Obscure Unitarians: Melville B. Anderson

Melville Best Anderson was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1851. He studied at Cornell University in 1870-72, where he was a classmate of David Starr Jordan, who became president of Stanford University.

Melville Anderson received his A.M. from Butler University in 1877, and taught there for the next three years; he was then professor at Knox College, 1881-1886; Purdue University, 1886-1887; University of Iowa, 1887-1891; and finally, professor of English at Stanford University, from 1891 until his retirement. He was a charter member of both the Unity Society and the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. He married Charlena Van Vleck April 27, 1877; she received her A.B. at Lawrence University in 1874. They had four children: Balfour (1878-1895); Malcolm Playfair (b. 1879, A.B. Stanford ’04); Gertrude (1883-1892); Robert (1884-1949, A.B. Stanford ’06).

Anderson was a distinguished scholar best known for his translation La Divina Commedia: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, a Line-for-Line Translation in the Rime-form of the Original (Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y., World Book Co., 1921). He became friends with Ewald Flügel in 1891, while staying in Leipzig. Flugel joined the faculty of Stanford partly through the good offices of Anderson; and Flugel was another one of the early members of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. Unfortunately their differing viewpoints on the First World War put a damper on their friendship; Flügel was a pacifist, while as early as 1916, Anderson advocated for the entry of the United States into the First World War in a long self-published poem; one stanza will suffice to give a sense of the dreary whole:

Since men first gathered into clans
    Was peril never yet so sharp;
    Loud would I smite the chorded harp:
    Awake! awake! Americans…

The Stanford Daily, vol. 49, no. 48, Nov. 2, 1916, p. 3, said: “The poem, which is a denunciation of the apparent apathy of Americans in regard to the issues of the great war, was dedicated to David Starr Jordan, and written during Anderson’s stay in Florence, Italy, where he has been translating in triple rhyme ‘The Divine Comedy’ of Dante.”

Anderson died on June 22, 1933.

Obscure Unitarians: John Merton Aldrich

John Merton Aldrich was born Jan. 28, 1866, in Olmsted County, Minnesota, and went to school in Rochester (where there is a Unitarian church founded in 1866). He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1888, and received his M.S. there. In 1893, John founded the Department of Zoology at the University of Idaho. He married Ellen Roe of Brookings, South Dakota, and they lived in Moscow, Idaho.

After four years of marriage, his wife and infant son died, and he lost himself in his researches on insects of the order Diptera, or true flies. On June 28, 1905, he married Della Smith of Moscow, Idaho. He then took a year of sabbatical leave, went to Stanford University to study, and received his Ph.D. in May, 1906. While at Sanford, he was active in the formation of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

One of the pre-eminent entomologists of his day, he became Associate Curator and Custodian of Diptera at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., and became a member and trustee of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington. He died May 7, 1934, just before setting out on a collecting trip to the West Coast.

More on Wikipedia.

Palo Alto Unitarians and the 1906 earthquake

Palo Alto Unitarians were getting ready to build their first church building when the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, struck.

1. A first-hand account by a Unitarian

Gertrude and I were rudely awakened by the shaking of the house and the accompanying rumble, roar, and crash. “What is it?” said she. “It’s an earthquake — and it’s a bad one,” I replied. “What shall we do?” “Stay right here. This little house will last as long as anything.” I knew the sturdy construction of our bungalow … but in my heart I felt that nothing could survive such a vicious shaking—that this was the end for us. It was like a terrier shaking a rat.

— Guido Marx, husband of Gertrude V. D. Marx, a charter member of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto; quoted in Sandstone and Tile, vol. 30, no. 1, Winter, 2006 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Historical Society, 2006), p. 3.

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2. Unitarians join the relief effort

Palo Alto.— The hall in which services have been held was wrecked by the earthquake, and there has been but one regular meeting of the church since that event. The men and women of the church have been most active in relief work. All the churches and societies united for relief work, with headquarters at the Congregational church. We undertook an employment agency for men and women, and this was one of the valuable helps in the restoration to normal living. Of a sum of money sent to Mrs. Stone [wife of Rev. George Stone, AUA Field Secretary] by the women of our Alliance in Detroit, $25.00 came to us. Never was such a sum stretched to cover many wants,— clothes for babies and uniforms for nurses. These nurses had been burned out and lost everything except the clothes they wore. They had volunteered to form a new hospital for the care of children with contagious diseases. When discovered they had worn their clothing a week among these contagious cases, and their only supply of water had to be carried entirely by hand. It was hard to decide whether the Women’s Alliance which made the uniforms, or the nurses who received them, were the happier.

