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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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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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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....

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Eliot, William Greenleaf, Jr. (05 August 1811–23 January 1887), Unitarian minister and university administrator, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of William Greenleaf Eliot, a merchant and postal official, and Margaret Dawes. Eliot graduated from Columbian College in 1830 and Harvard Divinity School in 1834. That same year he began his ministry to a newly formed Unitarian congregation in St. Louis. In 1837 he married Abby Adams Cranch; they had fourteen children. Eliot was grandfather of the poet ...

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Ellis, George Edward (08 August 1814–20 December 1894), minister and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of David Ellis, a merchant and shipowner, and Sarah Rogers. At age fifteen Ellis entered Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1833. Continuing at Harvard for theological studies, he graduated from the Divinity School in 1836, and while there edited the Unitarian Journal ...

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Francis, Convers (09 November 1795–07 April 1863), Unitarian clergyman and university professor, was born in West Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Convers Francis, a baker, and Susannah Rand. He was an older, and favorite, brother of Lydia Maria Child, the distinguished author and social reformer, who often acknowledged his salutary influence upon her. Francis entered Harvard College in 1811 and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1815. He remained at Harvard to complete a course of studies in divinity in 1818. That year he was licensed to preach by both the Boston and the Cambridge Association of Congregational Ministers. In June of the following year he was ordained and called as pastor to the First Parish Congregational Church in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he remained for twenty-three years, about one-half of his career. In 1822 he married Abby Bradford Allyn, daughter of Rev. John Allyn of Duxbury, Massachusetts; the couple had two children....

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Hedge, Frederic Henry (12 December 1805–21 August 1890), Unitarian minister and Harvard professor, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Levi Hedge, a Harvard professor, and Mary Kneeland. His early education came from his father, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, and ...

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Hill, Thomas (07 January 1818–21 November 1891), Unitarian clergyman, college president, and scientist, was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of Thomas Hill, a judge, and Henrietta Barker. Hill’s father died when Hill was ten, leaving the family only a modest amount of money. In his early years, Hill apprenticed himself to a printer and to an apothecary, but he was not happy in either of these professions. With the financial help of his older brothers, Hill hired a tutor in Latin and Greek and was accepted into Harvard in 1839. In his senior year he published a pamphlet, ...

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Holley, Horace (13 February 1781–31 July 1827), Unitarian minister and educator, was born in Salisbury, Connecticut, the son of Luther Holley, a merchant, and Sarah Dakin, daughter of a Baptist minister. At the age of three he was sent to elementary school, completing all courses available to him. He then turned to employment in the family store. In 1797 emerging academic interests brought him to enter the Academy of Williams College, a preparatory institution. Two years later Holley entered Yale University, graduating in 1803. During his senior year he came under the influence of a religious revival underway in New Haven. After graduation, he left for New York City to begin the study of law. Holley quickly found law uncongenial and returned to New Haven to study divinity under the Reverend ...

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Peabody, Andrew Preston (19 March 1811–10 March 1893), Unitarian minister and college professor, was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Peabody, a teacher, and Mary Rantoul. Tutored by relatives and neighbors, he early mastered Greek, Latin, and French and began the study of German and Hebrew. His long hours of study developed in him an excellent memory. He was able to enter Harvard as a junior at the age of thirteen and to graduate, two years later, as one of the youngest ever to receive a Harvard degree. For the next three years he taught in schools in Pennsylvania and New England, then enrolled in the Divinity School at Harvard. After graduating in 1832 and tutoring in mathematics at Harvard for a year, he was called to serve in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as junior pastor in the prestigious South Parish. His senior colleague died almost immediately, and Peabody led the church until 1860. In 1836 he married Catherine Whipple Roberts; they had eight children....

