Unitarian Universalist Women's Heritage
Notable Universalist and Unitarian Women: N - P
Helen Nearing (1904-1995) Unitarian Universalist connections
Helen chose to go to Europe instead of college and lived abroad for many years. When she returned, she married Scott Nearing and began a new life, living a simple and sustainable life-style in the woods of Vermont. They inspired much of the "back to the land" movement through their book, Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World (1954). Their homesteads in Vermont, and later in Maine, became sites of pilgrimage for thousands of seekers eager to reconnect with nature through the environmentally responsible lifestyle they taught. Later in life, Helen assisted her lOO-year old husband with his "Conscious death," which she chronicled along with her own life in her memoir, Loving and Leaving the Good Life (Chelsea Green, 1992). Her favorite words of wisdom are collected in Light on Aging and Dying (Tilbury House, 1995), completed at age 91. She died later that year in a car accident.
May Alcott Nieriker (1843-1879) Unitarian
May was the sister of Louisa May Alcott and daughter of Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott. She was the family artist. She achieved local fame for her work in various media and was an early teacher of the Concord sculptor, Daniel Chester French.. In 1878 she married Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss banker. A daughter, Louisa May, was born in 1870 and May died a few weeks later.
Minerva Parker Nichols (May 14, 1861-Nov. 17, 1949) Unitarian
An architect, she was born in Chicago and moved to Philadelphia in her early teens. She graduated from the Philadelphia Normal Art School in 1882 and also took courses in architecture at the Franklin Institute. After an apprenticeship with Frederick G. Thorn, Jr., she opened her own office in 1888. She designed and supervised the construction of a number of private houses in the Philadelphia area as well as the New Century Club houses in Philadelphia and Wilmington. In 1891, she married William Ichabod Nichols, minister of the Spring Garden Unitarian Church. She won first place in the competition for the Queen Isabella Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and later designed the Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge MA. The Schlesinger Library has a small collection of her papers and drawings.
Rose Standish Nichols (1872-1964) Unitarian connections
Rose was a landscape architect and one of the founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Though she traveled and worked worldwide, she lived all her life at 55 Mt. Vernon Street on Boston's Beacon Hill (MA) and attended King's Chapel when at home.
Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820-Aug. 13, 1910) raised British Unitarian
The founder of modern nursing, she dedicated her life to the care of the sick and war-wounded. Inheriting Unitarianism on both sides of her family, she attended the Unitarian Chapel at Lea and later worshipped at Essex Street Chapel in London. In 1854, she organized a unit of 38 women nurses for the Crimean War, and by the war's end she was a legend. In 1860, she established a nursing school at St. Thomas' Hospital in London. In 1907 she was the first woman to be awarded the British Order of Merit. She also found time to travel and wrote her observations in Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850 (compiled and published by her sister, Parthenope; recently republished, edited by Anthony Satin, NY: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987). Although she joined the Church of England as a critical member, continually seeking to adapt its tenets to her emotional and religious needs, the influence of Unitarianism remained strong throughout her life.
Nellie Mann Opdale (May 17, 1860-Aug. 20, 1941) Universalist
She was born in New Lisbon WI, but grew up in Racine where she attended public schools. She taught until her marriage to Julius H. Opdale, who died of tuberculosis nine years later. Nellie became state lecturer for the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association and studied for the Universalist ministry under Olympia Brown. She was licensed in 1894. She served several congregations in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New York, Maine and Georgia. She also continued her education. She was District Superintendent of the Bangor District while in Orono ME, Chairwoman of the Fellowship Committee while in LaCrosse WI, and District President of the Women's Missionary Association while in Marlboro MA, among other commitments. At the age of 72 she took over the editorship and business management of the Universalist Herald, the oldest Universalist publication in the South and held this position until her death.