Many of our church members are connected with the University, and as soon as work closed there they left town. Those of the Alliance who are still in Palo Alto met on the 12th of June and each woman pledged herself for a contribution of articles for the fall sale.

Our hearts are full of gratitude for the bright future. To know that our church building is assured and that Mr. Snow has accepted the call of the parish is a constant inspiration. The great opportunities of a university town lie before us. We shall try not to be unworthy of them.

The Pacific Unitarian, San Francisco, vol. 14, no. 8, June, 1906, p. 260.

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3. Architectural plans destroyed Continue reading “Palo Alto Unitarians and the 1906 earthquake”

A new Unitarian church in Palo Alto, 1947

Alfred Salem Niles (1894-1974), professor of aeronautic engineering at Stanford [note 1], helped start the present church — then Unitarian, now Unitarian Universalist — after the Second World War. In 1958, he wrote this detailed memoir of how our present church began. Since he was one of the few people to attend both Unitarian churches in Palo Alto, his memoir helps connect those of us in the present-day church with the early Palo Alto Unitarians.

I am publishing only the 500 words of this 11,000 word essay here. The complete essay will soon be available in print form at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.

The Spring of 1947

In 1927 when the writer came to Palo Alto, the old Unitarian Church at Cowper St. and Charming Avenue was still functioning, but rather feebly. The minister was a woman who later gained considerable notoriety as a fellow-traveler, though her proclivities along that line were not yet apparent [note 2]. There was no Sunday School that I know of, and attendance at the morning services was small. In earlier years the church had been much more active, but the minister at the time of World War I had been a pacifist and conscientious objector, and this had caused a split in the church from which it never recovered. Another thing which I think was an important obstacle to recovery was the quality of the pews in the old building. They were the most uncomfortable ones that I have ever encountered. Since mortification of the flesh does not appeal to Unitarians as a technique of salvation, those seats must have discouraged many possible members. Morning attendance got so small that we tried having services in the evening. But that did not help. Our woman minister resigned, and for a while we had a student from the Starr King School preach to us. Finally, about 1929, services were discontinued, and after a few years the church organization was dissolved, the church building returned to the American Unitarian Association, (3) which sold it to a Fundamentalist group for about $230 less than the mortgage, and there was no more organized Unitarianism in Palo Alto for several years.

During the 1930s the Chaplain at Stanford was Dr. D. Elton Trueblood, a Friend [i.e., a Quaker] with quite liberal views and an excellent speaker. Many Unitarians got into the habit of attending services at the Stanford Church as a result. But he resigned and was succeeded by more orthodox men, and most of the Unitarians in town lost the church-going habit. One result of this was that quite a few of us, although well acquainted with each other, did not realize that we were fellow-Unitarians. The writer can testify to his own surprise, in 1947, to find that the head and one of the professors of his department at Stanford were also Unitarians. We just had never discussed religion with each other.

In the autumn of 1946, Rev. Delos 0’Brian came to San Francisco to be the American Unitarian Association (A.U.A.) Regional Director for the West Coast, with the objective of reviving some of the dormant Unitarian churches and organizing new ones in favorable locations. I was then a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and noticed an item about Mr. O’Brian’s activity in the Christian Register for November 1946. It was not until some time in February 1947, however, that I went to see him at his office at the corner of Sutter and Stockton Sts. It was about noon when I got there, so we went across the street to the Piccadilly Inn to have lunch and talk about the possibility of starting something in Palo Alto. He had the names of about a dozen members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship in Palo Alto, and a similar number in San Mateo, but had not yet made many contacts with those in either group, and was undecided as to which one to start and I think it was my visit which caused him to decide to start with Palo Alto, and that the revival of the Palo Alto Church started at that meeting….

Continue reading “A new Unitarian church in Palo Alto, 1947”

Rebirth and Decline, 1919-1934

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

After the departure of Rev. Bradley Gilman, the congregation managed to get back on its feet, first with no minister, then with the experienced leadership of Rev. Elmo Arnold Robinson, a Universalist minister. But the financial situation worsened through the late 1920s, the congregation began to decline, and the Great Depression made it impossible to continue.

