History and Heritage
This 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 email@example.com.
It was instant chemistry between a Kansas City Unitarian minister and a famous novelist from Minnesota.
In early 1926 Sinclair Lewis, a future Nobel laureate, came to Kansas City to gather material for his “preacher novel,” which became Elmer Gantry. He met local clergy including Leon Birkhead, minister at All Souls Unitarian Church. They hit it off and Lewis asked Birkhead to assist him in his research. He described him as “a Unitarian and generally disillusioned preacher who was for ten years a Methodist preacher, whom I’ll use as cyclopedia for data about church organization and the like.”
This 22-minute video is an interview with founding members at Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship in Bloomington, Minnesota. Hear the stories from their early days in the mid-1960s and their pride in what the congregation has become since then.
Like other Unitarian churches founded during westward expansion, the one in Alton was planted by New Englanders. The beginning was a series of meetings in the office of William Emerson, a physician and second cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The renowned William Greenleaf Eliot, a Massachusetts native who had a church in nearby St. Louis, attended some meetings and gave professional assistance in the startup years.
In 1852, German-speaking immigrant freethinkers founded the Freie Gemeinde von Sauk County in Sauk City, Wisconsin, about 20 miles northwest of Madison. Freie Gemeinde means free community or free congregation. The 80 founders included 15 or more women, who had full membership rights. As refugees from the Revolutions of 1848, the group sought freedom of thought unhindered by church or state. In 1884 they built Park Hall (known locally as Freethinkers Hall), a spacious, many-windowed wooden structure where the group continues meeting today.