Frances Sargent Locke Osgood (June 18, 1811-May 12, 1850) Unitarian connections
By age 14, she was publishing under the name "Florence" in the Juvenile Miscellany. After her marriage to Samuel Osgood, the couple went to England, where she published two collections of verse, The Casket of Fat (1838) and A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England. She also wrote a play, The Happy Release (or The Triumphs of Love), which was never produced because she had to go back to the states when her father died. In 1841, she wrote The Poetry of Flowers and the Flowers of Poetry. In the US, she contributed to many American periodicals, sometimes writing under the name "Ellen" or "Kate Carol." She is said to have been romantically involved with Edgar Allen Poe for a short time and in her final collection of verse Poems (1850) she ends with "The Hand that Swept the Sounding Lyre," written upon Poe's death in 1849. In 1851, Mary Hewitt edited The Memorial: Written by the Friends of the Late Mrs. Osgood. Two of Frances Osgood's poems were set to music: "I Have Something Sweet to Tell You" and "Call Me Pet Names, Dearest, Call Me a Bird."
Mary White Ovington (Apr. 11, 1865-July 15, 1951) Unitarian
She was founder and board chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Influenced by the Rev. John White Chadwick, minister of the Second Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights NY, she became vice-president of the Brooklyn Consumers' League and Assistant Secretary of the Social Reform Club in NY. She joined the Socialist party in 1905. In 1904 she became a social worker for an African American settlement house and began a study of black Manhattan which focused on housing and employment problems. In 1911, she published Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York. She worked for the National League for the Protection of Colored Women and the Committee for Improving the Industrial Condition of the Negro in New York. She also became one of a select number of white associate members of the Niagara Movement who joined in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For almost forty years she served in many capacities--board member, interim executive secretary, chair of board committees, vice-president, acting chair of the board, and treasurer. In 1927, she wrote Portraits in Color. She also wrote The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1947), The Shadow (1920), and several children's books. A biography, Inheritors of the Spirit: Mary White Ovington and the Founding of the NAACP, by Carolyn Wedin, was published by Wiley in 1998.
Estella Elizabeth Padgham (June 10, 1874-Dec. 4, 1952) Unitarian
Minister for 26 years during a period when few women were entering Unitarian ministry, she was inspired and encouraged by the "Iowa Sisterhood." Although she grew up in a Unitarian family in Syracuse NY, they discouraged her aspirations to ministry. She served for four years in Perry IA and 22 years in Rutherford NJ, one of the longest pastorates held by a woman. She was a member of the National Board of Religious Education, chair of the Metropolitan Commission on Religious Education, member of the Executive Board of the Middle States and Canada, first woman chaplain of the New Jersey House, and president of the New Jersey Ministers' Association. She is reported to have spoken often of the importance of liberal religion.
Emily Rebecca Page (May 5, 1834-Feb. 14, 1862) Universalist
Born in Greenboro VT and educated in northern New England, Emily was rigorous intellectually but delicate physically. Her mother died two weeks after her birth. She was raised by grandparents and by various relatives. She began publishing her poems at age 12 and wrote both poetry and prose for the Ladies Repository, the Portland Transcript and other Universalist publications. Poets and Poetry of Vermont, edited by Abby Maia Heminway, contains several of her poems. She died at the age of 28.
Sarah Hammond Palfrey (1823-1914) Unitarian
This daughter of John Gorham Palfrey was "a woman of varied intellectual attainments, shared her father's interest in liberal theology, and was prominent in the social and philanthropic movements of her day." Her novel, Agnes Wentworth (1869) was published under the pseudonym E. Foxton. She wrote and published a number of books of poetry, among them Sir Pavon & St. Paxon (1867), The Chapel (1880) Old Times & New (1899) and King Arthur in Avalon and Other Poems (1900). Herman, or Young Knighthood was another novel.
Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925) British Unitarian
Granddaughter of Joseph Priestley, she was known as one of the "Ladies of Langham Place," the circle that gave birth to the British feminist movement. She wrote Essays on Woman's Work and Vignettes: Twelve Biographical Sketches (1886).
Jane Lippitt Patterson (June 4, 1829-?) Universalist
She was born in Otsego NY but, as a 9-year-old, moved with her family to Pennsylvania. At 21 she married the Rev. Adoniram Judson Patterson. Her Civil War novel Victory, won first prize in a Universalist contest. She contributed poetry and prose to Ladies' Repository and in 1879 became one of the editors of the Christian Leader. She had long dreamed of being a minister, and when her husband was ill or away, she took his place in the Roxbury MA pulpit with great success.
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (May 16, 1804-Jan. 3, 1894) Unitarian
Transcendentalist, teacher, author, and educational reformer, friend of William Ellery Channing, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and other New England intellectuals, she was an active participant in the Transcendentalist movement and the first woman publisher in Boston. She wrote textbooks (First Steps to the Study of History, 1832), published her journal of experiments in education with Bronson Alcott (Record of a School, 1835, and sections of Conversations with Children on the Gospels, 1836-37), and published numerous articles in the Dial. In "A Glimpse of Christ's Idea of Society" and "Plan of the West Roxbury Community," she foresaw the danger of utopian communities (Dial, Oct. 1841, p. 226) and emphasized the importance of education. Most of her writing - 10 books and 50 articles between 1850 and 1884 - focused on education, such as Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide (with Mary Mann, 1863). She is widely known for introducing Friedrich Froebel `s concepts of early childhood education and for establishing the kindergarten movement in the United States. Excerpts from her writings on this subject are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000). Among her other significant achievements is her contribution to Transcendentalism - Reminiscences of Rev. Wm. Ellery Channing (1880) and Last Evening with Allston (1886), which includes her collected essays.
Elizabeth Peck Perkins (Feb. 14, 1735-May 24, 1807) Universalist
Daughter of a good friend and frequent host of John Murray, the founder of Universalism in America, she became a prominent business woman and real estate owner in Boston (MA) after the Revolutionary War. Descendents of her eight children continued to play an important part in American and New England history.
Sara Maria Clinton Perkins (Dec. 23. 1824-Dec. 2. 1905) Universalist
Harriet G. Haskell Perry (Sept. 11, 1812-Jan. 16, 1881) Universalist
Norwich CT was her birthplace, but the larger part of her youth was passed with her grandparents in Preston CT. She was married in 1835 to John B. Perry. She wrote for the Ladies' Repository and other Universalist publications.
Abby A. Peterson (1856-Apr. 20, 1919) Unitarian
She was born in Rutland MA. She married Ellis Peterson of the Jamaica Plain Church, where she was active in the Women's Alliance. Widowed in 1904, she devoted herself to the cause of education in the South. She served as superintendent of the Shelter Neck and Swansboro schools in NC and became Secretary of the Board of Trustees when the schools were incorporated in 1911.
Margaret Phelps (Dates unknown)
She was a teacher in China who translated much Chinese poetry.
Anita Trueman Pickett (May 17, 1881-Sept. 19, 1960) Unitarian
Public speaker, poet, photographer, nature lover (close friend of John Burroughs), and Unitarian minister, she achieved fame in her teens as a lecturer on Henry George's single tax philosophy and other topics. Anita's first parish was in Rowe, MA, where she was instrumental in establishing what is now Rowe Camp and Conference Center. She served as co-minister with her husband, Harold Pickett, in a number of parishes in Massachusetts and after his death took over his position in Ware. In retirement, she travelled and preached extensively in Unitarian pulpits. There is a new biography of her by Lyn Burnstine, Anita Trueman Pickett: New Thought Preacher (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Lydia E. Pinkham (Feb. 9, 1819-May 17, 1883) Universalist
Although she was raised a Quaker, her family left the Friends Meeting over the slavery issue. In Lynn MA, Lydia became famous as a producer of patent medicine for women and as a promoter of women's hygiene and health awareness. Family letters and advertising material which Lydia wrote are in Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe.
Jennie McCain Pjetursson (1840-?) Canadian Unitarian
She was born in New Hampshire to a Unitarian family who later moved to St. Paul MN and were active in the Unitarian church there. She operated one of the Post Office Missions, advertising in liberal papers and responding with information about Unitarianism. In this way, she met and "converted" Bjorn Pjetursson, a highly educated Icelandic immigrant from North Dakota. She persuaded the American Unitarian Association to sponsor him as a missionary to the Icelandic community of Winnepeg. She joined him and others in founding the Unitarian Church (Icelandic) of Winnepeg in 1891 and remained there when he died in 1893. She was known as a fine poet.
