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.

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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.

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Unitarian and Universalist views on baptism, late 18th C.

Here are two documents that give a picture of late eighteenth century Unitarian and Universalist views of baptism.

1783: Unitarian baptism ceremony
late 18th C.: Description of Universalist dedication ceremony

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Unitarian views on christening and baptism, 19th C.

As a follow up to this post, here are Unitarian documents from the nineteenth century describing naming ceremonies (baptism and christening).

1827: Description of Unitarian naming ceremonies
1844: Unitarian naming ceremony
1884: Unitarian naming ceremony
1891: Description of a Unitarian naming ceremony

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Continue reading “Unitarian views on christening and baptism, 19th C.”

UU views on christening and dedication, 20th C.

Amy Morgenstern, the senior minister, and I have been talking about child dedications recently. As we talked, I realized that one of the results of the social process known as “secularization” (which in the U.S. is more of an adjustment away from communal religious organizations to individualized religious practices) is that fewer and fewer people know that there are established communal practices to welcome babies. Even if they do know about such practices as Unitarian Universalist child dedications, they may find it difficult to understand why they would want to have a communal ceremony, within a religious community, rather than something more individualistic.

This realization has led me to rethink the entire concept of child dedications. After I was born in 1960, I was christened (not dedicated) in a Unitarian church — but what was a Unitarian christening, and was there then a distinctive way of thinking about this naming ceremony? What about Universalist understandings of naming ceremonies? How have Unitarian and Universalist naming ceremonies combined and evolved into Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies?

I don’t yet have answers to these questions, but I’ve been collecting relevant historical documents. Without further ado, here are documents from the 20th century that relate to Universalist, Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies.

1903: Unitarian naming ceremony
1922: Universalist naming ceremony
1966: Description of Unitarian naming ceremonies
1999: Description of Unitarian Universalist naming ceremonies

(Updated 28 Feb 2020: corrections and revisions, added another document)

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Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1934: A Biographical Dictionary

A couple of years ago, I printed a biographical dictionary of Palo Alto Unitarians from 1891 to 1934. Since then, a missing box of old records resurfaced, and those records provided me with many more names of early Palo Alto Unitarians. Today, I completed the draft version of a new, expanded biographical dictionary.

Eventually, this biographical dictionary will be printed out and placed in the archives of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, successor to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Unitarian congregations in Palo Alto. But first I have to proofread it (a task which I abhor), and check it for errors (marginally less abhorrent). Who knows when I’ll get that done?

In the mean time, I’m releasing a PDF of the uncorrected proof — mostly to get this information on the Web for people who might be looking for it, including genealogical researchers and people looking into Unitarian history.

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1891-1934: A Biographical Dictionary — uncorrected proof (PDF, 2.3 MB)

Many of biographical appeared here earlier, in a slightly different form, as blog entries.

For scholars of Unitarian and Universalist history, perhaps the most interesting point made in this biographical dictionary is that David Starr Jordan did indeed formally become a member of a Unitarian church, contrary to what is stated in his biography on the UU Historical Society Biographical Dictionary Web site. Records of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto show: “In his annual report for 1925, Rev. Elmo Arnold Robinson noted that David became a member of the church in that year, and he appeared in the 1926 List of Resident Members.” [Note that in the uncorrected proof, “1925” is mistyped “1295.”] I also touch on Jordan’s now-controversial embrace of eugenics.

Local historians will be interested to learn a little more about Rev. Leila Lasley Thompson, the first duly ordained woman installed in any Palo Alto congregation. Feminist historians will appreciate the effort made to trace the lives of women in the congregation; too many histories of congregations ignore women members and participants.

However, this biographical dictionary is going to appeal to a very limited number of people; if it bores you, ignore it.

Obscure Unitarians: historian Frank Golder

A historian, Frank Alfred Golder was born near Odessa, Russia, on Aug. 11, 1877, and emigrated to the United States about 1880. He attended schools in New Jersey and Kentucky, and attended Bucknell Univ., from which he graduated in 1898. He then taught for three years in a government school in Alaska, where he collected Aleut songs and stories which he published in the Journal of American Folklore. He went to Harvard Univ. in 1902, received his A.B. in 1903, then did graduate study relating to Alaska, receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1909. He taught briefly at Boston Univ. and the Univ. of Chicago before joining the faculty of the State College of Washington in Pullman, Wash.

