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The Annual Bellows Lecture



The 2022 Bellows Lecture was given on Nov. 13th by Professor Lydia Willsky-Ciollo of Fairfield University.  The title was "Strange Bedfellows? Henry David Thoreau and Unitarianism."


Henry David Thoreau left the Unitarian church in his early 20s, and famously found his church out in nature, where "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads" as he wrote in Walden.  He has been viewed by scholars and popular audiences alike as anti-religious.  However, his calls to a more simple life, the preservation of nature’s resources, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the use of reason and conscience as a guide, are now all reflected in our Unitarian Universalist Principles.  The lecture explored Thoreau's relationship to his nineteenth-century Christian, specifically Unitarian, context, positing that perhaps Thoreau was not so far from those who sat in the pews on Sundays, as many imagine him to be.


Dr. Lydia Willsky-Ciollo is an historian of American religion, with a focus on Early Republic and antebellum religious movements, particularly Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and new religious movements. In her work she seeks to expand the traditionally Christian narrative of American religion to include those often excluded due to gender, race, class, ethnicity, or religious tradition.

Lydia Willsky-Ciollo.jpg

Professor Lydia Willsky-Ciollo



The 37th Annual Bellows Lecture took place on Sunday, Nov. 14th, 2:00-3:30pm, on Zoom. ​​Professor Christopher Cameron of the University of North Carolina spoke on "Unitarianism, African Americans and Abolitionism." 


Dr. Cameron is Professor of History and Chair of the Africana Studies department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and was the founding president of the African American Intellectual History Society.  His research and teaching interests include early American history, the history of slavery and abolition, and African American religious and intellectual history. 


His talk focused the ideological origins of American abolitionism, locating the movement’s ideas and strategies in Unitarian theology, especially biblical interpretation techniques and notions of self-culture and the benevolent and loving nature of God. He also examined how denominational politics informed participation in the abolitionist movement, with leading figures of the denomination often more lukewarm about radical abolitionism than more marginal members like Samuel Joseph May.  We learned about Black Transcendentalism and the Adelphic Union, and Dr. Cameron concluded by discussing Rev. Bellows himself, including his early opposition to abolitionism and embrace instead of colonization, and how Bellows' views changed during the Civil War.

Dr. Chris Cameron



The 36th Annual Henry Whitney Bellows Lecture was given on Sunday, Nov. 22nd, from 1:00-2:30p.m., by Bernard Unti of the Humane Society of the United States and was titled, "Henry Bergh: Animal Advocate, New Yorker, Unitarian, and “Riddle Of The 19th Century.” 


Dr. Unti is a scholar and recognized authority on the animal protection movement, whose expertise includes the history and sociology of the humane movement; the development of animal sheltering and the kindness-to-animals ethic; and the place of animal protection within American social reform and philanthropy.


Bernard Unti and friend


Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and member of All Souls, stopping an over-crowded carriage pulled by a pair of suffering horses.

“The Crowded Car” by Sol Erynge,

Harpers Weekly, 1872

Dr. Unti spoke about Henry Bergh, the 19th-century member of All Souls who founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866, and the history of animal protection. Our minister at the time, Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows, worked with Bergh to found the ASPCA, and Peter Cooper, another prominent member of the church, was also on the board of the ASPCA.  Click here for the recording.

Click here for a bibliography of further reading on Henry Bergh and Animal Welfare in Nineteenth Century America.



The 35th Bellows Lecture was given by Joan Tower, renowned composer and great-granddaughter of Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows.  Her talk took the form of a conversation between her and Peggy Kampmeier, professor of music at Manhattan School of Music and member of All Souls, about her inspirations and family memories. 


Dr. Tower was commissioned to write a major composition for All Souls, to be performed at the re-opening of the sanctuary after completion of the renovations.

Joan Tower Bellows Lecture.jpg

Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez, Trent Johnson,

Joan Tower and Peggy Kampmeier

History of the Annual Bellows Lecture​

A great All Souls tradition was born in 1977: offering a yearly paid lecture by a researcher, author, historian or other expert, on a topic of particular interest to the church community. It was named after our esteemed second minister, Henry Whitney Bellows.


The first Bellows lecture came about because two years earlier, Mary-Ella Holst, then Director of Religious Education, suggested creating a display of children’s books by UU authors for an upcoming New York Metro District RE meeting. The project soon turned into an annotated bibliography, Unitarian-Universalist Contributions to Literature for Children, which was published, sold and turned a modest profit. At the same time, Jane Giles, a doctoral student, was researching Catharine Maria Sedgwick in the All Souls archives for her dissertation, and needed a research grant to continue her work. Mary-Ella and her colleagues decided to use the profits from the book to pay Giles to give a lecture to the congregation on Sedgwick. That experience also helped launch the All Souls Historical Society a few years later.


Other Bellows lectures have centered on Charles Follen, Horace Mann, Calvert Vaux, Peter Cooper and “Why Theodore Parker and Henry Bellows Hated Each Other,” by Dean Grodzins, editor of the Journal of Unitarian Universality History.  In 2018, author and All Souls member Laura Pedersen gave a talk titled “Does God Have a Woman Problem?”

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