Timeline of Palo Alto Unitarians, 1891-1950

A timeline that give institutional chronology of the Unity Society and the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto — and also introduces you to some of the interesting Unitarians who lived in Palo Alto from 1891 to 1950. The links mostly go to Wikipedia or other online encyclopedia pages, or to local history websites.

1891-1894 — A few Unitarians move to Palo Alto, including Emma Rendtorff

Unity Society of Palo Alto, 1895-1897

March, 1895 — Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a Universalist, is hired by Pacific Women’s Unitarian Conference to do “missionary work”
May 1-5, 1895 — Palo Alto Unitarians Luna and Minnie Hoskins attend Pacific Unitarian Conference in San Jose
May 5, 1895 — Eliza Wilkes preaches at Memorial Church, Stanford University; first woman to preach at Stanford
Autumn, 1895 — Eliza Wilkes leads Unitarian services in Palo Alto
Jan. 12, 1896 — Unity Society of Palo Alto formally organized, Executive Committee includes both men and women; members include Anna Probst Zschokke, John and Isabel Butler, and George Blakesley, Palo Alto’s first dentist
March, 1897 — Unity Society has supply preachers
Spring, 1897 — Unity Society ceases activity

Spring, 1900 — Brief failed attempt to start another Unitarian society in Palo Alto

Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905-1934

1905-1906 — Rev. George Stone, American Unitarian Association Field Secretary, acting minister
April 18, 1906 — Major earthquake shuts down worship services for some months while members participate in relief work
Sept. 10, 1905 — Unitarian services begin in Jordan’s Hall, University Ave., downtown Palo Alto (not Jordan Hall at Stanford)
Oct., 1905 — The Women’s Alliance, a key group in the church, is organized
Nov. 12, 1905 — Church formally organized; early members include lexicographer Ewald Flügel, entomologist John Merton Aldrich, and economist Jacob de Haas
1905 — Anna Probst Zschokke, the “Mother of Palo Alto,” joins the church and the Women’s Alliance

Sept. 13, 1906 — Rev. Sydney Bruce Snow ordained and installed as first called minister of the church
Nov., 1906 — At 1st anniversary dinner, lay leader Prof. Karl Rendtorff says there are 120 people in church
Mar. 24, 1907 — New church building formally dedicated
Nov., 1908 — 50-60 at annual dinner
May, 1909 — Sydney Snow resigns

Sept. 1909 — Rev. Clarence Reed becomes minister
1909 — Average attendance in Sunday school is 25
Aug.-Dec., 1910 — Rev. Florence Buck is minister while Reed is on leave; Buck’s life partner, Marion Murdoch, does not join her in Palo Alto
1911 — Palo Alto Unitarians are local leaders in gaining women the right to vote in California, including Alice Locke Park and Emily Karns Dixon
Oct. 8, 1912 — Baha’i prophet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaks at the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto
1913 — Poet William Herbert Carruth joins the church
Sept. 6, 1914 — New Social Hall dedicated
Nov., 1914 — 130 at annual dinner, 60 in Sunday school
June, 1915 — Clarence Reed resigns

July, 1915 — 49 members in Women’s Alliance
1915-1916 — Physicist Cornelis Bol is one of the Sunday school teachers
Nov., 1915 — Rev. William Short, Jr., a pacifist, becomes minister
1916 — Conflict between pacifists and pro-war members splits the church, attendance plummets
June, 1917 — William Short resigns
Nov., 1917 — Rev. Bradley Gilman, a supporter of the First World War, becomes minister
1918 — William Short jailed for draft evasion; church member and pacifist Prof. Guido Hugo Marx attempts to bail him out 
Nov., 1918 — 80 at annual dinner
Early 1919? — Worship services and Sunday school halted due to influenza epidemic
Sept., 1919 — Bradley Gilman resigns effective November

Nov., 1919 — “Voted to re-establish our Sunday school at once” (it had been closed due to influenza epidemic)
c. 1919 — Pacifist and educator Josephine Duveneck joins the church
1919-1921 — Lay people lead worship; speakers include David Starr Jordan; church member and writer Edith Mirrielees enjoys the lay-led worship services
1920 — Pacifists Alice Locke Park and Marion Starr Alderton resign in protest of church’s pro-war stance
1920 — Early birth control advocate Sylvie Thompson Thygesonjoins the church
Jan., 1921 — Sunday school enrollment 24, average attendance 16; Early sexuality educator Bertha Chapman Cady is one of the teachers

Dec., 1921 — Rev. Elmo Arnold Robinson, a Universalist and pacifist, becomes minister
Dec. 4, 1921 — 70 at dinner to greet Robinson
1922 — Edith Eugenie Johnson, M.D., joins the church
1923 — David Starr Jordan, retired Stanford president, eugenicist and pacifist, joins the church
1923 — Approx. 25 young adults in young adult group; one member of the group is Russell Varian
1925 — Sunday school enrollment 69
1924 — Historian Frank Golder joins the church
Dec., 1925 — Elmo Robinson goes on leave to do advanced study at Harvard
Feb. 7, 1926 — Rev. Leila Lasley Thompson is ordained by the church, first woman to be ordained by any Palo Alto congregation

Summer, 1926 — Elmo Robinson resigns, Leila Thompson becomes minister
Fall, 1927 — Alfred S. Niles moves to Palo Alto, finds a dying congregation
Dec., 1927 — Leila Thompson resigns
early 1928 — Congregation ends its corporate existence; the American Unitarian Association repossesses the building

1928-1929 — Student minister Clarence Vickland, funded by the American Unitarian Association, leads services
1929 — Key lay leaders Emma and Karl Rendtorff retire away from Palo Alto
1929-1934 — Student minister Merrill Otis Bates, funded by the American Unitarian Association, leads services
Oct. 11, 1932 — Final meeting of the Women’s Alliance
April, 1934 — American Unitarian Association sells the building to a fundamentalist group

Palo Alto Unitarian Society, 1947-present

Feb., 1947 — Alfred Niles meets with Rev. Delos O’Brian of the American Unitarian Association to discuss starting a new church in Palo Alto
April 6, 1947 — Delos O’Brian conducts the first meeting of the Palo Alto Unitarian Society
April, 1947 — Rev. Nat Lauriat, minister in San Jose, begins serving Palo Alto a few hours a week
1947 — A few members of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto join the new Palo Alto Unitarian Society, including Alfred and Frances Niles, Edna True, Ruth Steinmetz, and Rufus Kimball

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *