My Visit to the All Souls Archives at Meadville Lombard
By Bill Bechman, All Souls NYC, Team Bicentennial Co-Captain, August 24, 2018.
Meadville Lombard logo, chalice art and photos by Tomo Hillbo, Director of Communications
As our Bicentennial Journey continues, we have great news about the remarkable historical records of the Unitarian Church of All Souls. You can make a virtual visit to the collection due to amazing advances in technology and because of the tireless dedication of archives professionals, past and present, by going to jstor.org/site/meadville/all-souls.
However, to visit them IRL (in real life) you need to go to Chicago. The All Souls NYC historical records are now housed and maintained in Chicago at the Meadville Lombard Theological School as part of their Archives. The most significant and fragile documents have been scanned and digitally organized. Other documents are available on an ad hoc basis upon request. The collection is called the “Unitarian Church of All Souls Records” and every label says "In Honor of Lorraine Allen” in tribute to Lorraine, who served as our Church Archivist for many years and literally saved our history for us.
Lorraine Allen at a Heart & Soul Auction, circa 1994
All labels for the All Souls collection honor Lorraine Allen
Only a few people ever visited the All Souls Archives when they were housed at our church. They were in two rooms on the top floor of Wiggin House. In the 1970s, the Church engaged the services of a professional archivist to create a system, and Lorraine Allen was named Church Archivist. Lorraine spent years collecting and organizing the thousands of records about our congregation since its founding in 1819. Several dedicated archives volunteers helped over the years, including James Moskin, Jane Alwais and Christina Bellamy. In 2017, the All Souls Archives were moved to Chicago. Art and Artifacts remain in the Wiggin House room, and are so capably maintained by Barbara Reed and Sydney Starr.
More than 150 boxes of paper files at All Souls Church in New York were organized by Meadville Archivist, John Leeker for transport to the Chicago facility. John has a unique background that makes him a specialist in the history of Unitarian Universalist churches due to his training in archiving and religious history.
John Leeker, Associate Director of the Meadville Library and Archives
We are very fortunate that our minister, Galen Guengerich and our executive director, Eileen Macholl had the foresight to initiate this massive preservation effort. The All Souls Board approved funding for the move, and the Historical Society made a major contribution in honor of Lorraine. Meadville is a Unitarian Universalist seminary.
Photo Montage, Meadville Lombard Students, past and present, celebrating and welcoming diversity
In 1844 Meadville Theological School was founded in Meadville, Pennsylvania to prepare students to become Unitarian ministers to serve congregations in the expanding “western frontier.” In the late 1920s, Meadville moved to Chicago and became affiliated with the University of Chicago. In 1930, Meadville merged with Lombard College, a four-year Universalist college. Meadville Lombard is now the largest UU Seminary in the United States. The goal of their Library and Archives is to provide “Information in service to our shared Unitarian Universalist values of justice, equity, and compassion.”
Sarah Levine shows Bill how she scans fragile documents
The Meadville Archives are truly state-of-the-art. Sarah Levine, the Librarian and Project Archivist has spent nearly a year, scanning and organizing the All Souls records. She is now an expert on our All Souls NYC history, having read and scanned thousands of pages of minutes, sermons, and general documents.
John Leeker shows Bill the Annie Eaton Society documents in the Meadville Archives Reading Room
Handwritten 1950s Ledger for the Society of Employment and Relief of Poor Women (The Annie Eaton Society) Founded in 1844. This is believed to be the first organization of this type to be founded and administered solely by women.
I am the first All Souls member to physically visit the Meadville Archives. spending three days researching records and learning more about UU history and our church in particular. Our All Souls history is fascinating and we have a wonderful opportunity to honor the past with our Bicentennial. As a leader of the All Souls AIDS Task Force in the from 1989 into the ‘90s, I was amazed to learn of the interest our ATF records have generated now that they are part of the Meadville collection.
I was surprised when John Leeker arranged for me to be interviewed by the Rev. Jason Lydon, a UU Community Minister in Chicago. Jason is doing research into UU congregations’ involvement with HIV/AIDS work. The All Souls NYC AIDS Task Force archives drew his attention. Jason works with LGBTQ and HIV+ people affected by the criminal legal system. While many people seem to have forgotten, too many today are still struggling with AIDS. Unfortunately, good health care options aren’t as available to some. The incidence of HIV/AIDS among black gay men, for example, continues to devastate the lives of so many.
Rev. Jason Lydon, UU Community Minister in Chicago
John and Sarah receive notification as users access the All Souls Archives. They report that participation has been widespread, including UU researchers, seminary students and others making general inquiries. Our All Souls collection is their largest single church holding.
It’s easy to “visit” the All Souls Archives.
Search for www.meadville.edu
Click on Menu, then click on Library and Archives, then
Browse Digital Collections, and
Select the New York - New York – Unitarian Church of All Souls Records
This is a wonderful way to Honor the Past as we strive to lift up the challenges, accomplishments and frustrations of the thousands of people before us who were members of our congregation.
Bill Bechman, All Souls NYC Team Bicentennial Co-Captain
The Archivists at Meadville are committed to archiving as a form of justice making work, and they take special steps to ensure that the richness and diversity of Unitarian Universalism is represented in the archive. We are delighted that the All Souls NYC collection is now accessible for everyone now, and in the future. Our history is just a few clicks away. Explore, enjoy.