1838 – 1860: The Bellows Era, Part 1: Gaining Prominence

1838 – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) delivered his “Divinity School Address” to the Harvard graduating class. He urged Unitarians and other religious liberals to abandon the traditional focus on testimony of the past as a source of religious truth, and instead focus on their own lives and experiences of the sacred. The sermon became very well known and was printed and reprinted many times.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

1838 – Eliza Lee Cabot Follen (1787–1860), the wife of Charles Follen, All Souls' interim minister, published her novel Sketches of Married Life. She was an ardent abolitionist, working alongside her husband to do all she could to bring attention to the terrible nature of slavery. She wrote fiction and poetry, and edited a Sunday School magazines for children from 1828 to 1850 which included stories and poetry about enslaved people. When Charles Follen told her that he was hesitating about preaching his anti-slavery sermon on Thanksgiving Day, 1836, because he was afraid that “it may so displease the people, that they will not settle me, and I do wish to remain here; but I must be unshackled, I must speak my honest mind, and take the consequences. What do you think?” She responded that he must speak his mind. Her works include editions of the writings of Rev. Follen and of Fénélon, a seventeenth-century French liberal theorist.  She also wrote poetry and songs for children, including the well-known nursery rhyme "Three Little Kittens."

1839 – Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows (1814–1882, ministry 1839–1882), the second minister, was called (Rev. Follen had been an interim minister). After the abrupt departures of Revs. Ware and Follen, the church had a series of temporary preachers until Henry Bellows gave a sermon in 1838, and after that, “[t]he Congregation wanted to hear no one else,” wrote parishioner Mary Hearn Hustace. Rev. Bellows served for 43 years, and transformed the church from a small congregation to a prominent house of worship with members such as industrialist Peter Cooper and editor William Cullen Bryant. Although considered a religious conservative, Bellows was a “broad churchman” and believed that people did not have to think alike in order to worship together or form a denomination. He was an early advocate of the union of the Unitarians and the Universalist denominations. He was also active in many social reforms and created the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which was the precursor to the American Red Cross, as well as the Union League Club.

Henry Whitney Bellows

​1843 – Problems with the first church building became critical. The building on Chambers Street had been outgrown, it was felt to be too far downtown, and maintenance issues came to a head one Sunday when part of the ceiling collapsed at the end of a sermon, narrowly missing Rev. Bellows. Sunday services were held in the Apollo Saloon until a new building was built.

Central Park, Winter, by Currier and Ives, 1862.

1844 – William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878), All Souls member, and editor of the New-York Evening Post, published an article arguing for the creation of a large public park on what is now the Upper East Side. Bryant wrote, “On the road to Harlem, between Sixty-Eighth Street on the south, and Seventy-Seventh Street on the north, and extending from Third Avenue to the East River, is a tract of beautiful woodland, comprising sixty or seventy acres, thickly covered with old trees, intermingled with a variety of shrubs. The surface is varied in a very striking and picturesque manner, with craggy eminences, and hollows, and a little stream runs through the midst….All large cities have their extensive public ground and gardens, Madrid, and Mexico their Alamedas, London its Regent’s Park, Paris its Champs Elysées, and Vienna its Prater. There are none of them,

we believe, which have the same natural advantages of the picturesque and beautiful which belong to this spot. It would be of easy access to the citizens, and the public carriages which now rattle in almost every street in this city, would take them to its gates.” Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune, also threw his weight behind the creation of a park. Spurred by such publicity, the popularity of the park cause grew among civic-minded New Yorkers, and became a political issue in the mayoral campaign of 1850, endorsed by both candidates. Eventually a competition was held in 1857 for the design of Central Park, and was won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who was a member of All Souls. (The park ended up occupying a more westerly—and much larger—space than the one Bryant had envisioned.) 

1844 – Annie B. Eaton (whose husband was Dorman Bridgman Eaton, a lawyer instrumental in American federal civil service reform) established, with the other ladies of the First and Second Churches, the Society for the Employment and Relief of Poor Women. Seeking to counteract “pauperism,” female parishioners in 1844 began paying poor women to sew dresses, aprons and children’s clothing and operated a sales room to sell them. (Church women also formed a Coal Club to jointly buy coal by the ton rather than pay higher rates by the pail-full.) The sewing continued into the 1960s and the program lives on today as the Annie Eaton Society, a 501(c)3 charity that donates to groups that support women, funded mainly by a bequest from Annie Eaton.

 

1844 – Meadville Theological School, a Unitarian seminary, was established in Meadville, Pennsylvania. It was started by Harm Jan Huidekoper, a prosperous businessman who had discovered Unitarianism and wanted to help spread its message of liberality and hope. The seminary moved to Chicago in 1926, and became affiliated with the University of Chicago. Meadville merged with Lombard College, a Universalist seminary which had been founded in 1851 in Galesburg, Illinois, to become Meadville Lombard Theological School, in 1928. The All Souls Archives were transferred to Wiggin Library at Meadville Lombard in 2016.

1845 – The congregation changed its name to the Church of the Divine Unity upon its move into its second building. After the collapse of the first church’s roof, the congregation wanted sturdier construction for its replacement. Stone was too costly, so architect Minard Lafever used hollow bricks for the new building, which was on Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets. New Yorkers were fleeing downtown disease and bedlam, and fourteen blocks was felt to be a big enough move to escape the blight and filth. The Gothic Revival structure had twin spires and a central entrance under a pointed arch and could seat 1,300 people. When it was dedicated in 1845, the congregation also changed its name to “The Church of the Divine Unity,” honoring one united deity rather than the Christian Trinity. The hollow bricks proved unable to support the heavy roof and the building was only functional until 1852.