His dissertation was published in 1914 under the title Russian Expansion on the Pacific, 1641-1850. He was studying in Russia in 1914, and on Aug. 2 saw the Tsar address an excited crowd in front of the Winter Palace, telling the nation that they were at war. He returned to the United States by way of Siberia, and resumed teaching in Pullman. But he returned to Russia in 1917, sailing from Seattle to Petrograd, arriving on March 4, less than two weeks before the Tsar was overthrown. He remained in Russia through August, working in the archives on material relating to Russian expansion on the Pacific Coast of North America, but he also witnessed the July uprising in the capital city of Russia; he also traveled in Russia between Vladivostok and Petrograd, and in European Russia as well. The notes during 1917 he took helped him write The Russian Revolution and the Jugo-Slav Movement, published in 1918; his work in the archives studying the Russian presence in North America led to the book Bering’s Voyages (vol. 1, 1922; vol. 2, 1925).

In 1920, he returned to Russia, and did relief work there under the auspices of Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration; this work led to the book On the Trail of the Russian Famine (coauthor Lincoln Hutchinson, 1927).

In 1923, he went to the Hoover War Library, Stanford Univ., where he was both professor of history and one of the directors of the library. He visited Russia again in 1925 and 1927.

He joined the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1924, and was listed in the 1926 “List of Resident Members.” He died Jan 7, 1929, in Santa Clara County, Calif.

Notes: 1920 U.S. Census; Passport application, Frank Golder, Aug. 23, 1920 (no. 84075); H. H. Fisher, “Frank Alfred Golder,” Journal of Modern History, June, 1929, pp. 253-255; California Death Index.

Obscure Unitarians: The Mortons

The Morton family included two generations of Palo Alto Unitarians. Katherine Kent Morton Carruth was the daughter of Howard and Jessie Wellington Morton, all of Kansas; Katherine married Prof. William Herbert Carruth of the Univ. of Kansas. Then Carruth, a nationally-known poet, took a teaching position at Stanford in 1913. Jessie and Howard followed, probably coming to live in Palo Alto after 1915 (they were not listed in a Palo Alto city directory of that year), but before the 1920 U.S. Census. As usual, it is more difficult to find biographical information for women of this era, but I was able to find a fair amount of detail about both Howard and William.

MORTON, HOWARD— He was born Oct. 24, 1836, in Plymouth, Mass., to Ichabod, a merchant, and Betsey Morton. In 1855, Howard was a student and living with his parents. In 1860, he was still living in Plymouth with his parents and two brothers, now working as a gardener. His father died in May, 1861, and Howard enlisted in the 30th Mass. Infantry on Dec. 10, 1861. He served in the Civil War in Mississippi and Alabama, and was mustered out on Sept. 23, 1865. Not long thereafter he moved to Kansas.

In 1868, Howard Morton participated in the Arickaree, or Beecher Island fight: “The battle of Beecher Island was fought on the 17th of September, 1868, and lasted nine days. Fifty-one scouts from Lincoln and Ottawa counties, Kansas, just over the line in Colorado, stood off [the Indians]” (Kansas State Hist. Soc., 1913). In a typescript passed down in his family, Howard recalled:

“Suddenly the valley and hillside were covered with mounted Indians, charging us at full speed. The little sandy island, so near, seemed our only refuge, so we hurried across, tied our horses and mules to the trees, threw ourselves in the sand, and began to fight for our lives….The Indians were all around and making it hot for us….Our horses were staggering and falling, and we were doing our best to keep the Indians on horseback from charging over us. The chiefs tried several times to lead their men onto the island, but when they came near, our fire was too hot for them, and they broke and rode around us. And so it went on through the long day and until after dark, when they drew off for the night….The fight virtually ended the first day, although they appeared early the next morning, and for several days fired at us occasionally from the hills.”

At night, they sent two men to get assistance from Fort Wallace, a hundred miles away. The embattled scouts lived for nine days on horse and mule meat, until a company of African American soldiers under the command of Col. Carpenter relieved them. Howard’s military pension record mentioned both his Civil War service, and his service with the U.S. Army Scouts.

In 1870, Howard was a farmer in Trippville, Ottawa County, Kan. Ottawa County was considered “one of the best counties in Central and Western Kansas, having a rich soil, desirable location, being most admirably watered, and possessing a good supply of timber.” He lived next door to, or near, the Wellington family. (Trippville’s name was changed to Culver in 1879, to commemorate one of the scouts who fought at the Battle of Beecher Island.)