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Peabody, Francis Greenwood (04 December 1847–28 December 1936), Unitarian clergyman and Harvard academician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Ephraim Peabody, a Unitarian minister, and Mary Jane Derby. After Ephraim Peabody’s early death in 1856, the family lived a frugal existence in a small Beacon Hill residence. Members of his father’s church, King’s Chapel, provided funds for Francis’s education. He earned degrees from Harvard College, Divinity School, and Graduate School (A.B., 1869; S.T.B., 1872; A.M., 1872) and studied in Germany at the University of Halle under August Tholuck (1872–1873). In 1872 Peabody married Cora Weld; they had five children, only two of whom survived both parents....

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Potter, Charles Francis (28 October 1885–04 October 1962), Unitarian and later Humanist minister and author, was born in Marlboro, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Henry Potter, a factory employee, and Flora Ellen Lincoln. Raised in a devout Baptist family, Potter began preaching in Baptist churches while attending Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1907. He assumed a Baptist pastorate in Dover, New Hampshire, in 1908 and moved to another Baptist pastorate in Mattapan, Massachusetts, in 1910. He earned a B.D. (1913) and an S.T.M. (1917) from Newton Theological Seminary and an M.A. from Bucknell (1916). In 1908 he married Clara Cook, and three children were born to their marriage....

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Reese, Curtis Williford (03 September 1887–05 June 1961), Unitarian minister and religious Humanist, was born in Madison County, North Carolina, the son of Patterson Reese and Rachel Elizabeth Buckner. Reese was raised in a devoutly Southern Baptist family, and after graduating from Mars Hill College in North Carolina, he entered the Baptist ministry in Bellwood, Alabama, in 1908. After a brief stint of supply preaching there, he entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville in 1908, meanwhile holding pastorates at Gratz and Pleasant Home, Kentucky....

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Sparks, Jared (10 May 1789–14 March 1866), historian, editor, and clergyman, was born in Willington, Connecticut, the son of Eleanor Orcutt, who nine months later married Joseph Sparks, a farmer. His early life was somewhat unstable. In the mid-1790s he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle to relieve the burdens of the many children in the family, and with his adoptive family, he settled in 1800 in Camden, New York. In 1805 he moved home for a brief time and then went to live with another uncle in Tolland, Connecticut. There he apprenticed as carpenter and taught in local schools. Early on he displayed interests in literary and historical pursuits along with the more common interest in theology. While in Arlington, Vermont, he organized the Arlington Philosophical Society in 1808. He studied at the Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, beginning in September 1809, the result of Sparks’s early interests in the ministry and his receipt of a scholarship. There he met and became lifelong friends with another future New England historian, ...

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Stebbins, Horatio (08 August 1821–08 April 1902), minister, was born in South Wilbraham (present-day Hampden), Massachusetts, the son of Calvin Stebbins and Amelia Adams, farmers. He did not have an easy childhood. His mother died when he was six, and the financial needs of his family required him to help on the farm, which he remembered later consisted mostly of digging potatoes and husking corn. As a result, his initial schooling was erratic. Eventually, however, Stebbins was able to attend Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, from which he graduated in 1846. He then attended Harvard, where he earned an A.B. in 1848 and, as a student in its divinity school, an A.M. in 1851. A story familiar to his friends told of how he had grown potatoes near Divinity Hall one summer, in addition to teaching, in order to earn his tuition at Harvard, a poignant vignette that attests to his difficult struggle to gain an education. Nevertheless, he completed his studies, and at age twenty-nine he was ready for the Unitarian ministry, which had been his goal for years....

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Upham, Charles Wentworth (04 May 1802–15 June 1875), historian, minister, and politician, was born in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of Joshua Upham, a lawyer and entrepreneur, and Mary Chandler. Joshua Upham’s Royalist politics and service in the British military led to the confiscation of his property by the state of Massachusetts in 1778. He fled with his wife to the British province of New Brunswick and in 1784 was appointed an assistant justice to its first Supreme Court. The position, however, was more prestigious than profitable, and his death in 1808 left Mary Upham and her son with little means of support. At age ten Charles worked in an apothecary shop, mixing medicines and teaching himself the trade by reading a pharmacology text. At age twelve he was a day laborer on a farm in Annapolis, Nova Scotia....