Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905

Part One of a history I’m writing, which tells the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. Rather than telling history as the story of a succession of (mostly male) ministers, my focus is on the lay people who made up the congregation. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

The first Unitarian and Universalists in Palo Alto, 1891-1895

Unitarianism and Universalism arrived in Palo Alto before there was a congregation. Some of the first residents who arrived in Palo Alto in 1891, the year Stanford University opened, were already Unitarians and Universalists.

Emma Meyer Rendtorff began studying at Stanford University in 1894, eight months before Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a Universalist and Unitarian minister, preached the first Unitarian Universalist sermon in Palo Alto, at Stanford’s Memorial Church. Emma’s parents had been Unitarians, and as a girl she had attended Sunday school the Church of the Unity, a Unitarian church in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a lifelong Unitarian, and would play a key role when the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto was organized in 1905.

David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford, grew up in a Universalist family. As a young adult he briefly joined a Congregational church. While president of Stanford he disavowed any denominational affiliation, although he often spoke in Unitarian churches and at Unitarian gatherings. Whether or not he would have called himself a Unitarian or Universalist when he arrived in Palo Alto, he was often perceived as a Unitarian and often provided financial and moral support to the Palo Alto Unitarians. And when he retired from Stanford, he finally did join the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

Luna, Minnie, and Leander Hoskins were probably Unitarians before arriving in Palo Alto. Minnie moved in Palo Alto in 1892 when her husband Leander became a Stanford professor, and Luna had joined them in Palo Alto soon after. Luna and Minnie Hoskins were recognized as delegates by the Committee on Credentials of the Pacific Unitarian Conference at San Jose on May 1-4, 1895, a few days before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived in Palo Alto. Since they knew about Unitarianism before Eliza Tupper Wilkes arrived, she couldn’t have been the one to introduce them to Unitarianism, so it seems likely they had been Unitarians when they came to Palo Alto.

Eleanor Brooks Pearson, who came to Palo Alto in 1891 from South Sudbury, Massachusetts, may have been a Unitarian before she arrived in Palo Alto; her childhood home in South Sudbury would have been close to the Unitarian church in Sudbury Center, she was one of the organizers of the Unity Society in 1895, and she later married a Unitarian, Frederic Bartlett Huntington. Some sources hint that there were others who were Unitarians or Universalists before arriving in Palo Alto, but so far it has proved impossible to name them.

The Unity Society, 1895-1897

In November, 1892, the very first issue of the Pacific Unitarian, a periodical devoted to promoting liberal religion up and down the West Coast, declared that a Unitarian church should be organized in Palo Alto:

“The University town of Palo Alto is growing fast. Never was there a field that offered more in the way of influence and education than this. A [building] lot for a church ought to be secured at once, and the preliminary steps taken towards the organization of a Unitarian Society.”

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1905”

The Unity Society of Palo Alto

An excerpt from a history of early Unitarians in Palo Alto. I haven’t made much progress on this project, due to the long hours I’ve been putting in dealing with the pandemic. With luck, I’ll be able to get back to it.

The Unity Society, 1895-1897

In November, 1892, the very first issue of The Pacific Unitarian, a periodical devoted to promoting liberal religion up and down the West Coast, declared that a Unitarian church should be organized in Palo Alto:

“The University town of Palo Alto is growing fast. Never was there a field that offered more in the way of influence and education than this. A [building] lot for a church ought to be secured at once, and the preliminary steps taken towards the organization of a Unitarian Society.” (1)

Organizing churches in college towns had been a standard missionary strategy for the American Unitarian Association (AUA) since the denomination had funded a Unitarian church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1865. These “college missions” were seen as “one of the most effective ways of extending Unitarianism,” (2) and many of them resulted in strong Unitarian congregations.

But who had the time and the skills to organize a Unitarian church in Palo Alto? The Unitarian church in San Jose was the one nearest to Palo Alto. In early 1893, the two ministers of the San Jose church, Revs. N. A. Haskell and J. H. Garnett, organized two new Unitarian congregations in Los Gatos and Santa Clara, ignoring Palo Alto. (3) Support for a new Palo Alto congregation would have to come from somewhere else.

Continue reading “The Unity Society of Palo Alto”

Obscure Unitarians: The Franklin family of Palo Alto

The Franklin family of Palo Alto included Edward Curtis Franklin, expert on nitrogen compounds and professor at Stanford Univ.; Effie June Scott Franklin, professor of modern languages at the Univ. of Kansas; and Dr. Anna Comstock Franklin Barnett, physician and professor at Stanford Medical school. They were all affiliated with the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto (1905 to 1934) at one time or another.

