Karl and Emma E. Rendtorff were two of the key leaders of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto (1905-1934). Emma’s mother and sister happened to be living in Palo Alto 1905-1908, and also got involved with the church. With baby Gertrude, there were thus three generations of Meyers/Rendtorffs involved with the founding of the church.
Palo Alto was a small town, with a population of 4,486 in 1910; 5,900 in 1920 (Sawyers, History of Santa Clara County, California, 1922). The town really wasn’t big enough to support a Unitarian church, and I suspect the church never got bigger than what Arlin Routhage calls “family-size” — that is, a small church that acts more like a family, with matriarchs and patriarchs. I further suspect that Karl and Emma E. Rendtorff were two of the matriarchs/patriarchs. Their extended family is of interest for this reason alone.
But their extended family is also of interest because of the characteristics they share with so many other members of the church. Karl and Emma both spoke German, and both were associated with Stanford; as was true of many members of the church. Karl was trained as a librarian, and there were at least half a dozen other librarians who were part of the congregation; he was a pacifist, and there were many other pacifists in the congregation. Emma was a woman with a college degree in an era when that was uncommon, and she was an experienced teacher; many other women in the congregation also had college degrees, and some were experienced and dedicated teachers (like her sister and daughter).
Without further introduction, here are brief biographies of the Rendtorff / Meyer family, three generations of five fascinating people who were part of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto: Continue reading “Obscure Unitarians: the Rendtorff / Meyer family”