History and Heritage

Bertha TainterVictor UrbanowitzThis section of our web site honors the history of Unitarians and Universalists in the MidAmerica Region.

Here you will find a series of History Vignettes written by members of the History and Heritage Committee and other contributors. New vignettes will appear several times a year.

If you have a story to suggest, please contact Victor Urbanowicz at

The career of Reverend Eliza Tupper Wilkes is well summarized in Rebecca Hunt’s entry in the online Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. pdf Eliza Tupper Wilkes.pdf (279 KB)

Eliza Tupper WilkesEliza Tupper Wilkes (October 8, 1844-February 5, 1917) was a circuit-riding preacher who started eleven Universalist and Unitarian churches in the American West. Among the first women ordained into the ministry, Wilkes worked with and mentored other liberal women ministers in the West. Known as the “Iowa Sisterhood,” these women found opportunity and support in the Women's Western Unitarian Conference and from the leading western Unitarian minister, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, at a time when women ministers were derided by most of the established clergy and spurned by the older congregations “back east.”

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Adlai StevensonBy Victor Urbanowicz

One doesn’t research Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965) very far before an impressive picture begins to form. His 1952 acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, for instance, would seem odd today because of the speaker’s ambivalence, but it plainly comes from an extraordinary mind:

I would not seek your nomination for the Presidency, because the burdens of that office stagger the imagination. Its potential for good or evil, now and in the years of our lives, smothers exultation and converts vanity to prayer.

In 1956 Stevenson failed to unseat the popular Dwight Eisenhower, and in 1960 he lost his party’s nomination to John F. Kennedy. There is far more to Stevenson, though, than these electoral losses. His speeches were often compared to Winston Churchill’s. His long record of public service includes working for the Secretary of the Navy in the Roosevelt administration and later helping to draw up the documents that created the United Nations.

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By Stefan Jonasson (first published in The Icelandic Post)

From the editor:

Emil GudmundsonMost UUs know that Spaniards, Italians, Transylvanians, French, Poles, and other groups had a hand in shaping our tradition. Here in North America we should also look at the Icelanders and their descendants. Emil Gudmundson, a Canadian, had crucial roles in both tracing the Icelandic influence and in organizing Unitarian Universalism in the Midwest. I never met him, but did find a typewritten letter of his in the archives of the Prairie Star District. It was in Icelandic, so I have no idea what it said.

From the author’s preface to the Facebook version of this piece:

Emil was one of the people who encouraged me to study for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. He taught me that ministry was, first and foremost, about presence – simply being with people in times of joy and in times of sadness – and that ideas were important, but not more important than relationships. And Emil reassured me that the love of things Icelandic might be rare, but it wasn't odd.

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