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

Humanism on the Prairie: The Unitarian Universalist Church of Willmar, Minnesota

Willmar (population 19,000) sits in the rural center of Minnesota, where both politics and religion are generally conservative. But generalizations usually have exceptions, and in Willmar many of these are supplied by the Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Example: in January 2017, about 20 Willmar UUs, after notifying the news media, marched from their church to a Somali-owned restaurant to have coffee and to join nationwide protests against President Trump’s ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia. The Somali population in Willmar is Minnesota’s largest outside the Twin Cities.

The marchers carried bright yellow signs saying, “Standing on the Side of Love,” "Love Trumps hate," and "Were your ancestors allowed to immigrate?" Sympathetic passers-by smiled and waved to those inside. Some came in, and the restaurant soon became crowded.

The photo below, from a video taken by the West Central Tribune, shows church president David Moody accompanied by church members. Moody is conversing with people in the restaurant after reading a statement of support.


kashimana ahuaAfter the story of the march reached the news, the Minnesota State Composers’ Forum asked the congregation to be the hub of In Common, a year-long project in which composer Kashimana Ahua (pictured) will create new music in collaboration with people from Willmar’s ethnic groups, giving them an opportunity to tell their respective stories and discover what all members of the community have in common. At a kickoff meeting in July 2018, the composer was introduced to the community, and the project was launched.

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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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