Howard married Jessie Kent Wellington (b. June, 1854, New York) on Feb. 14, 1872, in Tescott, Kansas, the next town west of Trippville along the Saline River. They had nine children, all born in Kansas: Mary E. (b. March, 1873); Helen (b. Sept., 1874); Katherine K. Carruth (q.v.; b. April, 1876); Howard H. (b. c. 1878); Nathaniel H. (b. April, 1881); Jessie K. (b. Dec., 1883); Charlotte A. (b. Nov., 1885); Ruth W. (b. March, 1889); and Lucie W. (b. May, 1884).

In 1898, he wrote: “I have lived in Kansas thirty-two years; I have twenty old apple trees and 400 set two years ago…. My orchard is in a bottom with a north slope….” In 1900, he wrote that he did not recommend growing apricots, since his trees “never bore a full crop” and were troubled with frost and curculio.

By 1900, Howard, Jessie, and seven of their children were living in Henry and Morton Townships, Ottawa County, Kansas, where Howard was a farmer. In 1910, they all continued to live there: Howard was still a farmer, Katherine was a teacher in the primary schools, Jessie K. and Charlotte A. were college instructors, Nathaniel was a student at the university, and Jessie W., Mary E., Ruth W., and Lucy W. with no occupation listed.

By 1920, Howard, Jessie, and their daughter Mary were living in Palo Alto. They all reported their occupation as “none.”

He was a member of the Unitarian Society of Palo Alto. Rev. Elmo A. Robinson, in the 1925 annual report, reported his death: “Howard Morton, in whose memories were mingled the old time shipping scenes of Puritan Cape Cod and the stirring strifes of pioneer Kansas.”

Howard died Feb. 7, 1925.

Notes: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census; 1855, 1865 Massachusetts Census; United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934; 18th Biennial Report of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas, 1913, p. 4; “My Civil War Experiences” and “Battle of Beecher Island,” typescripts from an online genealogy, www.familysearch.org/tree/person/memories/L75M-WN3, accessed 16 Aug. 2019; William G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas, Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1883.; Kansas Horticultural Society, The Apple…How To Grow It…, Topeka, Kansas, 1898, p. 86; Kansas Horticultural Society, The Cherry in Kansas, with a Chapter on the Apricot and Nectarine, 1900, p. 116; Veteran’s Administration pension payment cards, 1907-1933, Morton, Caroline-Mory, Henry C. (NARA Series M850, Roll 1616).

MORTON, JESSIE KENT WELLINGTON— She was born June 7, 1854, in New York, daughter of Oliver and Charlotte Wellington. By 1860, she was living in Boston with her parents and two siblings. In 1870, the family was living in Trippville (later Culver), Kansas.

She married Howard Morton (q.v.) on Feb. 14, 1872, in Tescott, Kansas. They had nine children, all born in Kansas: Mary E. (b. March, 1873); Helen (b. Sept., 1874); Katherine K. Carruth (q.v.; b. April, 1876); Howard H. (b. c. 1878); Nathaniel H. (b. April, 1881); Jessie K. (b. Dec., 1883); Charlotte A. (b. Nov., 1885); Ruth W. (b. March, 1889); and Lucie W. (b. May, 1884). Howard was a farmer.

By 1920, she and Howard were living in Palo Alto with their daughter Mary.

She was a member of the Women’s Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in the early 1920s.

After Howard’s death in 1925, she applied for a Civil War widow’s pension. She died April 9, 1936, in Palo Alto.

Her memoir, titled Adventure Ahead, was compiled and published in 1995 by her granddaughter, Jessie Morton Alford Kunkle. I have been unable to find a copy, and suspect it was issued in a small print run.

Notes: 1869, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census; 1855, 1865 Massachusetts Census; United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

CARRUTH, KATHERINE KENT MORTON— A schoolteacher, she was born in April 21, 1876, in Tescott, Kansas, daughter of Howard (q.v.) and Jessie (q.v.) Morton. By 1898, her father, a farmer, had an orchard with over 400 apple trees. By 1900, she lived with her aunt and uncle, Thomas and Mary Sears, near Lawrence, Kansas, while attending school; Tom Sears and Howard Morton had homesteaded in Kansas in the spring of 1866, helping to found the town of Tescott.

