of the church to welcome to the pulpit Rev. Charles F. Dole of Jamaica Plain, Mass. His sermon was “The Religion Beneath All Religions.” The church, probably in common with most others, has suffered somewhat from the mental and financial depression due to war conditions, though the members realize the importance of maintaining its integrity as the only centre of liberalism in a wide extent of country.

— The Christian Register (Boston: American Unitarian Association), vol. 96, no. 29, July 19, 1917, p. 694.


Denial of Writ of Habeus Corpus for William Short (1918)

[The following is excerpted from the hearing for a writ of habeus corpus filed by Rev. William Short’s wife, following his arrest and detention on charges of draft evasion. The Peoples’ Council mentioned in the writ was a national pacifist organization headed by Scott Nearing.]

Ex parte SHORT.
(District Court, N. D. California, First Division. September 5, 1918.)
No. 16417.

In the matter of the application of the wife of William Short for a writ of habeas corpus to secure his discharge from the custody of military authorities. Writ denied, and Short remanded to the custody of military authorities. …

DOOLING, District Judge. The wife of William Short seeks his discharge on habeas corpus from the custody of the military authorities. The record shows that Short, who will be designated herein as the registrant, on January 14, 1918, returned to his local exemption board his questionnaire, in and by which he claimed exemption as “a regular or ordained minister of religion.” In support of such claim he stated:

That “he had been admitted to Unitarian ministerial fellowship In January, 1916, at Palo Alto, Cal., and that on June 5, 1917, he was minister of Palo Alto Unitarian Church.”

To the question, “State place and nature of your religious labors now,” he returned no answer; but in response to the question, “Give all occupations at which you have worked during the last 10 years, including your occupation on May 18, 1917, and since that date, and the length of time you have served in each occupation,” he answered:

“Unitarian minister 1 year and 10 months. From May 15 to June 25, Unitarian minister, time included above. Chairman Northern California branch Peoples’ Council (temporarily) 5 months. Student for balance of time during 10 years.”

Upon these answers he was placed in class VB; that is to say, in the class of a regular or duly ordained minister of religion.

On June 6, 1918, a letter was sent to the local exemption board by the United States attorney, stating that registrant — “registered for the draft at Palo Alto on June 5, 1917. At that time he was acting as a minister in the Unitarian Church of that town, but shortly thereafter resigned from the church and has not been connected in any way with any church since, but has, on the contrary, devoted his time to the activities of the Peoples’ Council, which organization is decidedly unpatriotic in my opinion. I believe that Short should be reclassified and compelled to do military service, other things being equal.” …

From this reclassification he appealed to the district board, which on June 15th denied the appeal.

Thereafter, and on July 19, 1918, he was arrested and on July 20, was by the local board for division No. 1 in San Francisco, certified as a deserter, and delivered to the commanding officer of the United States army, and now is in the custody and under the control of such officer. …

Registrant has suffered no injury at the hands of the local board, and the writ of habeas corpus is therefore discharged, and he is remanded to the custody of the military authorities.

— The Federal Reporter: Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Courts of the United States (St. Paul: West Publishing Co.), Dec. 1918-Jan. 1919, vol. 253, p. 839.


Palo Alto in War Time (1918)

When a well-intentioned man migrates from the East to the West in this country he is called a tenderfoot. But how long does he remain a tenderfoot? That problem has interested me much of late. Also the query, “How long does a recently installed minister remain ‘a new broom’?”

But such minor questions sink rapidly into the background as I find myself being woven into the fabric of this busy, buoyant State of California. I learned in a week never to speak about earthquakes, but only about fires; there is a reason. Further, I find myself referring quite naturally to “us” of the Pacific Coast, and “Eastern people” I can mention with (outwardly) calm detachment. That goes to show what a fertile soil this is out here in the Santa Clara Valley, where citizenship grows as rapidly and luxuriantly as oranges and melons.

In this short time, four months, I have not been able to become intimate enough with my clerical brethren to call them by their first names, or even to recognize their signatures to the friendly letters by which they have welcomed their new neighbor; but judging from such data as 1 have, our liberal cause is well represented by the men in the pulpits up and down this long sea-line, and the men and women in the pews are of the same high quality.

I can see already that the great issue which has pressed home upon the minds and hearts of these Pacific congregations is the question of the war. More slowly than in the East, but surely and sternly, the churches are getting in line behind the President and his policy of inflexibly saving the Germany of Goethe, Kant, and Beethoven from the brigand hands of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Even our own honored David Starr Jordan, here in Stanford University, who has one of the last to be forced by facts to relinquish his “sweet dream of peace.” has formulated the terse slogan, “Through war to peace.” And up and down the coast our preachers, almost without exception, arc showing themselves to be not only idealists, but rationalists also, men of sense as well as men of sentiment. In this church of Palo Alto the trustees and congregation voted a week ago to support the President in his war plans, and to place the Stars and Stripes on the pulpit or in the chancel. Those who have known this society during the past two years say that a great change has come about, and for good ends.

