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Abbot, Francis Ellingwood (06 November 1836–23 October 1903), Unitarian clergyman and philosopher, was born in Boston, the son of Joseph Hale Abbot and Fanny Ellingwood Larcom. The senior Abbot was a schoolmaster and amateur scientist who reflected the strict moralism of early nineteenth-century Unitarianism, while his wife displayed a strong poetical bent, and Abbot’s life and career were influenced by both. After being educated at the Boston Latin School he entered Harvard College and graduated in 1859. While there he underwent a strong religious conversion, at least partly through the influence of his college friend ...

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Alger, William Rounseville (28 December 1822–07 February 1905), author and religious leader, was born in Freetown, Massachusetts, the son of Catherine Sampson Rounseville and Nahum Alger, a teacher. Apprenticed at seven to a New Hampshire farmer, Alger worked at a variety of menial jobs during his hardscrabble boyhood. He earned a ministerial diploma from the Harvard Divinity School in 1847 and became pastor of All Souls’ Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The same year, he married Ann Langdon Lodge; they had seven children. In 1855 Alger moved to the Bulfinch Street Church in Boston, where he gained a reputation as an orator. The next year, he published ...

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Bancroft, Aaron (10 November 1755–19 August 1839), Unitarian minister and author, was born in Reading, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Bancroft, a wealthy and respected landowner, and Lydia Parker. Bancroft spent his early years laboring on his father’s large Reading farm. His early desire for higher education and high aptitude for learning convinced his father to send him to college. Enrolling in Harvard in 1774 at the age of nineteen, Bancroft spent the years of the revolutionary war studying for the ministry and abroad serving as a missionary. After graduating with honors in 1778, Bancroft undertook a brief study of theology with Thomas Haven, his boyhood minister. After preaching in various pulpits for a few months, Bancroft made an unusual appeal to the Massachusetts Executive Council: since his country was at war, he asked for permission to perform missionary work in Nova Scotia, Canada. With the approval of the council, Bancroft spent three years preaching to British Canadians....

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Barrows, Samuel June (26 May 1845–21 April 1909), minister, reformer, and editor, was born in New York City, the son of Richard Barrows, a printer, and Jane Weekes. He was four when his father died and nine when his mother asked her husband’s cousin, printing-press innovator ...

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Bellows, Henry Whitney (11 June 1814–30 January 1882), Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Bellows, a wealthy merchant, and Betsy Eames. From 1824 to 1828 he attended the Round Hill School conducted by George Bancroft in Northampton, Massachusetts, then went to Harvard, from which he graduated in 1832. He taught school in Cooperstown, New York, and served as a tutor in a Louisiana family. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1837. After a brief pastorate in Mobile, Alabama, he served as minister of the First Unitarian Church in New York City from 1839 until his death. He cherished his southern experience and was proud that he and many of his congregation hailed from New England—“the mother of so many sturdy virtues,” he liked to declare. But, earlier than most New Englanders, he recognized that New York had become the “central seat of power.” Late in life he declared that “the largeness and variety of life” in New York “expanded my horizons.”...

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Bentley, William (22 June 1759–29 December 1819), clergyman, scholar, and journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joshua Bentley, a carpenter, and Elizabeth Paine, the daughter of a merchant. Bentley was raised in the home of William Paine, the prosperous grandfather for whom he was named, and he was educated at the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard College in 1773. After graduation in 1777, Bentley taught school. He returned to Harvard in 1780 as a tutor in Latin and Greek and prepared for the ministry. Ordained at the Second (East) Congregational parish in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1783, Bentley served in its pulpit until his death thirty-six years later....

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Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown (20 May 1825–05 November 1921), minister, reformer, and author, was born in Henrietta, New York, the daughter of Joseph Brown, a farmer and justice of the peace, and Abigail Morse. Antoinette proved a precocious child, following her older siblings to school at the age of three. The preaching of evangelist ...

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Blake, James Vila (21 January 1842–27 April 1925), clergyman and author, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Hamlin Blake, a successful merchant, and Elizabeth Dexter. After his graduation from Harvard University in 1862, Blake became secretary to Massachusetts governor John Andrew...

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Buckminster, Joseph Stevens (26 May 1784–09 June 1812), Unitarian minister, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Joseph Buckminster, a Congregationalist minister, and Sarah Stevens. Buckminster completed his A.B. at Harvard in 1800 and became pastor of the Brattle Street Church in Boston in 1804. Young, passionately eloquent in his preaching, and committed to a more rigorous form of biblical scholarship influenced by the German “higher criticism,” Buckminster soon made an enormous impact on Boston intellectual culture....

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Channing, William Ellery (07 April 1780–02 October 1842), Unitarian clergyman and author, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of William Channing, a lawyer, and Lucy Ellery. His father, a prominent Federalist, had been attorney general of Rhode Island and U.S. district attorney; ...

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Channing, William Henry (25 May 1810–23 December 1884), Unitarian minister and reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Dana Channing, an attorney, and Susan Higginson. Although his father died in 1810, Channing was well-connected with influential New England families through both parents and was raised in an atmosphere of privilege. He grew up in the household of his maternal grandfather Stephen Higginson, a merchant, and his education was directed to a significant extent by his uncle ...

