Outstanding Universalist Pioneers

                                                             Thumbnail biographical sketches             

                                                                                            ---compiled and edited by Wells E. Behee


                           William Balch  (1806-1887), a celebrated Universalist preacher, was also an evangelist and denominational organizer, journalist, politician, teacher, and historian. Proud of his impartiality, he stood apart from Universalist factions. Having mentored many students for the ministry, he promoted formal theological education and was a founder of St. Lawrence University. 

                            Adin Ballou   (1803-1890), founder of the utopian community at Hopedale, Massachusetts and a leading 19th century exponent of pacifism  during his life long Universalist career as a a Restorationist, a Practical Christian, and later minister to some  Unitarian churches.  A tireless reformer, he sought to bring his Christian and socialist vision of society into practice. He earned the love of his allies and the respect of his adversaries. He disconcerted them all, however, with his frequent conversions. Taking up a succession of social reforms, he put himself and those who followed him more and more at odds with established society.

                           Hosea Ballou  (1771-1852) was the most influential of the preachers in the second

generation of the Universalist movement. His book, “A Treatise on Atonement,” radically altered the thinking of his colleagues in the ministry and their congregations.  He independently brought Universalism to a unitarian position

                            P. T. Barnum  (1810-1891), a prominent Universalist, the most influential American showman of the nineteenth century, was the founder of the first important public museum and creator of the modern three-ring circus. 

                           Olympia Brown (1835-1926) dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school at St. Lawrence University. She was ordained a Universalist minister, the first woman to achieve full

ministerial standing recognized by a denomination. As a young  minister, she took an active role in the women’s suffrage movement and was one of the few original suffragists who lived to vote in the 1920 presidential election.

                          Alice Cary (1820-1871) and Phoebe Cary (1824-1871) were in their day well known and loved for their poetry and other writings. Alice also wrote prose sketches of rural Ohio and short stories.

Phoebe was popular for parodies and religious verses. Raised in a Universalist household, their political and religious views were liberal and reformist. From adolescence to death, the two were inseparable and dependent on each other.

                           Phoebe Cary---see Alice Cary---above

                           Alfred S. Cole (1893-1977) was minister, scholar, writer, librarian of the Universalist Historical Society and, for a quarter century, teacher of Homiletics and Unitarian Universalist history at the School of Religion of Tufts University. 

                           Maria Cook  (1779-1835) was the first Universalist woman preacher in America. A traveling evangelist during the early 1810s, she preached before many audiences in New York State and Pennsylvania and was well received for a few years. --- Maria Cook preached at a Universalist denominational assembly in New York. Maria Cook is a person every one of us should know,  for she preached universal love and salvation at the beginning of the 19th century, one of our earliest, founding Universalists. But as the American democratic experience was not ready to accept women in this role, she was criticized. Rather than change her message or her calling, she identified the criticism as the oppression that it was. She was labeled as angry and declared insane.  Effectively silenced, she died in retirement at the age of 56.  She was a martyr to speaking the truth with power.

                            Paul Dean (1783-1860) was a prominent Universalist evangelist and minister in the early 19th century, a rival of Hosea Ballou, a leader of the Restorationists, and the only Universalist preacher of his generation to remain a trinitarian. He was long an active Freemason and held some of the highest Masonic offices in the country. 

                           Lydia Jenkins (1824 or 1825-1874) was a leader in the women’s rights movement, a Universalist minister, and later homeopathic physician. It has been “claimed”  that she was the first woman to be granted ministerial fellowship in the United States, and perhaps the first to be ordained with full denominational authority. The effectiveness of her preaching helped to foster acceptance of women

ministers within the denomination. Her medical practice and much of her ministry were carried out cooperatively with her husband, Edmund Samuel Jenkins, whom she married sometime between 1846 and 1850. 

                           Joseph Jordan (1842-1901), the first African American to be ordained as a minister by the Universalist denomination and first minister in a predominately white denomination,  founded the First Universalist Church of Norfolk, Virginia in 1887 and initiated an educational effort for African American children in Norfolk and vicinity. The missions and schools that were his legacy served thousands of children and families in eastern Virginia over the period of a century.

                           Max Kapp (1904-1979), was a minister, theological school professor and dean of St. Lawrence University Theological School, and a denominational official. He played a significant role in the education of seminarians and the revitalization of the Universalist Church of America during the period leading up to its consolidation with the American Unitarian Association. 

                           Abner Kneeland   (1774-1844), a pioneer evangelist and minister, was a powerful, if inconsistent, advocate of Universalism for a quarter of a century beginning with the Winchester Convention of 1803. His religious doubts and ever-changing theology posed challenges to his Universalist friends and colleagues. Ultimately he was led into atheism. After he left theUniversalist fellowship he became the last man to be convicted of blasphemy in the state of Massachusetts. Clinton Lee Scott wrote that Kneeland was "the most controversial character ever ordained to the Universalist ministry. He anticipated by a century opinions now held without opposition."

                      Daniel Livermore,  husband of Mary Livermore, Daniel Parker Livermore (1818-1899) was a Universalist minister, a social activist, an editor, and a writer.

                      Mary Livermore (1820-1905) was a key organizer for the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. Afterwards, she became a leader of the woman suffrage and temperance movements, and a popular lecturer on social reform.  Mary’s and Daniel’s  lives and careers were inextricably linked from the time of their first meeting in 1843 until Daniel's death.

                      Samuel Loveland (1787-1858) was a Universalist minister, scholar, educator and pioneer religious journalist.  Many of the ministers he trained went on to become teachers and editors. His unquestioned loyalty and commitment to the denomination allowed him to take active part in the Restorationist controversy while remaining on good terms with both sides. He had the moral authority to bring the crisis to a close, not by any specific action, but through the esteem in which he was held, especially by his former students.

                           John Murray (1741–1815, founder of the Universalist denomination in America, b. England. First chaplain for the United States Army.  He was expelled by the Methodists of England after he had openly accepted Universalism as taught by James Relly.   Murray immigrated to America in 1770 where, after traveling as a Universalist preacher for four years in New Jersey, New York, and New England, he settled in Gloucester, Mass. He continued his preaching there and in nearby centers. In 1775, General Washington announced Murray’s appointment as chaplain to the Rhode Island troops. He served as pastor of the newly organized Independent Church of Christ (1779) at Gloucester until he was called to the pastorate of the Universalist Society of Boston in 1793.

                             Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) stands as America's first and foremost greatest educational reformer for women. "Perhaps no American woman writer until Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) equaled Judith Sargent Murray in intellectual powers, in the breadth of genres in which she wrote, or in public recognition.  “Murray became a poet, essayist, playwright, and novelist.”  Knowledge of Judith Sargent Murray exceeded Margaret Fuller as Judith’s several books were widely  read and discussed not only in America but England, Scotland, Wales, France, etc.

Within five years after membership into the Gloucester Universalist Church (1777), she commenced writing books and plays for women's rights advocating issues still being sought in the 1950's-2000. She stated the cause of her liberation and activism was John Murray’s  egalitarian message of Universalism.  It expanded her horizons to have a profound effect upon her self-image, and enabled her to structure and legitimize a biblical stance on gender  relations.  The knowledge of her immortality acted as a liberating force, supplying her sense of autonomy and control over her life. She stated that John Murray's faith commanded her to assume an active role in society.

                She wrote and campaigned that women should have equal rights of education and recognition of women's intellectual merit, to have her own source of income for independence, women have no wifely obligations as all marital relations must be only by mutual consent.  "She admired John Murray's defense of civil and religious liberty and in her own small way imitated his example"

In her own lifetime Murray was best known for the regular column which she wrote for the Massachusetts Magazine. Her essays considered all the topics of the day: politics, religion,  the French Revolution, manners, the role of women in society, "domestic finances," etc.

                Today she is best known for her short essay "On the Equality of the Sexes" where she strongly advocated equal educational opportunities for women. Some attribute the  nineteenth-century "Republican Motherhood" movement to her but this confines her vision.

             Her ideas are strikingly similar to Betty Friedan's in The Feminine Mystique.

To Judith, women had an intellect and "the needle and the kitchen" did not provide enough stimulation to occupy a woman's intellect. And when women did  not have positive outlets for their intellect they used it to bad ends. Women's apparent intellectual inferiority to men's arose from their different up-bringing: boys were encouraged to learn and grow while women were intellectually confined. If girls were educated like boys, the apparent difference in their intellectual capacities would disappear. Women needed education to develop their intellect and encouragement to use their intellect and knowledge throughout life. Still, the major theme of Murray's work would always be: knowledge of history is important to all people but women's knowledge of earlier women's abilities and accomplishments is the most important tool for

empowering young women in the new republic.


                Her feminist work, On the Equality of the Sexes (1792), was a secular work. Meeting fierce opposition because she failed to address the biblical injunctions against women teaching men and because she failed to acknowledge women's inherent inferiority on account of Eve's sin, Murray added an introduction to the second edition that dealt with the religious issues. In  subsequent editions of the work, the religious tract appeared as an appendix.


                Here is an excerpt from the appendix of On the Equality of the Sexes:

                 "Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours; the same

          breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us; and that we are not fallen

          lower than yourselves, let those witness who have greatly towered above the

          various discouragements by which they have been so heavily oppressed; and

          through I an unacquainted with the list of celebrated characters on either side,

          yet from the observations I have made in the contracted circle in which I have

          moved, I dare confidently believe, that from the commencement of time to the

          present day, there hath been as many females, as males, who, by the mere force

          of natural powers, have merited the crown of applause; who thus unassisted,

          have seized the wreath of fame."