One can never tell “how far that little candle will throw its beams.” This I quoted to myself a few days ago as I met Will Cressy of national fame on the vaudeville stage. [See note below.] We met in San Francisco, hardly a block away from the Unitarian Headquarters Mr. Cressy told me with pride that he was one of several persons appointed from Washington to be “four-minute speakers” on the stage, in club-rooms, before Chambers of Commerce and wherever be could bring the solemn war duty home to loyal men and women; and I recalled with satisfaction, as he spoke, that I had seen him many a time in my congregation at Concord, N.H., together with his father and mother, “many years ago.” Perhaps he owes it to his Unitarian training, in some degree, that he is doing so earnestly “his bit,” as he said, toward the permanent solution of this awful war problem.

The war faces us here in Palo Alto with unusual intensity, because Camp Fremont is less than two miles from our church door. There are other camps along the coast, at San Diego, Tacoma, and the regular long-established camp at the Presidio, in San Francisco. Camp Fremont has at present twelve thousand men, with more coming, and a prospect of thirty thousand at the high limit. This incoming of young men, khaki-clad. has given the people of our well-ordered little city food for reflection and opportunity for service. The pastors of the city have taken counsel with the Y.M.C.A. men and the chaplains, and have formulated plans of work; and in all these movements the Unitarian minister has been given important committee work. But — let me frankly state it — I feel a growing disappointment regarding this forming of committees and sub-committees and sub-sub-committees and reading of reports and the passing of resolutions. Charles Dickens wrote severely about the Circumlocution Office, and Dr. Edward Everett Hale said that the kingdom of heaven would not be brought in by the passing of resolutions. The words of those great men have been recalled to me often of late, as I have seen much breath wasted in talk when deeds were needed, and vague sentimental reports read before thinly attended meetings when the life of the boys in camp were but little affected thereby. A certain amount of machinery is needed in many kinds of work, but when most of the force generated is used up in running the machinery, that force is sadly misapplied. When warm woolen garments are knitted, and sick soldier boys are cheered and healed, and sinks of vice are blotted out, this is real work. There are other kinds of work also. But the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; and committees and paid secretaries and superintendents should connect directly and speedily with the men in the camps, else their actions are vain and fraudulent.

The most fruitful and satisfactory work that I have found here, with twelve thousand soldiers near me, is to go into the base hospital, where are four hundred sick soldiers, and spend two afternoons of each week talking with them, with each according to his need and in proportion to his physical strength. When they are well and strong they are not particularly eager to meet a minister, pastor or chaplain; but when they are sick and lonely they respond gratefully to the sympathetic visitor who can divert and cheer and “mother” them. They have plenty of papers and magazines, but they take hold eagerly of the games of checkers and dominoes, and picture-puzzles, which 1 am distributing through the wards.

Among all the excellent chaplains whom I touch in this Camp Fremont, there is one Unitarian, Maj. George D. Rice, a graduate of Tufts College, who is second to none in efficiency. The true story is told of him that when he was serving in the Philippines, the captain of one of the companies was shot down by the enemy, and Chaplain Rice at once took command and led the men to victory. I am bound to say that he looks the part — a soldier, every inch of him.

The brethren in the more orthodox pulpits of this city have been very friendly to me, a new-comer. Recently one of them invited the to an anniversary and supper in his parish house and asked me to make a brief address In the course of my remarks to the people I referred to their pastor’s friendliness to roe. and I think I overdid it, for he arose after I had finished, and declared vigorously that he was no Unitarian, although there were many estimable Unitarians now in the world and there had been others in the past. Then he enumerated Moors, Elijah. Isaiah, and other Old Testament worthies, but stopped short at the gateway of the New Testament, quite forgetting the central figure of all, Jesus, the flower of the ancient Hebrew monotheism and the most glorious Unitarian of them all. …

As for the brethren of our own “family of faith,” I get bits of news about them from time to time, and later shall come into closer touch with them. Mr. Dutton, at Son Francisco. is standing loyally for this righteous war, and I heard one of his regular listeners say the other day that he was preaching as good sermons as my friend ever heard in his life,— and he has heard many. At Berkeley, Mr. Speight is putting his inspiring personality into work in the pulpit and in Red Cross work. Dr. Wilbur, at the Pacific Divinity School, has returned, and his wise earnest presence makes itself felt even more strongly than before bis visit to the Eastern Coast. Rev. Lewis G. Wilson of the American Unitarian Association is making a successful tour through this part of the country, speaking to congregations on Sundays and to smaller groups on the week-days. Here at Palo Alto he found a group of more than sixty persons gathered at the minister’s house, and gave them an excellent address, such as was most timely, coming to them in the period of closer organization which they arc just now passing through. Among his listeners were Dr. David Starr Jordan. Maj. George Rice, Prof. William H. Carruth, and many other members of the behind Stanford faculty, together with lending citizens and their wives. Such a visit as Mr. Wilson’s was of great benefit to our church, and the warm greetings which were given him and his attractive, sympathetic wife showed how deeply his coming was appreciated.

