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Ballou, Adin (23 April 1803–05 August 1890), Universalist clergyman, reformer, and founder of Hopedale Community, was born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, the son of Ariel Ballou and Edilda Tower, farmers. A largely self-educated preacher, Ballou’s earliest religious experience was Calvinist in nature, and he later recalled the “very solemnizing effect” of the preaching he heard as a youth. At about age eleven, however, Ballou experienced a religious conversion, and a year later he was baptized into a Christian Connection church that emphasized a more enthusiastic and fundamentalist religiosity. Ballou developed a deep interest in religious matters over the next several years and eventually became a self-proclaimed preacher. At age eighteen, in the autumn of 1821, he was received into the fellowship of the Connecticut Christian Conference, a Christian Connection body. In 1822 he married Abigail Sayles; they had two children before Abigail died in 1829....

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Ballou, Hosea (30 April 1771–07 June 1852), theologian and clergyman, was born in Richmond, New Hampshire, the son of Maturin Ballou, a farmer and unpaid Baptist minister, and Lydia Harris, who came from a Rhode Island Quaker family and died when her son was two years old. Growing up in extreme poverty, Ballou had less than three years of formal schooling. A few months before his nineteenth birthday, he came forward in a revival meeting and joined his father’s church. But before the year was over Ballou’s interest in religion had led him to become a Universalist. Moving in with an older brother who was already a Universalist minister, Ballou prepared himself to teach and preach by attending first a community school and then a nearby academy. Despite the fact that his friends, after hearing his first sermon, delivered in 1791, doubted his “talent for such labor,” Ballou preached wherever he found an open door. The next year he determined to make the ministry his career even though he had to support himself by teaching. In 1793 he went to the first of the nearly fifty New England Universalist conventions he would attend, and by the next year’s session he had so impressed his colleagues that they spontaneously ordained him. In 1796 Ballou moved to Dana, Massachusetts, and in September of that year he married Ruth Washburn; they had nine children....

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Ballou, Hosea, 2d (18 October 1796–27 May 1861), Universalist minister and educator, was born in Guilford, Vermont, the son of Asahel Ballou and Martha Starr, farmers. His parents were hard-working, frugal, intelligent, and affectionate people, and these values shaped his personality.

Ballou’s limited formal education scarcely satisfied his passion for learning, but he mastered Latin with the help of a neighboring minister and also became proficient in Greek, French, German, and Hebrew. At fifteen he worked briefly as a schoolteacher in the nearby town of Marlboro. His parents considered sending him to college but, as Universalists, were suspicious of the New England colleges, which they felt were controlled by Congregationalists and so kept him at home....

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Brown, Olympia (05 January 1835–23 October 1926), Universalist minister and suffragist, was born in Prairie Ronde, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, the daughter of Asa B. Brown and Lephia Olympia, farmers. Her parents were Universalists with a strong commitment to education for their children. She first attended school with her two younger sisters and brother in a building on her family’s farm and later in Schoolcraft, Michigan. In 1854 she went to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts. She disliked the stultifying rules and religious orthodoxy there and transferred in 1856 to the newly organized coeducational Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio....

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Thomas Starr King. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109959).

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King, Thomas Starr (17 December 1824–04 March 1864), Universalist minister and lecturer, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Farrington King, a Universalist minister, and Susan Starr. Since his father moved from one pastorate to another, young King spent most of his formative years in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Charlestown, Massachusetts. He had little formal schooling and even that was terminated when he was fifteen years old because his father died. Forced to work in support of the family, he was at times a clerk, a bookkeeper in a dry-goods store, an assistant teacher in a grammar school (1840), a principal at another (1842), and in 1843 a bookkeeper at Charlestown Naval Yard. Throughout this time King actively pursued intellectual maturation. A voracious reader, he absorbed information at a remarkable pace and took advantage of lectures offered in Cambridge or Boston. His vigorous mind and thirst for knowledge drew the attention of Unitarian clergy and social reformer ...

