1883 – 1919: Safely Onward

1883 – Rev. Theodore Chickering Williams (1855–1915, ministry 1883-1896), became the third minister of All Souls. He had graduated from Harvard only two years before, where the philosopher and psychologist William James was one of his professors. Rev. Williams was a deeply thoughtful, quiet man, a Latin scholar and a poet, and the author of many hymns, such as “When thy Heart with Joy O’erflowing:”

 

When thy heart, with joy o’erflowing,

Sings a thankful prayer,

In thy joy, O let thy brother

With thee share.

 

When the harvest sheaves ingathered

Fill thy barns with store,

To thy God and to thy brother

Give the more.

 

If thy soul, with power uplifted,

Yearn for glorious deed,

Give thy strength to serve thy brother

In his need.

 

Share with him thy bread of blessing,

Sorrow’s burden share;

When thy heart enfolds a brother

God is there.

 

Rev. Williams resigned from All Souls in 1896. He was in poor health, and went to spend two years in Europe. After his return, he served as headmaster of Hackley School, Tarrytown, NY, for seven years, and published translations of Virgil.  

 

1886 – A bronze bas-relief of Henry Whitney Bellows by the well-known sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was installed in the third building. Saint-Gaudens was an American sculptor of the Beaux-Arts generation. Raised in New York City, he achieved major critical success for his monuments commemorating heroes of the American Civil War. He taught at the Art Students League of New York, and employed, and trained, some of the next generation's finest sculptors.  

 

1890 – Velma Curtis Williams, the wife of Rev. Theodore Chickering Williams, edited and published a hymnal, Amore Dei, for the use of Unitarian congregations. She included several hymns by her husband, who was the minister of All Souls. She was active in local settlement work, and was president of the New York League of Unitarian Women.

 

1890 – The Women’s Alliance was formed. This organization, which met once a month, took responsibility for running the very popular Church Fairs.  

 

1897 – Rev. Thomas Roberts Slicer (1847-1916, ministry 1897–1916) became the fourth minister. He had been a popular Methodist circuit rider but severed his ties with Methodism and became a Unitarian. He had the ability, even when speaking extemporaneously, to express his ideas clearly and in a way that held the close attention of his hearers. His sermons, which were often against social and industrial wrongdoing, were printed and widely distributed. Church attendance rose steadily during his 19-year tenure, and All Souls is said to have been one of the few churches to which strangers in New York City asked to be directed at that time.

 

1899 – Hackley School was founded in Tarrytown, NY. Theodore Chickering Williams was the first headmaster and helped to plan the school buildings and the curriculum. The school was founded by Frances Brewster Hackley, a Unitarian who was a member of the Church of the Messiah (now Community Church) in Manhattan, as a college prep school for boys. She donated her country home in Tarrytown to house the school, with the aim of creating a non-sectarian school that would embrace Unitarian values of intellectual questioning and inclusiveness, and provided ongoing financial support for many years. Mrs. Hackley was also among the founders of Barnard College, helped in the development of the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, and was a regular donor to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, among others.

 

1901 – Georgina Schuyler, All Souls member, began an effort to have the poem “The New Colossus” by the poet Emma Lazarus inscribed at the Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus, a close friend of Georgina Schuyler, had submitted the sonnet in 1883 as a donation to an auction of art and literary works to raise money for the pedestal's construction. However, once the pedestal was built, and the statue was erected, the poem was forgotten. Emma Lazarus had died in 1887. Georgina Schuyler was an art patron and philanthropist who supported the many social reform programs established by Louisa Lee Schuyler, her sister. She campaigned to have her friend and the poem memorialized, and her effort succeeded in 1903 when a plaque bearing the text of the poem was put on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, cementing a strong association between the statue and immigration.

 

1904 – The NYC Subway opened. This event had a major effect on the city’s population and its mobility. All Souls’ members started moving to the Upper East and West Sides.

 

1914 – The Great War (World War I) began. The assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo on June 28 set off a chain reaction in which two camps of treaty-linked nations fell into a brutal conflict that decimated a generation and changed the world forever. For a long time the United States stayed neutral, and President Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 partly on his supporters’ slogan that “He Kept Us Out of War.”

 

1916 – William Laurence Sullivan (1872–1935, ministry 1913–1923) became senior minister of All Souls on the death of Rev. Thomas R. Slicer. A former Catholic priest, Rev. Sullivan had traveled a path into liberal religion propelled by the Pope’s declaration of Papal infallibility and insistence that all Catholics must take the Bible literally. After breaking with the Catholic Church, he joined the Unitarians while living in Cleveland, where Rev. Minot Simons was his pastor. He published a polemic on papal authority, Letters to His Holiness, Pope Pius X (1910), which was the last work by a U.S. author to be placed on the Vatican's list of prohibited books. Rev. Sullivan was a prolific author and literary critic, and an indefatigable preacher, preaching more than 40 sermons in a single month in 1916 on a trip to the Pacific Coast for the American Unitarian Association. Rev. Sullivan arrived at All Souls after a short ministerial stint in Schenectady, and from 1913-15 served as co-minister with the ailing Rev. Spicer. Rev. Sullivan was frankly known for “long-windedness,” but he presided over steady growth in All Souls membership. He resigned to take a national post helping spread the word of Unitarianism.  

 

1917 – All Souls voiced its wholehearted support of the United States entering the First World War. American neutrality ended on April 6, when at Wilson’s reluctant request Congress declared war against Germany. In a “Declaration to President Wilson From All Souls Unitarian Church, New York City” Rev. Sullivan and nine church trustees wrote that any war should “be judged morally by its motive and its end. To look only upon its physical and material aspect in forgetfulness of motive and end is to reduce to one scale wars for liberty and wars for crime…” But fellow Unitarian Rev. John Haynes Holmes, minister of the Church of the Messiah (soon to become Community Church), wrote: “I hate war, and I hate this war; and so long as I live I will have nothing to do with this or any war.” The 1917 Espionage Act made it a crime to speak out against U.S. involvement in the war. Rev. Holmes soon lost his pulpit for his views, and the American Unitarian Association voted to deny financial aid to congregations whose ministers opposed the war (a measure that was recanted in 1936).  

 

1919 – The All Souls Chapter of the Laymen’s League was formed. This organization, which met once a month for a dinner meeting with guest speakers, went on to sponsor an East Side Forum for debating political and social issues during the Second World War. It became defunct soon after that, but was revived in 2016.  

 

1919 – All Souls celebrated its 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, parishioners raised $100,000 to pay off the church’s long-standing debt. A centennial celebration on November 15–16 featured, along with Rev. Sullivan, the former president of Harvard, Dr. Charles William Eliot, and a former President of the United States, now Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who spoke of his dedication to Unitarianism. As reported in The Christian Register: A Journal of Liberal Christianity, Dr. Eliot noted approvingly that the Deity “is no longer pictured as a cruel and harsh God, but a God of mercy, love, tenderness, and justice.”

© All Souls Historical Society 2020

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