— from The Christian Register (Boston: American Unitarian Association), vol. 97, no. 12, March 21, 1918.

[Note: Will Martin Cressy (1863-1930) was a popular vaudeville entertainer and sketch writer, and author of Continuous Vaudeville (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914), a series of vaudeville-related jokes and gags.]


Annual Church Dinner (1919)

It was a very encouraging group of members and friends that gathered in the attractive social hall, an adjunct of the Palo Alto church, a structure designed by Maybeck, creator of the Fine Arts Palace of our late Exposition. About eighty were seated and they were charmingly served by the young ladies of the church. The dinner was bountiful and toothsome and was disposed of to a pleasant accompaniment of cheerful conversation, after which Professor Carruth, president of the Board of Trustees, and ex-officio chairman of the evening, assumed control. The business of an annual meeting with reports and statistics and election of officers, or ratification of selections, as the case may be, was to be transacted later where it would be no interference to social enjoyment. This allows for all the speaking that may be found desirable or endurable.

Mr. Murdock of San Francisco had been asked to give personal reminiscences of Thomas Starr King, and he didn’t let the regrettable fact that he hadn’t any to speak of, deter him from going through the motions. He had heard the Patriot-Preacher preach twice in 1861, and he made the most of it. He then briefly told the wonder story of his life and achievements, emphasizing his heroic devotion to the Nation in its days of peril and especially the surprising success of his efforts to sustain the Sanitary Commission, which disbursed $4,800.000 during the war, one-third of which was contributed by the Pacific Coast which then had less than half a million population, the other two-thirds coming from the rest of the Union with a population of 34,000,000.

Starr King came to California expecting to stay a year. He devoted 1860 to building up a strong church. In 1861 came the war and he gave himself unreservedly to arousing patriotism and combatting secession. In 1862 he led in support of the war and the Sanitary Commission. In 1863 he built the splendid church that became his monument when, early in 1864, he died at 40 years of age,— the best beloved and most highly honored man in the state.

Mrs. Parker S. Maddux next gave a delightful account of “War Work Among the By-ways,” speaking especially of recent experiences in the Hawaiian Islands and of the effective work of the Young Women’s Christian Association there, and also in Japan, India and France. She gave many telling instances of real brotherhood and of how greatly it was promoting the spirit of democracy throughout the world. Her address was brilliant and deeply sympathetic.

Mr. William Maxwell of San Mateo spoke on “War and Religion.” It was an admirable review of the influences of each upon the other, and its publication was earnestly called for.

Miss Helen Sutliffe was assigned the topic, “Is the Church Worth While?” and she charmingly convinced her audience that there was no question about it. She related her early experience in Lawrence, Kansas, where a very liberal Congregationalist ministered to her religious wants most satisfactorily. When she came to California, she found that she had been nourished on Unitarian sermons, and that her happy home was in the Palo Alto church, which she was perfectly sure was worth while.

Rev. Bradley Gilman was the last speaker and he made his topic “The Full Church and the Full Man,” a reminder of a well-filled clothes line after a busy Monday morning. He hung out all manner of garments, useful and ornamental. Kindliness, common sense, wit and wisdom flapped gently in a friendly breeze and a delightful evening was brought to a harmonious end.

Professor Carruth presided with easy skill, interjecting good cheer and happy allusions.

— The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan., 1919 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), pp. 14-15.

Helen Sutliffe

Above: Helen Sutliffe with Stanford library staff, 1913—she is second from right. Sutliffe was a charter member of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1905, and remained part of the church through the 1920s.

The Junior Alliance

Palo Alto, Cal. The first Junior Alliance in California, and at present the only one on the Pacific coast, was formed last year in Palo Alto for the purpose of doing Red Cross work. The members worked faithfully at the Red Cross rooms, besides holding several meetings in the homes of the girls. Now that the need for this kind of work is so much less, the secretary thinks they may not continue as an active body, but we hope they will find some other interesting and worthwhile work to hold them together.

— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), February, 1919, p. 11.


Tribute to Helen Katharine Kreps (1919)

[Earl Morse Wilbur, president of the Unitarian theological school in Berkeley, wrote this tribute to a promising student who died in the influenza epidemic. We can only speculate what might have happened had Helen Kreps survived to become a Unitarian minister.]