                            Angus MacLean (1892-1969), Universalist minister, St. Lawrence theological school professor and dean, played a major part in reshaping the philosophy and practice of religious education within the Universalist and Unitarian denominations during the 1930s, '40s and '50s.  He was one of three who discovered Sophia Fahs, a Presbyterian, Methodist, and finally a Unitarian, to bring her to reform the Universalist Unitarian church school educational curriculum. He was born into Scottish Presbyterian family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  As a young man he was a Presbyterian lay missionary on the prairies of Western Canada, c.1910-16. An orderly with the Canadian army during the first World War, he cared for the wounded following the devastating explosion of an ammunition ship in Halifax harbor and served near the front lines in France. MacLean then prepared for the Presbyterian ministry at McGill University and its theological school, the Montreal Cooperative Theological College. Initially,  he was denied ministerial fellowship because of his liberal views, but the decision was reversed after the fellow members of his graduating class protested. 

                           Lucius Paige (1802-1896) was a Universalist minister, biblical scholar, historian, and public official.  His parents were Calvinists, but as Paige later wrote, "their hearts were so much better than their doctrine." He was educated in the town's public schools.

             Kenneth Patton (1911-1994) Universalist minister and  identified as one of the major and a prophet of contemporary liberal religion (Unitarian/Universalist), was a voice for poetic, naturalistic humanism at a time when most humanists were defining a religion of reason.  The Universalist Church of America promoted and supported his efforts at the Charles Street Meeting House, Boston MA to develop experimental liturgy.  Minister and scholar David Bumbaugh has summed up Patton's work: "It was he who taught a monotone rationalism how to sing; it was he who taught a stumble-footed humanism how to dance; it was he who cried 'Look!' and taught our eyes to see the glory in the ordinary."

             David Pickering (1788-1859), Universalist minister, founded the Providence Association, an organization which challenged the disciplinary authority of the New England Universalist General Convention. With Paul Dean and Adin Ballou, Pickering led a Restorationist faction of 19th century Universalists into schism and helped to found the short-lived sect, the Massachusetts Association of Universal Restorationists (MAUR).

             Ellsworth C. Reamon (1895-1983), an active Universalist and Unitarian Universalist parish minister for 55 years, held a number of important denominational positions, including the presidency of the Universalist Church of America (UCA), and was a leader in the opposition to Unitarian-Universalist consolidation

             James Relly.(1722-1778) was, as a young British minister, one of a sizable group of Methodist preachers, including George Whitefield and John Wesley, whose itinerant preaching initiated a sweeping revival in large parts of Great Britain during the mid-18th century. Wesley and Relly eventually separated from Whitefield in their theologies. While Wesley moved towards Arminianism, Relly became a

universalist. Relly's new preaching converted John Murray, who afterward spread universalist Rellyism along the eastern seaboard of America.

                             Caleb Rich (1750-1821), one of the earliest New England Universalist preachers, was the first to proclaim that there would be no punishment in the afterlife. His preaching led to the conversion of

Thomas Barns, later a pioneer preacher to Universalists in Maine, and also Hosea Ballou whose advocacy of Rich's eschatology brought on the Restorationist controversy. Rich's first biographer, William S. Balch, described him as "among the first and foremost founders of Universalism in America."

                           Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the most

celebrated American physician and the leading social reformer of his time. He was a close friend of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and corresponded with many of the prominent figures of the revolutionary generation. Rush's strong belief in universal salvation helped to promote acceptance of Universalism during its formative period in America.

                           Clinton Lee Scott (1887-1985), a Universalist minister, played a major role in the revitalization of the Universalist denomination during the 1930s, '40s and 50's.  He played a significant role in the shaping and modernizing of both the Unitarian and Universalist Church, and also in the developing process of making them compatibile for their merger in 1961 into the Unitarian Universalist Association. While attending Goddard Seminary, he was converted to Universalism while serving as the organ pumper in the local Universalist church.  Determined to enter the ministry, he enrolled at Tufts College as a pre-theological student. He earned an A.B. in 1914 and a S.T.B. a year later.

             Carl Seaburg (1922-1998) was a minister, scholar, writer, editor and long-time member of the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association. He is best known in church circles as a hymn writer and as an editor and anthologist of liturgical materials.