Family tree showing two generations of Franklins
Continue reading “Obscure Unitarians: The Franklin family of Palo Alto”

The wild diversity of Christianity, part two

This second video in the two part series explores Christian diversity in the U.S. through Christian music, touching on everything from Christian K-pop to Primitive Baptist hymns to Mainline Protestant choral music to an AME Zion hymn choir — and more. The people who write, perform, and listen to this Christian music come from widely divergent religious perspectives, and very different cultures and ethnicities, and the musical diversity covered in this video should challenge anyone who thinks Christianity is a monolith.

(A disclaimer that will be obvious to my Unitarian Universalist readers: I’m looking at Christianity from the outside; Unitarian Universalism can no longer be considered a Christian religion, it is now quite firmly post-Christian — and whatever that means, it definitely isn’t Christian, though it is related historically.)

Click on the image above to go to the video on Youtube.

Below is the text I was looking at while making the video (but I deviated from the script more than once). The videos from the associated Youtube playlist are embedded below.

Questions that are implicit in the video: How do you define the boundaries of a religious tradition? What makes a piece of music Christian — Christian text, Christian performers, Christian context, Christian intent behind the music, Christian musical genre, or more than one of the above, or all of the above? What are the boundaries between culture and religion? — or are culture and religion somehow intertwined? How can we listen across religious and cultural boundaries? — what do we have in common, and how do we get past what we don’t have in common?

Continue reading “The wild diversity of Christianity, part two”

The wild diversity of Christianity

A short (5 min.) talk for an adult class in which I talk about some stereotypes of Christians, and then suggest listening to the wild diversity of Christian music as a way to get past the stereotypes to begin to understand something of the wild diversity of the Christian religion….

Click on the image above to take you to the video.

Below is the uncorrected text that I was reading from (I diverged from the text a bit, but this is most of it):

Continue reading “The wild diversity of Christianity”

Ordinary Unitarians: Martha Ziegler

As the years go by, I find I’m less interested in how famous or “important” Unitarian Universalists live their lives, and increasingly interested in the lives of ordinary Unitarians and Universalists. Maybe this is because I don’t know any important or famous Unitarian Universalists, but I’ve known lots of ordinary Unitarian Universalists. With that in mind, here’s a brief biography of Martha Clara Elizabeth Ziegler Greenlaw [a.k.a. Reynolds, Seymour, and Fancher], a member of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto:

A housewife and mother who experienced more than her share of domestic challenges and tragedies, Martha Clara Elizabeth Ziegler was born Feb. 27, 1894, in Chicago. In 1900, she was living in Hyde Park Township (which became part of Chicago). She lived with her father Gustav, a machinist’s helper, who had been born in Denmark; her mother Ida, who had been born in Germany; and her younger brother Charles.

When she was 17 years old, on Aug. 1, 1911, she married Charles Greenlaw (q.v.) in Chicago, Ill. Charles worked for American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) installing new phone systems in communities across the country, and his job required him to relocate every few months. His wife and a growing number of children had to move with him, and some of their moves can be traced from the birthplaces of their four children: Arnold Ziegler (q.v.) was born July 12, 1912, in Chicago; Colin Torrey was born March 27, 1914, in Baltimore, Md. (q.v.); Morrison Bronk was born Aug. 3, 1918, in San Francisco; and Margery Ellen was born Nov. 3, 1920, in Chicago. All these moves put strain on the family.

To try to reduce some of the strain on the family, from about 1918 to 1920 they spent significant amounts of time in a cabin Charles owned in Willits, Calif. But soon they had to move again, and in January, 1920, they were living in Detroit, Mich. And by 1923, the family had moved to 523 Webster St. in Palo Alto.

Continue reading “Ordinary Unitarians: Martha Ziegler”

Obscure Unitarians: Bertha Louise Chapman Cady

This is a major revision of an earlier short biography of Bertha Cady Chapman.

A writer, biologist, and sexuality educator, Bertha Louise Chapman was born July 5, 1873, in Santa Barbara, Calif., the daughter of Truman (sometimes given as “Freeman”) Fletcher Chapman and Mary Elizabeth Furlong Chapman; Bertha’s older sister Elizabeth Corinne Chapman had been born in the same place in 1870. By August, 1873, the family was living in San Buenaventura (now known as Ventura), Calif., where Truman worked as a druggist.