About three years ago I received from a young woman in Palo Alto, of whom I had never heard, a request for information about courses of study in our divinity school. Shortly afterwards a member of the staff at Stanford university told me that one of their finest graduates was coming to us to study for the ministry, and mentioned her name with high praise. Later in the spring a slight, girlish-looking person appeared at the school, accompanied by her mother, to make final arrangements for the proposed course of study. Thus I first came to know Helen Kreps. She entered as one of our students in the autumn of 1916, and was thus in her last year when death snatched her from us.

The daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Jacob F. Kreps, U. S. A., Helen was born at an army post in North Dakota in 1894, and spent her early life at various posts from Alaska to New York. But a call from Heaven early touched her heart, and under the inspiration of Rev. Florence Buck’s brief interim ministry at Palo Alto in 1910 she determined to prepare herself for the intervening years. Meantime she graduated at Stanford University in 1915 with high honors, and won membership in the Phi Beta Kappa. Then after a year’s employment in the University library she came to enter the Pacific Unitarian School for the Ministry in August, 1916.

Here we soon realized that we had in our new student one of exceptional quality. Long before the first examinations she evinced that fine penetration of mind, that broad grasp of subjects, and that accurate knowledge, which come of fine endowments joined to industrious study, and constitute the best scholarship. She never failed to deserve a 1 or even a 1+ in every course, and was well on the way to receive a degree summa cum laude. But even more than with her intellectual qualities were we impressed with those finer and deeper traits which make up personality. Quiet and modest in bearing though she was, never asserting herself or her views, yet we instinctively felt that in her there was depth and breadth of character, and as she moved about among us she won a respect and exerted an influence that belong to few. I remember saying to myself at the end of her first chapel service, in which the depth and sincerity of her religious nature were revealed, that I should count myself happy if she might sometime be my minister; and those who were present at the devotional service which she conducted at the Conference at Berkeley last spring will not soon forget the impression she then made. Had she been spared to enter upon her chosen career. I make not the least doubt that she would speedily have vindicated (had it needed any vindication) the claim of woman to a place of respect and power in pulpit and parish.

Last summer Miss Kreps was so eager to try her powers of flight, and to gain some preliminary experience of church problems and methods, that she was glad to spend a part of the vacation she needed by supplying the pulpit at Santa Cruz, where her message in the pulpit and her visitations among the people at once won her admiration and affection, and also brought her the satisfactions that come to a minister. She returned to school eager to finish her course and to begin active work.

With a father in military service and a brother in the trenches, the burden of the war lay heavy on her sensitive heart. She felt obliged to abandon a thesis in the field of critical scholarship where her work might have won distinction, for lack of heart in it, and must choose a new theme lying closer to the acute needs of the world. Already last year she had taken at the university a Red Cross course in nursing, that she might be ready for active service if an urgent call should come. It came in an unlooked-for way. When the influenza became epidemic on the campus in October and hundreds were suddenly stricken and an emergency call went out for volunteer nurses. Miss Kreps was one of the first to respond. Within a week she herself had contracted the disease, which was soon followed by pneumonia. Her life long hung in the balance. Then she seemed to be getting better. But at length, after four months’ struggle, borne patiently and hopefully, her frail body gave out, and her spirit went home. The end came at the Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco on February 23rd, and interment was in the National Cemetery. The Unitarian ministry and the world are great losers by her going so soon away; but those who knew her have been enriched by her presence, and as long as they live will be moved to live more worthily whenever they think of Helen Kreps.

— from The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 28, no. 3, Mar., 1919, pp. 65-66.


Josephine Duveneck on Bradley Gilman

[In her self-published autobiography, Josephine Duveneck mentions her Unitarian upbringing, and she also writes briefly about her time as a member of the Palo Alto Unitarian church. She provides useful insight into the feelings of the congregation towards Rev. Bradley Gilman.]

The Reverend Bradley Gilman from Canton, Massachusetts, was sent to Palo Alto … Mr. Gilman did not respond happily to his new responsibility in California. Coming as he did from the Atlantic Coast, where ties to England were still binding, he was a strong proponent for the entry of the United States into the allied action of World War I. But in California, he found considerable resistance to such involvement. The moving spirits in the church to which he cam had been born in Germany and found themselves caught in a distressing conflict of loyalties. Several of them were religious pacifists and were deeply opposed to violence. In his sermons, Mr. Gilman stressed patriotism and upheld the church’s obligation to participate in the ‘holy war.’ He condemned those who were reluctant to take up arms and those who did not contribute to war bonds. He even went so far as to denounce certain members of his congregation, reporting them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as dangerous subversives and enemy spies (which they never were). Naturally, such ministerial propaganda destroyed the hitherto harmonious fellowship. At least half the members withdrew altogether and the rest carried on halfheartedly. Mr. Gilman resigned and departed from California.

— Josephine W. Duveneck, Life on Two Levels: An Autobiography (Los Altos, Calif.: W. Kaufmann, 1978), p. 162.

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