            CLARENCE  R. SKINNER (1881-1949), minister, teacher, writer and social activist, is widely regarded as the most influential Universalist of the first half of the twentieth century. Among scholars he is recognized as the turning point for Unitarian and Universalism from the 19th century into the 20th century and the FATHER of MODERN UNITARIANISM AND UNIVERSALISM. He was born in Brooklyn into a thoroughly Universalist family-his parents and brothers were Universalists; a grandfather, great grandfather and great uncle were Universalist ministers. He attended St. Lawrence, a Universalist university

                           Caroline Augusta White Soule (1824-1903), a novelist, poet, religious writer, editor, and minister, was one of the founders and the first president of the earliest national organization of American church women, the Woman's Centenary Aid Association. She was the only missionary sent to Scotland by the Universalist Church, and in 1880 the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United Kingdom.

                           Charles Spear (1803-1863) took up the idea of abolishing the death penalty at a time when the idea was widely regarded as a hopelessly impractical, even utopian notion. For  years Spear campaigned without stint to change public opinion and the laws, especially in Massachusetts and other New England states, but also throughout the country by means of his newspaper, The Prisoner's Friend. His long, unremitting and sacrificial efforts had their longed for effect.  Application of the death penalty did come to be greatly restricted by law and custom.

                           John Murray Spear 1804-1887), made his career as a Universalist minister, abolitionist, activist against the death penalty, and advocate for women's rights, temperance, and many other nineteenth

century reforms. For the last few decades of his life he turned to spiritualism. His unquestioning obedience to what he believed were true inspirations led him far out of the mainstream. He tried, under the guidance of spirits, to make the spiritual world materialize in the mundane world and to make the future that appeared in his imagination materialize in the present. His reputation suffered as a result, but his notoriety grew.

                           Spiritualism a religious movement was a varied set of beliefs and practices related to the conviction that the living and the dead could be in meaningful communication. It flourished in the second half of the 19th century and considerably affected both Universalism and Unitarianism at the time.

                           Nathaniel Stacy (1778-1868), was a pioneer Universalist preacher in central New York State and western Pennsylvania. His fortitude was legendary. For many years this diminutive,  five-foot, one hundred pound, modest man organized rural societies with constant itinerant preaching, traveling by day and preaching at night, spreading the gospel of Universalism. He has been called the "Ballou of New

York and Pennsylvania."

                           Thomas Starr King (1824-1864), Universalist and a Unitarian minister, was a lecturer and orator whose role in preserving California within the Union during the Civil War is honored by statues in the United States Capitol and in Golden Gate Park in California. Two mountains are named for him, one in New Hampshire's White Hills; another in the Sierra Nevada of California.

             Adams Streeter (1735-1786) was the first minister of the Universalist congregations in Oxford and Milford, Massachusetts, societies at the heart of the indigenous origin of New England Universalism.  According to the History of the Town of Oxford, Massachusetts, Streeter was the "chief agent in establishing the denomination."

                           Zebulon Streeter –supporter of his brother Adam Streeter

                           Edward Turner (1776-1853) ranked second only to Hosea Ballou among Universalist ministers of his generation. He was a denominational organizer, a celebrated preacher, and the first

historian of Universalism. Close friends for over two decades, Turner and Ballou were alienated after 1815 and were opponents in the Restorationist controversy.

                           John van Schaick (1873-1949), Universalist parish and Social Gospel minister, was active in war relief in Europe during World War I and was influential as editor of the leading denominational periodical, the Universalist Leader (later renamed theChristian Leader) for nearly a quarter of a century. He was a strong defender of Universalist Christianity and an opponent of  non-theistic humanism.

                           William Vidler (1758-1816), a British Universalist and Unitarian preacher and publisher, was a disciple and colleague of Elhanan Winchester. Together with Unitarian missionary Richard Wright,

Vidler played a significant role in establishing institutional features British Unitarians continue to use.

                           Thomas Whittemore (1800-1861) was the most influential Universalist editor of the nineteenth century. The Trumpet and Universalist Magazine, which he established in 1828 as a successor to Hosea Ballou's Universalist Magazine, was the leading newspaper of the movement for more than thirty years.  Whittemore was also one of the earliest historians of Universalism.

                           Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797), an outstanding revivalist, was the most wide-ranging and successful 18th century American Universalist evangelist. He founded the first Universalist church in

Philadelphia and drew many to Universalism on his preaching tours throughout New England. During an

extended stay in England he gathered a large congregation in London and published one of the most influential Universalist books of his or any era, “Dialogues on the Universal Restoration.”

                            John Wood (1910-1980), Universalist and Unitarian Universalist minister and denominational official, played a significant part, first in preparing the way for the Unitarian-Universalist consolidation, and then in raising environmental consciousness within the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

                           Albert Ziegler 1911-1991), Universalist minister, theologian, and denominational official, played a significant part in redefining Universalism during the two decades leading to the merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association in 1961. Perhaps his greatest contribution came through his leadership role in the small group of Universalist ministers known as the Humiliati.


                Much credit for this document is to the “Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography”

  For more complete biographies of each person  and  further information: