On Monday, May 16, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) will award the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award to author and Professor Cynthia Grant Tucker for her book, No Silent Witness.
Tucker's award-winning book is a biography that follows three generations of ministers’ daughters, mothers, and wives in one of America’s most influential Unitarian dynasties: the family of Abby Adams Cranch and William Greenleaf Eliot. Spanning 150 years from the early 19th Century forward, the narrative lifts up a largely unsung female vocation and probes the women’s defining experiences: the deaths of numerous children, the anguish of infertility, persistent financial worries, and the juggling of the often competing demands that parishes make on first ladies.
Here, too, we see the matriarch’s granddaughters scripting larger lives as they skirt traditional marriage and women’s usual roles in the church. They follow their hearts into same-sex unions and carve out careers in public health service and preschool education. The stories are linked by the women’s continuing battles to make themselves heard over the thundering clerical wisdom that contradicts their reality.
"We are so pleased to give the Melcher Award this year to Professor Cynthia Grant Tucker for her book, No Silent Witness, a remarkably thorough and delightfully readable history of the Eliot women,” said Rev. Phyllis O’Connell, a member of the Melcher Award selection committee. “Professor Tucker's books have made a significant mark in American history by shining a much needed spotlight on women's roles in the formation of Unitarian and Universalist religion."
Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA, echoed O’Connell’s sentiment. "I am truly happy that No Silent Witness was selected," Morales said. “This is a story that deserves to be told, a vital and compelling perspective on our faith."
Tucker is Professor of English at the University of Memphis. As the Vietnam War and the human rights movements expanded her frames of reference, her academic focus shifted and settled in women’s studies, planting a personal interest in writing biography as a way to rectify history’s sins of omission and give silenced stories a voice.
Committed to sharing her expertise with lifelong learning communities, she has offered her life-writing workshops at the Iowa Writing Festival, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, the Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, the Asilomar Conference Center in central California, the Ferry Beach Park Conference Center in Maine, and the Center for Independent Living in Memphis.
No Silent Witness is Tucker's fifth book.
The citation reads:
MELCHER BOOK AWARD
Cynthia Grant Tucker, your book No Silent Witness: The Eliot Parsonage Women and Their Unitarian World, makes a significant contribution to the history of religious liberalism. In this group biography, you trace the lives, the work, and the relationships of several generations of a family prominent in Unitarianism, the Eliots. While the Eliot men were prominent religious leaders, the women held the Eliot world together and led families, homes, churches, and communities as women have always done and continue to do today. Your life-writing of a multigenerational family history, as told by the women, follows family, church, and society and tells a story of change.
No Silent Witness also pictures the challenges of the minister’s spouse and family. It relates the difficulties of living in the shadow of a preacher; the private struggles concerning health, wealth, affection, and allegiance in a family upholding a reputation that all is good and well. Sometimes the women’s roles don’t fit—this book examines the people behind the role and shows how they coped.
Through the Eliot women’s reflections, we follow ministries and work in parishes, universities, and cities; we observe change in the Unitarian church and its consolidation into the Unitarian Universalist Association; and we witness the work of women – their support of others and their frustrations at home, their family duties and further ambitions, their nurturing of children and their own attempts at making personal marks on the world. You tell the story of women’s changing roles from a time when there was little opportunity outside the home besides traditional parson- and parish-supporting opportunities to a new era when Eliot women were able to make their own important contributions in medicine and education and government.
Cynthia Grant Tucker, your skill in weaving the Eliot parsonage women’s story into a group biography makes such an important contribution that No Silent Witness was chosen as the winner of the 2010 Frederic G. Melcher Book Award.
Presented this 16th day of May 2011
by the Unitarian Universalist Association