Bertha Tainter
Historical Vignettes
UUA Districts & Regions

Here you will find a series of History Vignettes written by members of the History and Heritage Committee and other contributors. New vignettes will appear several times a year.

  • History Vignette 21: A Unitarian Church Launches a Public High School

    When Americans moved west in the 1800s, religious groups played a prominent role in shaping the new communities. According to historian Charles H. Lyttle, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians showed particular interest in establishing tuition-free secular public...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 6/17/2020
  • History Vignette 20: Liberal Religion on the Norwegian-American Frontier

    The settlers around Hanska, Minnesota, came from the area of Toten and the valley of Gubrandsdal in Norway during the 1860s and ‘70s. They found many hardships in this raw new land, but the stamina of many years of struggle in Norway stood them in good stead. As was expected,...
    By Nora Church UU, Hanska, MN, Victor Urbanowicz | 2/20/2020
  • History Vignette 19

    This series focuses on the history of Unitarian Universalism in the Midwest, where immigrants often encountered American religious liberalism. The humanist-leaning immigrants were especially attracted to Unitarianism. I will start with a few remarks giving my understanding of...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 8/8/2019
  • Congregational History: Two Great Examples

    Why take the trouble to write a congregational history? ⦁ It is a very helpful source of information when you’re preparing a packet to give to ministry candidates, or describing yourself to agencies that can provide grant money, or writing a brochure for prospective members. ⦁...
    By All Souls UU Church, Kansas City, MO, First Unitarian Church, Omaha, NE | 5/6/2019
  • History Vignette 18: UU Church of Willmar Minnesota

    Willmar (population 19,000) sits in the rural center of Minnesota, where both politics and religion are generally conservative. But generalizations usually have exceptions, and in Willmar many of these are supplied by the Unitarian Universalist congregation.
    By Victor Urbanowicz, UU Church of Willmar, Willmar, MN | 7/25/2018
  • History Vignette 17: Eliza Tupper Wilkes

    Eliza Tupper Wilkes (October 8, 1844-February 5, 1917) was a circuit-riding preacher who started eleven Universalist and Unitarian churches in the American West. Among the first women ordained into the ministry, Wilkes worked with and mentored other liberal women ministers in...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 12/8/2017
  • History Vignette 16: On Adlai Stevenson

    One doesn't research Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965) very far before an impressive picture begins to form. His 1952 acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, for instance, would seem odd today because of the speaker’s ambivalence, but it plainly comes from an...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 7/6/2017
  • History Vignette 15: “Bishop” Emil Gudmundson and the Icelandic Unitarian Connection

    Most UUs know that Spaniards, Italians, Transylvanians, French, Poles, and other groups had a hand in shaping our tradition. Here in North America we should also look at the Icelanders and their descendants. Emil Gudmundson, a Canadian, had crucial roles in both tracing the...
    By Stefan Jonasson | 9/25/2016
  • History Vignette 14: Leona Handler Light

    Leona Handler Light (1915-1992 [1]) is an impressive and puzzling figure in the history of twentieth-century Unitarian Universalism. She capably served the Western Unitarian Conference in Chicago from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s and then did hazardous duty in Hungary and...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 5/9/2016
  • History Vignette 13: UU Society of Geneva IL

    This church was a transplant of the staunchly liberal Christianity from New England Unitarianism. Their first minister, Augustus Conant, served from the very beginning in 1842 until 1857. He, his wife Betsy, and nineteen others wrote the church covenant in 1842, which is still...
    By The Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, IL, Geneva, IL | 3/8/2016
  • History Vignette 12: Wanderer, Worshiper, Lover of Leaving

    Herman Bisbee (1833-1879) was a well-traveled minister. Born in Vermont, he served churches in New York State, St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, London’s East End, and Boston. He studied at Harvard and in Nuremberg, Germany.
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 1/18/2016
  • History Vignette 11: Mabel Tainter

    The Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts stands on East Main Street in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Built in 1889 to house a humanist Unitarian congregation, to provide a performance space for theater and music, and to serve the community in other ways, it is now a historic site that...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 11/11/2015
  • History Vignette 10: Eleanor Gordon

    Eleanor Gordon (1852-1942), was co-leader with Mary Safford of the Iowa Sisterhood. In 1912 both were in Orlando, not planning to start new churches at their stage of life, when friends who had moved there from Iowa asked Gordon to organize a church in town. Gordon suggested...
    By Victor Urbanowicz | 10/2/2015
  • History Vignette 9: First Universalist Minneapolis

    A Light on the Prairie: By 1860, the vigorous growth of Universalist churches in the Midwest was slowing; congregations in the region experienced stability at best, decline at worst. Over the next century this did not improve, and the 1961 merger was sometimes seen as a matter...
    By Victor Urbanowicz, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN | 8/13/2015
  • History Vignette 8: Dr. Preston Bradley

    ...I saw no sign of megachurch techniques. Bradley did not “orate.” He spoke in a personal, conversational way, revealing his own feelings and thoughts and his high aspirations for what people could do. ...
  • History Vignette 7: Dr. Preston Bradley

    No mid-twentieth-century Unitarian minister, save perhaps A. Powell Davies, reached more hearts and minds than did Preston Bradley (1888-1983). Among our contemporaries only Forrest Church — albeit in a more scholarly way — comes even close. Yet outside of Chicago, Bradley has...
    By Patrick Murfin | 5/27/2015
  • History Vignette 6: First Unitarian Church South Bend

    What happened when First U South Bend suffered retaliation for publicly opposing the Vietnam war. Suggestion for discussion groups: when your congregation takes a principled stand, what are the risks and what are the benefits? ...
    By First Unitarian Church of South Bend, South Bend, IN | 5/1/2015
  • History Vignette 5: Mary and Austin Adams

    Mary Newbury Adams (1837-1901) became one of the major leaders of the women’s movement in the last half of the 19th century through her efforts of establishing women’s clubs. Women’s clubs were the only place then where women “could hear their own voices.”
  • History Vignette 4: Helen Grace Putnam

    Helen Grace Putnam (1840-1895), the third child and only daughter of progressive Boston-area parents who gave her a good education. A capable and diligent student, she mastered several languages and became a skilled pianist. In Boston she taught music, edited a liberal Christian...
  • History Vignette 3: The Preacher and the Novelist

    In early 1926 Sinclair Lewis, a future Nobel laureate, came to Kansas City to gather material for his “preacher novel,” which became Elmer Gantry. He met local clergy including Leon Birkhead, minister at All Souls Unitarian Church.


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