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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

UNITARIAN-UNIVERSALISM

UNITARIAN-UNIVERSALISM

UNITARIAN-UNIVERSALISM. The Unitarian and Universalist movements started in England and came to the Cleveland area separately early in the 19th century. Founded as protests against strict Calvinism, the unorthodox Protestant sects advocated freedom of thought and conscience. The American churches began in the East: Unitarianism in New England with the Transcendentalists, and Universalism in Pennsylvania with John Murray. The first Universalists to arrive were independent rural settlers. There were small Universalist societies, mostly served by traveling preachers, in: Newbury, ca. 1820; Aurora by 1822; Chardon as early as 1829; NORTH OLMSTED in 1834; and BEDFORD, Burton, Auburn, and Willoughby by 1850. In 1836 a church was organized in OHIO CITY, and a building was erected. Its 2 early pastors were Jacob Whitney and Alvin Dinsmore, principal of the Universalist Institute at Ohio City (1838-42). During the 1820s and 1830s, Cleveland was frequently visited by traveling preachers. In 1846 a church was purchased, but by 1852 it had passed into other hands. There was a reawakening of zeal ca. 1862, but by the mid-1870s, factional differences divided the church, and by 1880 Cleveland again had no formal Universalist presence. In 1891 All Souls Universalist Church was organized, and 2 years later a chapel was dedicated at E. 55th St. and Thackeray Ave. In 1922 the church moved to a building at Superior and Melbourne avenues in EAST CLEVELAND. In 1932 All Souls merged with the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland. All Souls' ministers included Carl French Henry, Charles Ellsworth Petty, Rufus Dix, Ray Darwin Cranmer, and Tracy Pullman. Of all the small local Universalist congregations proliferating through most of the 19th century, only one, the North Olmsted Church, organized in 1836 by Rev. Harlow P. Sage, was still viable in 1994, as the Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Church. Its building, completed in 1838, is the second-oldest surviving church structure in Cuyahoga County. The church belfry was reportedly used as a station on the Underground Railroad. This congregation called a woman, Abbie Danforth, as its minister in 1878.

The Unitarian experience in Cleveland was different. Many early settlers in the WESTERN RESERVE, inspired by the New England founders of American Unitarianism, formed a society in 1836. They met sporadically with visiting ministers until 1867, when a minister was called and the group incorporated as the First Unitarian Society of Cleveland. In 1878 the minister, Frederick Hosmer, inspired the congregation, which had been meeting in CASE HALL, to build a church, and in 1880 a building on Bolivar Rd. was dedicated. The name was changed to Church of the Unity. Two women, MARIAN MURDOCH and FLORENCE BUCK, served jointly as ministers from 1893-99. The church sponsored one of the first free kindergartens in Cleveland and domestic science classes for immigrant women. A new church was built at E. 82nd St. and EUCLID AVE. in 1904, and the name was later changed to First Unitarian Church of Cleveland. In the following years there was great growth in Cleveland Unitarianism, fostered by outstanding ministers such as Minot Simons, Dilworth Lupton, Everett Moore Baker, and Robert Killam. Other Unitarian churches in Cleveland sponsored by First Church were West Shore Unitarian Church on Hilliard Rd. in Rocky River, East Shore in Mentor, and the Unitarian Society of Cleveland. The society was organized to keep a Unitarian presence in the inner city when First Church moved to SHAKER HTS. in 1951. In 1971 the Unitarian Society moved to a former synagogue on Lancashire Rd. in CLEVELAND HTS. In 1961 the 2 denominations merged nationally; the churches became Unitarian-Universalist. In 1986 the denomination was represented in Greater Cleveland by 5 churches: First Unitarian, West Shore Unitarian Church, East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, Unitarian Society, and the Universalist Church of North Olmsted.

Lillian F. Brinnon, Archivist

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland


Robinson, Elmo Arnold. The Universalist Church of Ohio (1923).

See also RELIGION.