An Experiment in Palo Alto (1920)

[In the previous post, the excerpt from Josephine Duveneck’s autobiography told how the relationship between Rev. Bradley Gilman and the congregation grew strained. It is worth noting that Palo Alto was the last congregation that Gilman served. This chapter begins with an explanation of how the Palo Alto church experimented at having an entirely lay-led congregation. Edith Mirrielees asserts that the reasons for not hiring a minister were not financial, leaving us to conclude that Bradley Gilman soured the congregation on ministers.]

The Unitarian church in Palo Alto was established in 1905. From its establishment until the autumn of 1919, the church followed the way of most Unitarian churches, retaining a resident minister and supporting him with an enthusiasm that waxed or waned according to the circumstances surrounding the individual pastorate.

In May, 1919, the Rev. Bradley Gilman, at that time the incumbent, left Palo Alto for a visit to the Eastern coast. Some months later he sent in his resignation. When the congregation came together to consider the resignation, many of its members felt unwilling to begin the search for a new minister until an experiment had been made in conducting the church in another manner. For some years there had been a growing conviction among members of the Unitarian Society in Palo Alto that the presence of a professional minister was not necessarily essential to the continuance of their church or to its welfare, and after thorough discussion in congregational meeting it was determined to do without one, the pulpit to be tilled by members of the congregation and community or by visiting Unitarians. the other duties of the pastorate to be assumed by the congregation. It is worth noting that this decision was not reached because of money difficulties. The church at this time, though by no means wealthy, was in sound financial condition, without debt and with as many contributors as it had had during the previous year when a minister had been in residence. It should be noted, too, that the essential Unitarianism of the church is in no way affected by the change; the congregation is a congregation of Unitarians, but one wherein congregational government and responsibility is now carried a step farther than it has been before.

The attempt was at first frankly experimental. After four months of trial, it seems so far to have justified itself that there is at present no probability of a return to earlier conditions. Throughout the winter months, the pulpit has been regularly filled, often by speakers with a notable message, membership in the church and attendance at services have both materially increased, money has come in in quantity sufficient to meet all obligations and to make possible the establishment for next year of a scholarship at Stanford University, which it is the hope of the congregation to continue from year to year.

Rut these things, though they are encouraging, are only the outside results of the experiment. More important than any one of them is the effect of the change upon the relation of members of the congregation to the church and to each other. A new unity of purpose, an increased sense of fellowship, has been the most promising growth of the last few months. The presentation from the pulpit of many points of view 1ms promoted that tolerance essentially dear to Unitarians. The necessary sharing of responsibility has, as it is likely to do, increased the willingness to take responsibility. It goes without saying that the work has not been equally shared; as is the case in practically every congregation, one or two members have carried the heaviest part of the burden, but in very considerable number — a number much larger than was normally found under the old condition — have taken some part, with a resultant growth in actual neighborliness and interdependence.

It is by no means the thought of the Unitarian Society in Palo Alto that other bodies of Unitarians would necessarily be wise to follow in their footsteps. For any congregation, the wisdom or unwisdom [sic] of such an attempt depends upon the nature of the community in which the church is situated. It has to be a community which provides a fair number of thoughtful speakers; it has to be a congregation blessed with at least one member ready steadfastly to put the church’s welfare before his own, and neither of these things is easy to find. For Palo Alto, however, the experiment thus far has been promising enough to justify its further trial.

— Edith R. Mirrielees, The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 29, no. 5, May, 1920, p. 125.

[Note: Mirrielees was professor of creative writing at Stanford, and a teacher of John Steinbeck (Jeffrey Schulz and Luchen Li, Critical Companion to John Steinbeck [Facts of File: 2005), p. 301.]

Continue reading “Rebirth and Decline, 1919-1934”

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.

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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.

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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.

Continue reading “War and influenza, 1915-1919”

Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1909-1915

Rev. Clarence Reed served longer than any of the other ministers of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church, for six years from 1909-1915. Arguably, these were the best years for the congregation: they built the social hall that had been originally planned; the Sunday school grew to perhaps 60 children and teenagers; the Women’s Alliance had perhaps 40 members; and perhaps 200 adults were affiliated with the congregation. Here are documents that tell the story of the congregation during these years:

Rev. Florence Buck in Palo Alto (1910)

[Rev. Florence Buck was one of the better known women who served as Unitarian ministers in the early part of the twentieth century. During her brief stay at Palo Alto, she inspired at least one teenaged girl to become a minister — more on that teenager in a subsequent post on the Palo Alto Unitarians.]

Rev. Florence Buck has been given a year’s leave of absence at Kenosha, Wis., and is supplying the pulpit at Palo Alto, Cal.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), October, 1910, p. 5.

Mr. Reed, the minister of the Palo Alto Society, has been ill, but hopes to take up work again in December. His pulpit mean-time is being supplied by Rev. Florence Buck.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), November, 1910, p. 8.

WOMAN MINISTER TO FILL PULPIT
Rev. Florence Buck Has Been Chosen Pastor of Unitarian Church of Alameda

Alameda, [Calif.,] Dec. 19. — Rev. Florence Buck has accepted a call to become the minister of the First Unitarian church of this city. She will begin her pastorate Sunday, January 1, on which date she will conduct services and deliver her initial sermon. She will be the first divine of her sex to take permanent charge of a local church and will be one of the few women ministers in service on the Pacific coast.

The new minister is unmarried. She has had extensive experience In religious work and has been a preacher of the Unitarian faith for some years. She was associated with Rev. Marian Murdock in conducting a church in Cleveland, O. She also filled the pulpit of a Unitarian church in Kenosha, Wis. Of late Rev. Miss Buck has been temporarily occupying the pulpit of the Unitarian church in Palo Alto in the absence of the regular minister, Rev. Clarence Reed, former pastor of Alameda Unitarian church, who is on a vacation in Japan. Since Rev. Mr. Reed left here and went to the Palo Alto church the First Unitarian church has been without a regular pastor. Rev. J. A. Cruzan, field secretary for, the Unitarian society or America, has been acting temporarily. Rev. Miss Buck was heard here twice in the pulpit: of the Unitarian church last month. On both occasions she made a good impression and the trustees decided to extend her a call.

— San Francisco Call, vol. 109, no. 20, December 20, 1910, p. 11.

ReedAbdulBahaSmall

Above: Rev. Clarence Reed and the Baha’í prophet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Palo Alto, 1912

Continue reading “Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1909-1915”

The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905-1909

Here are documents that tell the story of the early years of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto.

The Women’s Alliance (1906)

PALO ALTO.
Branch Alliance of the Unitarian Church, 25 members.
Pres., Mrs. Agnes B. Kitchen, 912 Cowper St., Palo Alto.
Vice-Pres., Mrs. Isabel Butler, 853 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.
Sec., Mrs. Isabelle Wocker, 853 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.
Treas., Mrs. Emily S. Karns, P. O. Box 148, Palo Alto.
Ch. Cheerful Letter, Mrs. Jessie B. Palmer, 765 Channing Ave., Palo Alto.
Includes all the women’s organizations of the church.
Committees: Hospitality, House, Decoration, Entertainment, Work.
Meetings second and fourth Tuesdays at 2 P.M.
Money raised, $205.15. Disbursed: $8.35 to National Alliance; $150 for church lot; $6 for hymn books; $25.98 for materials. Organized October 21, 1905.

— Manual, 1906, National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Woman (New York, Knickerbocker Press, 1906), p. 168.

The New Church Building (1907)

The most important event in the department of church extension during the past month was the dedication of the new church-building at Palo Alto. This occurred on Sunday morning, March 24th. It was a home affair, simple, but very interesting to the faithful Unitarians who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bring the enterprise to a successful termination. The erection of this church was made possible by the generosity of Mrs. Frances A. Hackley, of Tarrytown, N. Y., who has done so much for the Unitarian cause in this department. The members of the church entered into the work with a determination to make the new church-building not only useful but beautiful and convenient. The interior of the new church is all that could be desired; the exterior will not show its merit until the vines grow over it, as the vines are an essential part of the plan. The services in dedication were well attended.

— The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 15, no. 6, April, 1907 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), p. 165.