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Clarke, James Freeman (04 April 1810–08 June 1888), Unitarian minister, was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, the son of Samuel C. Clarke, a physician, druggist, and businessman, and Rebecca Parker Hull. Clarke was named for his step-grandfather James Freeman, an early leader of the Unitarian movement in America and minister of King’s Chapel, Boston. Shortly after Clarke’s birth, the family moved to Newton, Massachusetts; he lived primarily in the Freeman household thereafter, and Freeman played a large role in his early education. Clarke continued his education at Harvard College (A.B., 1829) and graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1833, after which he began his career as a Unitarian minister in Louisville, Kentucky, where he stayed until 1840....

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Collier, Price (25 May 1860–03 November 1913), writer and minister, was born Hiram Price Collier in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Robert Laird Collier, a Unitarian clergyman who collected European labor statistics for the U.S. government, and Mary Price, whose father, Hiram Price, was a U.S. congressman. After his mother’s death in 1872 Collier spent five years in Europe with his father and became fluent in French and German. In 1882 Collier finished Harvard Divinity School, where he was the youngest student to graduate up to that time. He first occupied the pulpit of the First Parish Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, and in 1888 arrived at the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn, New York, where he almost instantly became both a sought-after preacher and a man about town. Early in 1890 the New York ...

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Conway, Moncure Daniel (17 March 1832–15 November 1907), reformer, minister, and author, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of Walker Peyton Conway, a planter and judge, and Margaret Eleanor Daniel, a self-taught homeopathic doctor. Born to privilege, Conway was expected to emulate powerful, prominent male relatives. But his desire to please his father was exceeded by the influence of his remarkable mother and other female relatives. Together, these women emphasized sharing over hierarchy, personal fulfillment as well as duty, and encouraged, despite his father’s disapproval, Conway’s love of literature....

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Cooke, George Willis (23 April 1848–30 April 1923), writer, lecturer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Comstock, Michigan, the son of Hiram Cooke and Susan Jane Earl, farmers. Although he gained wide recognition as a scholar, his formal education was limited. He studied briefly at Olivet College in Michigan, the Jefferson Liberal Institute in Wisconsin, and the Meadville Theological School in Pennsylvania without earning a degree. A voracious reader throughout his life, he was largely self-taught. On 20 June 1872 he was ordained as a Unitarian minister and later that same year married Lucy Nash of Rochester, Wisconsin; the couple had two children. During the next twenty-seven years he served churches in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Grand Haven, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; Dedham, Sharon, and Lexington, Massachusetts; and Dublin, New Hampshire, at the same time being actively engaged in writing and editorial work. Along with ...

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Cummings, Edward (20 April 1861–02 November 1926), sociologist and Unitarian minister, was born in Colebrook, New Hampshire, the son of Edward Norris Cummings, the part owner of a general store, and Lucretia F. Merrill. As a high school student in Woburn, Massachusetts, he worked alongside master carpenters following the failure of his father’s business, an experience that doubtless colored his later understanding of theology and sociology....

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Dall, Charles Henry Appleton (12 February 1816–18 July 1886), Unitarian minister and missionary, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of James Dall and Henrietta Austin, occupations unknown. At the age of eight he was sent to his father’s family in Boston for an education. He graduated from Harvard College in 1837—along with ...

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Davies, A. Powell (05 June 1902–26 September 1957), Unitarian clergyman, was born Arthur Powell Davies in Birkenhead, England, the son of Arthur Davies, a tin smelter, and Martha Powell, both natives of Wales. A business college graduate, Davies worked as a bookkeeper on the Liverpool docks and participated in the post–World War I strikes there before being selected by the first Labour Member of Parliament from that district to serve as his secretary in the House of Commons. In London Davies joined a Fabian debating society and met George Bernard Shaw, who, impressed with his ability to think on his feet while talking, urged Davies to enter politics. Davies had a religious commitment, however, and instead matriculated at Richmond College, then the University of London Methodist training school. After he graduated with a B.D. in 1925, he was ordained a deacon in the Wesleyan Methodist District in London, which assigned him to organize a new mission church in Becontree, a suburb of London (1925–1928). He married Muriel Hannah, daughter of a Methodist minister, in December 1927, and in May 1928 they emigrated to the United States, where he was assigned to two rural parishes in Maine. The couple would have two children. After briefly attending Boston University School of Theology, Davies was assigned to the Pine Street Church, Portland, where his preaching on controversial social and international questions soon made him a prominent spokesman for liberal causes....

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Dewey, Orville (28 March 1794–21 March 1882), Unitarian minister, was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts, the son of Silas Dewey and Polly Root, farmers. Dewey graduated from Williams College in 1814 as the class valedictorian, despite having contracted a case of measles that severely injured his vision during college. For some five years he was able to read only for limited periods, although he eventually regained full use of his vision. Dewey had a religious awakening in college that eventuated in his desire to enter the ministry, but he did not begin divinity studies immediately after his graduation, spending a year in Sheffield as a teacher and another year working in New York. He entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1817, hoping, as he explained, “to pursue my studies as well as I could without my eyes, expecting afterwards to preach without notes” ( ...

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Dietrich, John Hassler (14 January 1878–22 July 1957), Unitarian minister and a leader of the humanist movement in twentieth-century Unitarianism, was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Jerome Dietrich and Sarah Sarbaugh, farmers. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1900 and studied at the Reformed Theological Seminary, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from 1902 to 1905. He began his ministerial career in 1905 at the Reformed church at St. Mark’s Memorial Church in Pittsburgh. His early career was marked by conflict with his denomination over a number of issues, some related to the parish politics at St. Mark’s, others arising as a result of his growing liberalism in theology. In 1911 he was tried for heresy by the Allegheny Classis of the Reformed church, which cited his lack of belief in the infallible truth of the Bible and the supernatural nature of Jesus....