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Kneeland, Abner (06 April 1774–27 August 1844), freethinker and Universalist clergyman, was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, the son of Timothy Kneeland, a soldier in the revolutionary war, and Moriah Stone. After attending common schools, Kneeland studied for a short time at the Chesterfield Academy in New Hampshire and worked as a carpenter. In 1797 he married Waitstill Ormsbee; three of their four children reached adulthood. Although Kneeland joined the Baptist church, which licensed him to preach in 1801, he became a Universalist two years later and in 1804 was licensed to preach by that denomination. In addition to preaching, Kneeland taught school and published several popular spelling books....

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Miner, Alonzo Ames (17 August 1814–14 June 1895), Universalist minister, was born in Lempster, New Hampshire, the son of Benajah Ames Miner and Amanda Carey, farmers. He was self-educated although he did study from time to time at several New Hampshire and Vermont town schools. By the time he was sixteen he had acquired sufficient knowledge to become a teacher and for several years taught at Hanover, New Hampshire, and Cavendish, Vermont, before becoming head from 1835 to 1839 of the Unity (N.H.) Scientific and Military Academy. In 1836 he married his childhood friend, Maria S. Perley, who then became the academy’s preceptress; they did not have children....

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Murray, John (10 December 1741–03 September 1815), founder of organized Universalism in the United States, was born in Alton, Hampshire, England. Murray’s father was a stern Calvinistic Anglican who apparently was successful in business; the family name of his gentler Presbyterian mother was Rolt. Murray, who had some formal schooling, later complained that during his childhood his father’s constant harping about the “endless misery” of the damned “threw a cloud over every innocent enjoyment.” When Murray was ten his family moved to Ireland, settling near Cork and his paternal grandmother, who was “in easy circumstances” and helped them out financially two years later when their home burned. His father refused an offer to prepare Murray for college, securing for him instead a place in business when his own health declined....

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Newton, Joseph Fort (21 July 1876–24 January 1950), Baptist, Universalist, and Episcopal minister, lecturer, and author, was born in Decatur, Texas, the son of Lee Newton, a Baptist minister and lawyer, and Sue Green Battle. Raised according to the rigid doctrinal standards and strict moral code in place among Texas Baptists at the turn of this century, much of Newton’s life was a pilgrimage in search of gentler, more open-ended religious insight. Largely self-educated, he learned classical languages and literature with his mother’s help, and in 1895 he was ordained a Baptist minister. Later that year he entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where his predilection for a liberalized religious perspective became more intensified. He read widely, learning more from poets and critical essayists than from the formal syllabus prescribed for divinity students. Newton searched for a faith that could satisfy the mind while it sanctified the heart. He grew increasingly dissatisfied with theological tenets that separated churches, and in 1897 he left both the seminary and the denomination because he found sectarian exclusiveness to be absurd and reactionary dogmas embarrassing....

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Skinner, Clarence Russell (23 March 1881–27 August 1949), Universalist minister and theological professor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Charles Montgomery Skinner, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, and Ada Blanchard. He went to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, graduating in 1904. There he became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Although he had not trained for the ministry, he became an assistant that same year to the Reverend Dr. Frank Oliver Hall, minister of the Church of the Divine Paternity (Universalist) in New York City. The next year he was ordained, and later he took graduate work at Columbia, Harvard, and the Boston School of Social Workers. Meadville Theological School gave him a D.D. in 1926. His alma mater gave him an M.A. in 1910 and a D.D. in 1933....

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Soule, Caroline Augusta White (03 September 1824–06 December 1903), minister and author, was born and raised in Albany, New York, the daughter of Nathaniel White, a mechanic, and Elizabeth Merselis. When she was twelve Soule entered the Albany Female Academy, from which she graduated in 1841. She was described at that time as being “so small, slender, timid and shrinking that she looked even younger” than seventeen. An excellent student, at graduation she was awarded one of the academy’s gold medals for her essay on the “Goodness of God.”...

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Winchester, Elhanan (30 September 1751–18 April 1797), clergyman and leading figure in early American Universalism, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Elhanan Winchester, a farmer and shoemaker, and Sarah (maiden name unknown). Winchester had little formal schooling because of his family’s economic circumstances. Yet, he was a gifted child who loved to read and had a near photographic memory....