Katherine hoped to be a concert pianist, and practiced 8 to 10 hours daily. However, she became a school teacher to supplement the family’s income. She was teaching in the public schools of Lawrence, Kansas, in 1909 when she became engaged to be married to William Herbert Carruth. She married Carruth on June 12, 1910, in her parents’ home in Tescott. The officiant was Rev. Frederick Marsh Bennett, minister of the Unitarian church in Lawrence. They had a daughter, Katharine (b. Dec. 2, 1911), known as Trena.

When the Carruths moved to Palo Alto, Katherine was active in the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. She taught the “sub-primary” (i.e., kindergarten and younger) grade in the Sunday school, 1925-1926.

She was included on a list of Unitarians to contact in 1947 when a new Unitarian congregation was being formed; next to her name on this list is the notation: “too elderly to take part, is sorry.”

She continued to live in Palo Alto until about 1970, when she moved to a convalescent hospital in Santa Cruz. She died January 11, 1973, in Santa Cruz.

Notes: 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census; Kansas Horticultural Society, The Apple…How To Grow It…, Topeka, Kansas, 1898, p. 86; Harrison Monell Sayre, Descendants of Deacon Ephraim Sayre, Edwards Brothers, 1942, p. 8; Obituary, Palo Alto Times, Jan. 11, 1973; Jeffersonian Gazette, Lawrence, Kansas, Dec. 8, 1909, p. 8; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, June, 1910, p. 341; Salina [Kansas] Evening Journal, June 10, 1910, p. 2; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, Dec., 1911, p. 114; Margaret R. O’Leary and Dennis S. O’Leary, R. D. O’Leary (1866-1936): Notes from Mount Oread, 1914-1915, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, 2015, ch. 6 n.1; “Names from 1947 Project,” typescript in archives of Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto; California Death Index.

CARRUTH, WILLIAM HERBERT— A poet and a professor who taught German, writing, and comparative literature, he was born April 5, 1859, on a farm near Osawatomie, Kansas. His father was a clergyman and botanist. As a child, he “distinguished himself in the Presbyterian Sunday school by repeating without mistake an amazingly large number of Bible verses.” But he left Presbyterianism for Unitarianism early in life.

William graduated from the University of Kansas in 1880. He married Frances Schlegel of Boston in June, 1882, and they had a daughter, Constance.

William received his A.M. from Harvard in 1889, and his Ph.D. in 1893. He also studied at Berlin and Munich. He was professor of German at the University of Kansas from 1880 till he went to Stanford. Frances was professor of modern languages at Univ. of Kansas until her death in 1908.

He was also involved in the eugenics movement. The opening paragraph of an address he gave at the University of Kansas on May 8, 1913, shows that he offered the usual rationale for eugenics:

“Long before the alarmed cry of Theodore Roosevelt against ‘race suicide’ called public attention in America to this subject, thoughtful students had begun to point out appalling tendencies toward degeneracy in the breeding of civilised [sic] nations. In so far as the warning against ‘race suicide’ was merely an indiscriminate appeal for more children, a revival of the Biblical admonition to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ without forethought and safeguards, it was only a blind summons to more ‘race suicide.’ What the world needs is not indiscriminately more children, but more children from the best stock and fewer from the worst stock.”

William was an active Unitarian, both locally and nationally. He was a member of the Unitarian church in Lawrence, Kansas. He served as a director of the American Unitarian Assoc. from 1906 to 1909; subsequently he served as the national president of the Unitarian Laymen’s League. In the early 1920s, he was a trustee of the Pacific Unitarian Conference, and a trustee of the Pacific Unitarian School for Ministry.

After Frances died, William married Katharine Kent Morton (q.v.) on June 12, 1910. They had a daughter, Katharine (b. Dec. 2, 1911).  William accepted a position at Stanford in 1913, and the family moved to California.

During his lifetime, William was a well-known poet. His best-known poem, widely anthologized in its day, was “Each in His Own Tongue,” first published in 1888 in The New England Magazine. This was the title poem of his 1908 book Each in His Own Tongue. At Stanford, he was professor of comparative literature, and also taught classes in writing poetry. In 1923, John Steinbeck was in his writing class. Edward Strong, who was in the same class, recalled:

“We … competed against each other in our writing of poetry to see who would receive the better grade from Professor Carruth. When we got our grades, John got an A, and I received a B+. I said to John, ‘Now look, you’ve read my poetry and I’ve read your poetry. Do you think your poetry was any better than mine?’ He said no. Then I said, ‘Well, can you explain, then, why you have received an A from Professor Carruth and I’ve received only a B+?’ He said, ‘Because you didn’t dwell in your poetry on the theme that would win an A from Professor Carruth.’ I said, ‘Theme?’ He said, ‘Professor Carruth has been strong on one theme. Some call it evolution, and some call it God [a line from Carruth’s best-known poem]. I wrote about God. I got the A.’”

William was an active member of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, serving most notably as president of the Board of Trustees. He also preached there upon occasion.

Towards the end of his life, he taught a course on “Religion of the Great Poets” at the Pacific Unitarian School of Religion. One of his students there, Julia Budlong, recalled him as being “tall… and sinewy, and dry-looking, like his humor,— inclined to be absent-minded and inattentive.” Budlong also recalled him driving her in his open automobile on a wild ride from the Unitarian church to his house on Stanford’s campus, with the speedometer at fifty miles an hour the whole way.

He died Dec. 15, 1924.

Notes: George W. Martin, ed., Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1911-1912, Topeka, Kansas: State Printing Office, 1912, p. 87 n.; National Cyclopedia of American Biography, New York: James T. White, 1910; Eugenics: Twelve University Lectures, New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1914, p. 272; Edward W. Strong, “Philosopher, Professor, and Berkeley Chancellor, 1961-1965,” 1988 interview with Harriet Nathan, Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1992, www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt8f59n9j3&query=&brand=oac4 accessed Oct. 12, 2013; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, 1913, p. 14; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, Nov., 1906, p. 66; Stanford University, Annual Report of the President for the Thirty-third Academic Year, Stanford Univ., 1925; Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas, Dec., 1911, p. 114; Pacific Unitarian, vol. 35, no. 3, March, 1925, pp. 44-46.

Family tree for Unitarian Universalism

Drew asked about a “family tree” for the Unitarian Universalism, and as it happens I had drawn one back in 2003, so I revised it and sent it to him. It might be of interest to others:

Simplified family tree of the Unitarian Universalism

This family tree is based on a revisionist interpretation of Unitarian Universalist history, and therefore some explanation is in order.

First, this family tree shows Transylvanian Unitarianism as quite separate from North American Unitarianism. This is based on my reading of Earl Morse Wilbur’s history of European Unitarianism; Wilbur dearly wanted to connect Transylvanian and North American Unitarians, but the few connections he documents may be summed up as: maybe a few English-speaking Unitarians read a few books about Transylvanian Unitarianism. When you look at the two Unitarian groups today, some of the differences are more pronounced than the vague theological similarities: the Transylvanians have bishops, their religion seems more narrowly ethnic, etc. Thus, I depict the two groups as quite separate.

I understand North American Unitarianism and Universalism as being reactions against aspects of Calvinism. Thus I show both groups as having roots in Calvinism.

North American Unitarians came in large part from the New England Standing Order churches; there wasn’t enough room to show the small but important influence of Joseph Priestley and a few other early Unitarians who brought their Unitarianism from England, rather than getting it from Boston. Thus I show the major event in the beginning of North American Unitarianism to be the split between the conservatives — people like Jonathan Edwards — and the liberals — people like Charles Chauncy, a split which took place after the Great Awakening. However, the first openly Unitarian congregation in North America was King’s Chapel; originally affiliated with the Church of England, it became Unitarian in 1785, long before any of the Standing Order churches openly declared themselves to be Unitarian.

The beginnings of North American Universalism are a little more tangled. John Murray and George DeBenneville brought their Universalist beliefs from England when they came to live in the coastal cities of the New World; that history is well known. But there’s another history, well documented by scholar Stephen Marini and others, of how Universalism also arose in central New England, often in formerly Baptist churches. Thus I show Universalism as having some roots in Baptist traditions; this is perhaps most evident in the institutional structures (or lack thereof) of early Universalism. Then too, it is important to mention John Murray’s marriage to Judith Sargent; she came from a prominent and wealthy New England family, and both her family connections and her own intelligence contributed a great deal to John’s eventual success as a Universalist standard-bearer.

By about 1825, both Unitarians and Universalists were well established in North America. But the boundaries of both denominations remained somewhat porous. In the early nineteenth century, Unitarians sometimes cooperated with the Christian Connexion denomination (not show in the family tree). In the late nineteenth century, a small group of ministers split from the Unitarians to form the Free Religious Association, and in a few cases they brought their congregations with them; some of those congregations reportedly never rejoined the Unitarian denomination (though I’ve never been able to document that myself). Then around 1900, some Icelandic Lutheran churches in the prairie provinces of Canada switched to the Unitarian denomination; at least one other formerly Lutheran church, Nora Church in Hanska, Minnesota, also joined the Unitarians.

However, Unitarian boundaries were not completely porous. When William Jackson, an African American Baptist minister, tried to join the American Unitarian Association in 1860, bringing his congregation with him, he was carefully kept out.

In Universalism, the porous boundaries become most evident in the late nineteenth century, a time when many Universalists became enamored with spiritualism. Then spiritualism became an organized religion, and some Universalists, such as minister John Murray Spear, left Universalism to become Spiritualists. But again, the boundaries of Universalism were not completely porous. A splinter group of Primitive Baptists (Baptists who, among other things, refuse to have musical instruments in church, relying instead on a capella singing) adopted Universalist beliefs, probably after having read books by Hosea Ballou, the great Universalist theologian. But there has been very little interest in exploring the commonalities between Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) and Universalists, or for that matter Unitarian Universalists (the PBU-UU connection between may seem more robust theologically than the connection between Transylvanian and North American Unitarians; but the class difference is far greater).

As for the racial boundaries of Universalism, they were slightly more porous than those of the Unitarians. The Universalists accepted Joseph Jordan, an African American and former Baptist minister, into fellowship and ordained him in 1889. However, the racial boundaries were not all that porous: there remained little denominational support for African American Universalists outside of a couple of congregations in Virginia, and individual Universalist congregations in the South remained explicitly segregationist up into the mid-1960s.

The late nineteenth century saw a growing number of connections between Unitarians and Universalists ; this is symbolized on the family tree by Eliza Tupper Wilkes; she was ordained a Universalist minister, but worked for both groups at different times, and founded both Universalist and Unitarian congregations. There were also strong connections between both the Unitarians and the Universalists with the Congregationalists. During the early twentieth century, there were Universalist congregations that merged into Congregationalist congregations, and both Universalist and Unitarian congregations that federated with Congregationalist congregations. Some of the federated congregations still exist; they are one congregation in real life, but on paper they also exist as two separate congregations, and when you join a federated congregation you decide if you’re joining as, e.g., a Congregationalist or a Unitarian.

In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universalists consolidated (the legal term is “consolidated,” not “merged”). This now seems inevitable to us here in North America, but groups like the Khasi Hills Unitarians in India, or the Universalist churches in the Philippines, had no corresponding group to merge with.

Finally, it is worth remembering that several features of contemporary North American Unitarian Universalism which today seem diagnostic in helping to identify who’s a Unitarian Universalist are actually recent innovations. The “seven principles,” the widespread use of the flaming chalice in worship services, the water communion service — all these grew out of the feminist revolution of the 1980s, a revolution led by people like Natalie Gulbrandsen. Feminist theology has helped drive us further away from groups like the Primitive Baptist Universalists, while driving us closer to the United Church of Christ (UCC), a very liberal Christian group that is the inheritor of the old conservative New England churches from which the Unitarians split in the early nineteenth century. The UCC and the UUA today are close religious relatives, sociologically, politically, and demographically. The UCC and the UUA cooperated to produce the innovative “Our Whole Lives” comprehensive sexuality education program; politically, UCC churches are often to the left of UU churches; demographically both groups a dominated by white college-educated professionals. The only big difference today is that more UCC members believe in God than do Unitarian Universalists; though that too may be changing, as a friend of mine who’s a UCC minister says that most of the children and teens in her church are professed atheists.

PDF of the family tree.

New book: Unitarians in Palo Alto

For the past five years, I’ve been researching Unitarians who lived in Palo Alto from 1895 to 1934, and writing short biographies of these ordinary Unitarians. I’ve finally collected these biographies and printed them in a perfect-bound paperback book, Available on Lulu.com either as a print copy for $10.84 (plus whatever Lulu charges for shipping and handling), or as a PDF download. The Introduction to the book appears below the fold.

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1895-1934: A Biographical Dictionary
by Dan Harper
ISBN: 978-0-9889413-5-9

A biographical dictionary of Unitarians living in Palo Alto, Calif., from 1895 to 1934, most of whom were associated with either the Unity Society of Palo Alto (1895-1897) or the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto (1905-1934).

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