After Bertha was born in 1873, Truman became involved in mining, and he moved the family to New Mexico to operate mines there. In 1880, Bertha, her parents, and both siblings were living in Las Vegas. Truman was the postmaster of Las Vegas, New Mexico, from Jan., 1878, to Sept., 1880. In 1880, he owned the St. Nicholas Hotel on the Plaza. Las Vegas had grown into a bustling town with the coming of the railroad in 1878, but the Plaza retained a distinctly Southwestern flavor:

“The Plaza is in the center of the town.…About the center of the Plaza is the relic of the old well, the windmill having been torn down, and the well long out of use. It was the scene of [a] horrible sight this Spring, as on the night of February 9th the vigilantes hung one cowboy to the windmill, and laid his two companions out beneath him, riddled with bullets, because of their murder of Joe Carson, a few weeks previous. The Plaza is the principal market for the produce of the farmers.… Almost daily one will see large droves of burros standing about, loaded with wools, hides, or pelts.…Little, narrow, crooked streets lead out from the Plaza, and on all side of the town are scattered those queer little adobes, which give the place its ancient and foreign appearance to strangers.” (H. T. Wilson, Historical Sketch of Las Vegas, New Mexico [Chicago: Hotel World Pub., 1880?], p. 18)

This is the town where Bertha lived when she was perhaps 5 to 8 years old.

Continue reading “Obscure Unitarians: Bertha Louise Chapman Cady”

Westerners misappropriating non-Western religious imagery

A broad-based interfaith coalition, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, and Jews, has targeted a nightclub chain that uses Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain statues for interior decoration. As reported by Religion News Service, the “Foundation Room” night clubs operated by Live Nation Entertainment in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, and New Orleans uses the following religious imagery as decor: statues of Buddha (Buddhism); statues of Ganesha, Hanuman, Shiva, and Rama (Hinduism); statues of Mahavira and Parshvanatha (Jainism).

Live Nation said in a statement that the Foundation Room clubs are (according to them) all about “promoting unity, peace, and harmony.” Before you cynically respond “Bullshit!” — it may be that Live Nation’s management really did see the misappropriation of these religious images as promoting unity. Since they’re based in the U.S., we can assume that they — consciously or unconsciously — see the “Judeo-Christian tradition” as normative; and while “Judeo” is merely a modifier of “Christian” in this formulation, Judaism is still seen as somehow normative. Since Christianity and Judaism are part of mainstream U.S. culture, Live Nation’s management would never think of putting up a cross or star of David in one of their nightclubs.

Why then is it OK to use religious images from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism? Well, part of the answer might well be that “religion” as a concept is a Western concept that only dates back to the Enlightenment. Prior to the Enlightenment, the West did not have a concept that corresponds to our current notion of “religion.” And “religion” as a concept was developed in part as a way to bolster Western colonialist ambitions: “religion” was defined in such a way that only Christianity (and perhaps Judaism, in a debased way) fit the definition; this allowed Western powers to justify domination of non-Western cultures on the grounds Christianizing them. (For more on the link between “religion” and colonialism, see e.g. Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies [Oxford Univ. Press, 2000]; William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict [Oxford Univ. Press, 2009]).

Not surprisingly, colonized peoples are accorded less respect than the colonizers. This might make more sense if I put this in racial terms, since so many of us are thinking about race these days: in the Western worldview, Christianity is seen as the property of the West, which means it’s a white religion; while Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are generally seen as having adherents who are people of color; while you wouldn’t use white people’s religious symbol in a night club, it would be OK to use the religious symbol belonging to people of color.

However, while colonialism and racism are strongly linked, I find it more helpful to view this dispute over religious imagery in nightclubs as a legacy of colonialism. After all, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism do have white adherents, and there are strong traditions of black and Latinx Christianity. But non-Christian religions are still seen as somehow “primitive” or less advanced than Christianity, and thus may be accorded less respect; and just as in the past, this viewpoint still allows Western nations to see non-Western nations as suitable for colonial domination through both economics and military action.

Maybe I’m making too much out of this. But I do want to explain why Live Nation Entertainment didn’t put crosses or statues of Jesus Christ in their nightclubs; why does Jesus Christ get their respect, but not the Buddha?

Back in time…

This Sunday, during our congregation’s online service, we’re going to go back in time…

…using the congregation’s time machine…

…to the year 29 C.E., to a small town in the land of Judea. There we will meet a fellow named Ishmael, who’s the kind of person who loves to spread rumors.

“They say,” says Ishmael, “that….”

If Ishamael lived today, he’d be the kind of fellow who emails you the latest internet conspiracy theory. But since he lives in the year 29 in Judea, he spreads his rumors face-to-face in the town’s marketplace. He meets up with a woman named Martha. When he learns that Martha’s brother Peter has joined the entourage of the famous rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, not surprisingly he has a few conspiracy-theory-type rumors to tell Martha. This causes Martha to wonder if her brother is going to be OK….

“Now you’ve got me wondering,” says Martha….

Our trip to the past will take less than three minutes, allowing us plenty of time for the usual singing, music, preaching, etc. The whole thing will be livestreamed on the Facebook page of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, this Sunday at 9:30 and 11.