Sylvia Plath (Oct. 27, 1932-Feb. 11, 1963) Unitarian
Sylvia was born in Boston, and the family later moved to Wellesley MA, where Sylvia joined the youth group at the Unitarian church. Her first poems were published when she was eight. She graduated from Bradford High School and magna cum laude from Smith College. She was the recipient of the Olive Higgins Prouty Scholarship, and Olive Prouty became her mentor. They were both active in the Unitarian church in Brookline MA. In 1955 she went to England on a Fulbright fellowship. There she met and married Edward James Hughes. Always somewhat unstable emotionally, her depression deepened over several years and in 1963 she committed suicide. Two volumes of her poems, which are still some of the most powerful ever published, are The Colossus (1960), and Ariel (1966). Her novel, The Bell Jar (published in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas) made her almost into a prophet of the women's movement in America. See Margaret Dickie Uroff, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (1979) and Judith Kroll, Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (1976).
Sarah Pousonby (Dates Unknown) British Unitarian
She was one of the Ladies of Llangollen".
Beatrix Potter (July 28, 1866-1943) British Unitarian
Author and illustrator of children's books originally written as stories for her governess' children, she is best known for her Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). She also wrote and illustrated The Tailor of Gloucester (1903) and 23 other books. An active enviromenta1ist and sheep breeder she left her farm to the National Trust See "The Tale of Beatrix Potter;' by Ann MacConnachie, Occasional Paper #10, available from the UU Women's Heritage Society.
Hannah Jewett Powell (1866-Nov., 1954) Universalist
Daughter of a logger, she was born in Clinton ME and grew up in poverty. Determined to become a minister, she left home at 16 to attend the Coburn Classical Institute in Waterville ME, graduated from Colby College (ME) in 1893, and from Tufts Divinity School in 1899. She severed Maine parishes for 22 years, during which time she held several Positions in the Maine Women's Universalist Mossionary Society. From 1921-1936 she served as missionary to Inman's Chapel in North Carolina and after her retirement continued to work for the parish, establishing a clinic with a resident nurse for the mountain community
Elmina J. Power (?-Sept. 21, 1871) Universalist
A Civil War hospital worker, she published her experiences in Hospital Pencilings. In 1866 she entered St. Lawrence Theological School but dropped out because of illness.
Mary Catherine Evans Pray (Apr. 12, 1806-Nov. 14, 1879) Universalist
A dedicated worker in the church, she wrote many poems, most of which she didn't even write down. A few were published as hymns and some were sent to friends who saved them.
Abby Hills Price (July 18, 1814-May 4, 1878) Universalist
A member of the Hopedale Community and a women's rights activist, she represented Hopedale at the First National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester MA in 1850.
Lucy Chapman Proctor (1873-1963) Unitarian
The Unitarian Universalist Association has a painting of her.
Olive Higgins Prouty (Jan. 10, 1882-Mar 24, 1974) Unitarian
Olive Higgins was born Worcester MA but lived most of her life in Brookline MA. She graduated from Smith College and did graduate work at Radcliffe. In 1907 she married Lewis Prouty, a manufacturer. A prolific writer, some of Olive Higgins Prouty's books were: The Fifth Wheel (Frederick Stokes, 1913); Star in the Window (Frederick Stokes, 1918); Conflict, (Houghton, 1919); Stella Dallas (Houghton, 1922); Lisa Vale (Houghton 1938); Now Voyager (Houghton 1941); and her autobiography Pencil Shavings (privately published 1961). She also contributed many short stories to magazines. Stella Dallas was made into both silent and talking films by Samuel Goldwyn. It was also adapted as a radio serial which ran for 15 years. Now Voyager was made into a film starring Bette Davis.
Helen Grace Putnam (May 20, 1840-Nov 28, 1895)
Well educated for a woman in her era, she was born in Dorchester MA. She edited the Country Week published by the Young Men's Christian Union of Boston. She was active in the First Parish in Dedham and was president of the Women's Auxillary. At that time she decided to become a Unitarian minister and entered Meadville Theological School (IL). She was ordained on Oct. 18, 1889. Her ministry consisted of much travel, preaching the good news of Unitarianism in many communities throughout Noah Dakota, occasionally moving into Minnesota communities. She organized many groups and distributed literature to hard-working pioneer families. It was a hard life and her early death at 56 may have been a result of overwork and difficult living conditions.