OldChurchAisle

Above: The old Unitarian church, designed by Bernard Maybeck (from The Pacific Unitarian, May, 1907, p. 206)

Continue reading “The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905-1909”

Charter members, Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905

Below is a list of the charter members of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, organized on November 12, 1905. This list is taken from Donna Lee’s transcription, found in her 1991 history of the old Unitarian church. I believe she made some transcription errors; unfortunately the original document appears to have been destroyed, though a photocopy definitely exists, and at some point I will look at the photocopy to try to check the accuracy of Lee’s transcription.

In the mean time, I have been doing some research on these early Palo Alto Unitarians. The majority of them are associated with Stanford — students, faculty, staff; and spouses and parents of same. There are several people I have not been able to track down; let me know if you happen to know anything about them.

The list of charter members is below…. Continue reading “Charter members, Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1905”

Documents on Eliza Tupper Wilkes in Palo Alto

The documents below tell the story of Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes and her efforts to start a Unitarian organization in Palo Alto, in the years 1895-1896. (Though a Universalist, she was at that time working for the Unitarians.)

Wilkes first came to the Bay area in 1890: “By the early 1890s, as heart problems and a hectic schedule caught up with her, Wilkes began to spend the winter months in California. During the winter of 1890-91 she served the Alameda, California, Unitarian Church.” [Article on ETW, http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/elizatupperwilkes.html accessed Oct. 10, 2013, 14:32 PDT]

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In 1893, she began serving as Rev. Charles Wendte’s assistant in Oakland. “It should be added that when, in 1893, Mr. Wendte reassumed the Unitarian superintendency for the coast for two years more, he invited Rev. Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes to become his assistant and substitute during his absence. Mrs. Wilkes greatly endeared herself to the congregation during her eighteen months of earnest and efficient service.”

— The Unitarian (collected ed., Boston: George Ellis), March, 1897.

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Since hiring Wilkes allowed Wendte to hold down another paying job, as the Pacific Coast superintendent for Unitarians, he had to pay her out of his own pocket. She was charged with overseeing the Sunday school, pastoral calling, adult organizations, and she was asked to do occasional preaching. Wilkes resigned from Oakland in March, 1895. “Her health had not improved, and Wendte could not afford to pay her.”

— Arnold Crompton, Unitarianism on the Pacific Coast (Starr King Press / Beacon Press, 1957), p. 151.

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By November, 1895, the Pacific Unitarian reported that the Women’s Unitarian Conference voted to continue its support for Wilkes’s missionary work. At that time, she was living in Berkeley.

— “Notes,” November, 1895, vol. 4, no. 1 (San Francisco: ), p. 6.

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According to Doug Chapman, Wilkes “was the first woman to preach at the Stanford University Chapel — in May, 1895. Her sermon was titled ‘Character in the Light of Evolution’.”

— “Dakota Territory’s Eliza Tupper Wilkes: Prairie Pastor,” paper delivered at the Dakota Conference on History, Literature, Art, and Archaeology, Augustana College, 2000. [For an account of this sermon, see this blog post.]

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The Woman’s Club was addressed, at its last meeting, not by Miss Holbrook as advertised, but by Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes, of the First Unitarian Church, Oakland. Not having a special address prepared, she was asked to speak of Woman’s Clubs. She said they were in no sense an achievement but a prophesy: the worst use to make of them is as a mutual admiration society, as has been done. That they are needed is an advertisement to the world that women have not yet found their place. Until this is accomplished and men and women stand on the same plane in our meeting Woman’s Club will be a necessity as a means to an end. Separate clubs are a training school for women. In these they hear their own voices, learn executive ability, and gain experience. Yet such clubs are one-sided, disjointed affairs.

As a mother of six children she spoke from experience when she said that mothers needed relief from their home duties, hence she would not have the club a mother’s meeting but a meeting of mothers; a place where they should not hear so much of their own duties, but something of the duties of fathers, if need be. but particularly of outside things, of literature, science, art, that they might take home with them some thought to brighten the daily routine.

— The Palo Alto Times, vol. 3, no. 18, May 10, 1895, p. 2.

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Mrs. Wilkes will hold Unitarian services at Parkinson’s Hall, Sunday afternoon, November 3rd, at 4 o’clock. All are invited.

— The Palo Alto Times, vol. 3, no. 44, November 1, 1895, p. 3.

Continue reading “Documents on Eliza Tupper Wilkes in Palo Alto”