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.

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Sermon by Eliza Tupper Wilkes, Stanford, 1895

This sermon by Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes (1844-1917), preached at Stanford, comes from “The Sunday Sermon,” a weekly summary of the sermon preached at Stanford printed in the Daily Palo Alto of Stanford University, vol. 7, no. 78, Monday, May 6, 1895, p. 1. This reads like someone’s careful notes of the sermon; it is too awkward, and far too short, to be an actual reading text. Nevertheless, it gives a good sense of how Wilkes preached late in her career.

The sermon also gives a opportunity to see one way an experienced evangelist made herself known in a community. She doubtless chose to address the topic of evolution because it would be a topic of interest in a university chapel. In less than six months, Wilkes had gathered a group of Unitarians and other liberals, who then formally organized as a Unity Society (not a full church, but a lay-led society) in January, 1896. The Unity Society did not last long, but it laid the groundwork for the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, which was organized in 1905, and lasted until the Great depression.

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The sermon Sunday morning was preached by Mrs. Eliza T. Wilkes of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. The subject was “The Forgiveness of Sins in the Light of Evolution.”

Do not think I do not realize the awful presumption of speaking to you on such a subject. A short time ago a minister asked me if I believed in evolution. I said most certainly I did so far as I had gone. Sin has been considered the choice of the imperfect for the perfect. Today most of us regard it as a crime against life. Your body, complete in every function, is a model body. Violating anything which retards this, is sin; retarding life is immorality and bin. Dying to live is full complete life. A criminal has more to hope for than the licentious person. We see all around us the results of sin. It is as much a sin to think wrong as it is to do wrong.

Evolution, with its awful fact of heredity, emphasizes the old law that the father’s sins descend upon the children. Children suffer for sins not only of the father but of the third and fourth generations. It emphasizes the curse against wrong-doers. We are not living in a universe of goodness. Hell cannot be put off. “Whatever a man soweth that he reapeth.” Are we held hand and foot in the inexorable grip of vice? Cannot we get free? Must the prodigal son be stricken from the gospel’s pages? True, there are no longer any punishments left in our philosophy, only consequences. Are there no evangelists for us to see? Are there none to save the captive and to help the lost?

A few months ago I was preaching in a room over a saloon. A friend who always waited to see me home was standing in the doorway. I preached on the well known subject, “Salvation Through Character.” My sermon sounded void and empty, but when I reached the door my friend, who drinks, gambles, and according to the old saying, “whose worst enemy is himself,” said, “I like those sermons on character, but how about us poor devils who haven’t any?” We must ask that question or stop preaching. If the philosopher can not help those poor ones who need help we had better stop and tell again the old, old story.

Life has in it a re-creating force. Life brings to us sweetest results: it takes the scar and destroys every sign. Every great thought clearing the brain gives new re-creative force, puts new life into the very scum of things. Through intellect and affection, new life comes to fainting souls. Every new burst of emotion arouses the will, and it is through action alone that character arises. We change our lives by our wills. Our destinies are in our own hands. “What thou lovest thou bccomest.” Moral power has in it the life principle of re-creating. The worst consequences of sins are the breaking down of intellect and character. When one’s soul has come to sin, all the beauty of the present time is left behind. The great power is a loving power. But how docs one know it? Only through the touch of human love. You may talk to some who know not of love, but every soul forgives sins. The consequence of sin is distrust in other hearts.
Some one spoke to me of the fate of poor women who had sinned. I could not think how to help them. I was influenced by another’s sin. One of them came to me. At first I could say nothing, but my own soul helped me. Though our hearts hasten to Calvary, shall we pass by those who want us to help them?

I stood by a poor girl who was suffering for her own and another’s sin. I said, “God will forgive.” “Yes,” she answered, “God will forgive, but women won’t.” There are sins which can never be forgiven in this world or the world to come; but out of this loss come new hope and spiritual gain. They become monuments of love, faith, and trust in fellow men.
As I finished talking to her, they sent for me to go and see a man. I found him in a dark, gloomy corner of our beautiful city — a wreck, apparently. He had sown to the wind and was reaping the whirlwind, he had done what many young men are doing — he had “sown his wild oats.” He was what we should call a delicate man; used the vernacular which learned men use; he was a college man. “I got off the wrong way,” he said, “I want to know how to get hold of life anew. I can’t see a clear way.” He told me that all through these years his one true friend had been his little wife, and now for her sake he wanted to begin life again. I said: “My friend, I can’t help you to begin life anew. Reap what you have sown. There is no power in Heaven or on earth that can give you back these years. But God isn’t in a hurry; there is plenty of time. Take hold of that wife’s faith in you and it will help you. And in after years you will say you have gained much, you have been helped to carry character to a higher level. Remember this — the universe is before you waiting to raise the will of man when he is ready.” When I had finished I thought it would have been better to say, “Except ye become as a little child, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Obscure Unitarians: the Alderton family

Dorothy Marion Alderton — She was born in Oct., 1889, in New York to Henry A. Alderton and Marion Starr Alderton, the eldest of three children. She was a student at Stanford University from 1908-1912. On Sept. 17, 1912, when a senior at Stanford, she married Herbert Anthony Kellar of Peoria, Illinois, at her parents’ Palo Alto home, with Rev. Clarence Reed, the minister of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, officiating. The couple moved to Wisconsin, and then to Chicago, where Herbert worked at the McCormick Agricultural Library. They had one son, James, who died c. 1922. Dorothy was diagnosed with “dementia praecox” — what might be diagnosed as schizophrenia today — around 1924. She was institutionalized, and by 1930 Herbert was living with the woman he would eventually marry as his second wife. Herbert obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada, on Nov. 8, 1934, but he continued correspondence with Dorothy’s mother Marion up to 1942, the year Dorothy died of cancer.

Marion Starr (Decker) Alderton — She was born in Aug., 1865, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1885, she married Henry Arnold Alderton, a physician; they lived in Berlin in 1890-91 while Henry studied at the University of Berlin. They made their home in Brooklyn, but when Dorothy entered Stanford in 1908, Marion, with her two other children, move to Mayfield with her. Henry, Sr., moved to California in 1912, and took up painting.

Marion withdrew from the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in June, 1920, in protest against “the attitude taken” by the church in the First World War; the church had a pacifist minister, William E. Short, Jr., in 1916-1917, who resigned to work for a pacifist organization in San Francisco; but by 1918, the church had hired a pro-war minister, F=Bradley Gilman, and had voted to display a U.S. flag on the pulpit. The church’s turn towards a pro-war stand may have been simply pragmatic, since the church received significant financial assistance from the American Unitarian Association, and since the A.U.A. made it a condition of receiving such aid that churches must declare their support of the First World War; however, the church always included both anti-war (e.g., Prof. Guido Marx) and pro-war (e.g., Prof. Melville B. Anderson) members.

By 1924, her daughter Dorothy was diagnosed with schizophrenia; see Dorothy M. Alderton above. Henry, Sr., died c. 1931; Marion died after 1940.