The second church building, on Broadway, between Prince and Spring Streets

1847 – Elizabeth (Lizzie) Shaw (1822 -1906), daughter of a prominent Unitarian family in Boston, married the author Herman Melville (1819-1891). Her father was Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and an old friend of the Melville family. They moved to New York, bought the house at 103 Fourth Avenue, and started attending All Souls in 1849. Herman’s brother Allan and his new bride, as well as Herman and Allan’s mother, sisters and brother, lived with them. Lizzie and Herman’s life was a difficult one and full of turmoil. The oldest of their four children, Malcolm, shot and killed himself at 18, and their second son, Stanwix, died of tuberculosis. In 1867 Mrs. Melville wrote to Rev. Bellows asking him for help in dealing with her husband, who was drinking too much and who she thought was possibly insane. Since a wife could not leave her husband without losing all claims to the children, her brother and Rev. Bellows came up with a scheme in which Mrs. Melville would visit her family in Boston, and they would inform Herman she was not coming back. To get a divorce, she would have to bring charges of insanity against him. However, they all realized that the scheme was unworkable, and ended up advising Lizzie to show forbearance. She decided to follow their advice, and stayed with Herman until his death in 1891. He was not highly regarded as a writer in his lifetime, and became a recluse, but his wife was active in the life of All Souls until she died in 1906.

 

1848 – The Married Woman’s Property Act was passed in New York State. All the other states passed their own versions by 1900, using the New York law as a model. It meant that for the first time, a married woman could sign contracts on her own, was not automatically liable for her husband’s debts, could file a lawsuit on her own behalf, etc. She became for economic purposes, an individual, as if she were still single.  

 

1850 – Millard Fillmore, a Unitarian, became the thirteenth president of the United States upon the death in office of President Zachary Taylor. Fillmore served as president until 1853, when the Whig party declined to nominate him as its presidential candidate. The list of US presidents who were Unitarians includes:

John Adams and John Quincy Adams;

Millard Fillmore

William Howard Taft

Thomas Jefferson may have been a Unitarian, and his beliefs follow the standard Unitarian pattern of the day, though he died just before the start of institutional Unitarianism in the US.

Honorable mention goes to Abraham Lincoln, who was interested in the teachings of Theodore Parker, and Barack Obama, who grew up attending a UU Sunday School;

Vice President John Calhoun was also a Unitarian.

 

1850 – The U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Rev. Theodore Parker, a prominent Unitarian minister in Boston, called the law "a hateful statute of kidnappers" and helped organize open resistance to it. He and his followers formed the Boston Vigilance Committee, which refused to assist with the recovery of fugitive slaves and helped hide them. An unknown number of New York Unitarians participated in the Underground Railroad, which helped escaped slaves to travel to Canada from the southern US.  

 

1852 – The Western Unitarian Conference was organized in Cincinnati to create and serve new congregations west of the Mississippi. The conference headquarters were later moved to Chicago.

1855 – The congregation changed its name to the Unitarian Church of All Souls upon its move into its third building. The building, at Park Avenue and 20th Street, was completed with significant financial difficulties. The architect, Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886), was assisted by All Souls member Calvert Vaux, who later designed the original Natural History and Metropolitan Museums. It was regarded as one of the most notable architectural achievements of the city, and had striped layers of red Philadelphia brick and Italian Caen stone, which gave it an eye-catching façade, but it was also referred to as the “Church of the Holy Zebra” or the “Beefsteak Church” because of its striped appearance. The original plan called for a great campanile that would house a library, an organ gallery and a carillon; however, this was not completed by the start of the Civil War, and Rev. Bellows persuaded the congregation to spend the money on aiding the war wounded instead. “The Unitarian Church of All Souls” was adopted as the name of the church upon its move into its third building, at the urging of Rev. Bellows, “All,” to be inclusive and “Souls” for the divine essence that all humans possess. The name also echoed the words of prominent Unitarian William Ellery Channing: “I am a living member of the great family of all souls.”

The third church building, on Park Avenue at East 20th Street

1857 – Rev. Bellows gave the first Commencement Address at Antioch College, which he had helped to found with Horace Mann, educational reformer and Unitarian. Bellows served as the first Chairman of the Board of the college, and had spent time and money freely to help the college during the 1850s, but it had to close during the Civil War. It re-opened in 1865, with the financial support of the American Unitarian Association.

1857 – Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), an English architect who moved to New York in 1852 and was an active member of All Souls, co-founded the American Institute of Architects. He also published Villas and Cottages, which was an influential pattern book that determined the standards for “Victorian Gothic” architecture. In 1858 he collaborated with Frederick Law Olmsted on a design for the new Central Park. Vaux and Olmsted were awarded the commission partly because of an excellent presentation that included before-and-after sketches of the site, drawing on Vaux's talents in landscape drawing. Most of the built features of Central Park were designed by Vaux.

Gothic Bridge #28 in Central Park, designed by Calvert Vaux

1857 – Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), All Souls member, started working with James Merritt Ives as a full partner in his printmaking business. As the firm of Currier and Ives, they set a new standard of pictorial excellence, and their prints became famous and popular.

The Celebrated Trotting Mare Flora Temple, by Currier and Ives, 1872.

1859 – Peter Cooper (1791-1883), All Souls member, opened the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Peter Cooper was an industrialist, inventor, and philanthropist, who was active in the anti-slavery movement and promoted the application of Christian concepts to solve social injustice. In 1860 he arranged for Abraham Lincoln, two-time Republican Senatorial candidate, to speak at Cooper Union; Lincoln’s speech catapulted him to national attention, and he was elected President of the United States later that year. Peter Cooper, among other things, designed and built the first American steam locomotive, and invented a method for clarifying gelatin. By experimenting with adding fruit juice to clarified gelatin, his wife Sarah invented Jell-o.

Peter Cooper, Sarah Bedell Cooper, and their two children

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