Notable Women A

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Abigail Adams (Dates: Born Nov. 11, 1744 [Julian] Died Oct. 18, 1818 [Gregorian] ) Unitarian

Born Abigail Smith in Weymouth MA, she was raised without any formal schooling but was a voracious reader and possessed remarkable intellectual capacities. She married John Adams in 1764, and it was her emotional and spiritual force which sustained him through the years of his service as the second President of the United States. Because of his extended absences from home, Abigail had the chief responsibility for raising the five children, one of whom, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of the United States. She also managed the farm and business affairs which kept the Adams family financially viable. The correspondence between Abigail and John reflects a true marriage of equals. Abigail was devoted to her church and embraced Unitarian theological ideas almost a century before the Unitarian movement was so-named. Both she and her husband are buried in the church building of First Parish (Unitarian) in Quincy, MA. Excerpts from one of her letters are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 200).

Hannah Adams (Oct. 2, 1755-Dec. 15, 1831) Unitarian

(revised 2010 by HZ) Born in Medfield MA, she was the first American, man or woman, known to attempt to support herself by the pen. Highly regarded in the field of historical documentation, she wrote several history books. Her principal work, a View of Religious Opinions (1784), in which she gave a comprehensive survey of the various religions of the world, including Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects (1784), helped to found the modern field of comparative religion. She was a voice for liberalism, looking for commonly held faith and minimizing the prejudice against non-Christian religions which had previously characterized the field. Her book on Jesus was used for many years in Unitarian Sunday schools. Excerpts from her writings are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).

Marian Hooper Adams (Sept. 13, 1843-Dec. 6, 1885) raised Unitarian

Daughter of Ellen Stugis Hooper and wife of historian Henry Adams, she was a well known Washington hostess and social arbiter, as well as one of the first women photographers. Their home in Washington was a center for the intellectual and cultural elite. Her Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams (1936) gives a unique picture of Washington society. A biography, The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams by Eugenia Kaledin, was published by University of Massachusetts Press (paperback, 1994).

Mary Hall Barrett Adams (Sept.16.1816-Dec. 8, 1860) Universalist

Born in Malden MA, she joined the Universalist church there at age 16. In 1839 she married Universalist minister, John Greenleaf Adams. She edited the “Sabbath School Annual” for three years before following her husband to his ministry in Worcester MA. Although her writings are not well known, she exemplifies a life of devotion on a personal level. Some of her writings are preserved in Memoir of Mrs. Mary H. Adams, by her husband (New England Universalist Publishing House. Boston. 1865).

Sarah Flower Adams (Feb. 22, 1805-1848) British Unitarian

A talented English actress, Sarah was achieving her dream of an acting career when ill health forced her to give up the stage. She turned to writing and a frequently contributed poetry and religious articles to magazines. She published “Vivia Perperua,” a long poem about early Christian martyrs. One of her best known works is the hymn. “Nearer My God to Thee,” which was sung on the Titanic, as the ship went down.

Jane Addams (Sept 6, 1860-May 21. 1935) Unitarian connections

Cedarville IL was the birthplace of this famous reformer. She graduated from Rockford IL Female Seminary in 1882 and a year later went with her stepmother to do the European tour. When she returned to the states in 1885 she was baptized and joined the Presbyterian church in her hometown. In 1889, acting on her personal vision for social reform, she opened Hull House in the Nineteenth Ward of Chicago. It became the center for neighborhood activities with some forty different clubs and functions including a gymnasium, theatre group, day nursery. playground, cooking and sewing courses, etc. Later Hull House also undertook studies of tenement conditions, sweatshops and child labor among other issues. Jane developed many close ties with Unitarians and Universalists and other religious liberals as she developed support for Hull House. She was constantly raising funds and was in demand as a lecturer. In 1902 her first book, Democracy and Social Ethics, a collection of these lectures, appeared. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909) discussed conflict between generations of immigrant families. Twenty Years at Hull House (1910) was her most successful book. Over the years Jane and Hull House became increasingly active politically, realizing that the conditions they struggled with were more than local. She also became more and more dedicated to issues of international cooperation and peace, participating in the founding and serving as first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1931 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nicholas Murray Butler. She also wrote a second autobiographical volume, The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (1930).

Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz (Dec. 5, 1822-June 27, 1907) Unitarian

She grew up in a Unitarian family, active in King’s Chapel, Boston, MA. Married in 1850 to Louis Agassiz, the Swiss naturalist, she wrote introductory guides to marine zoology in 1859 and 1865. She accompanied her husband on all his voyages and expeditions and co-authored with him A Journey in Brazil (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1868) and with her stepson, Alexander Agassiz, Seaside Studies in Natural History (1865). After being widowed at the age of 51, she published Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence (1885). She was instrumental in establishing Radcliffe College and became its first president in 1882.

Lucy Aiken (1781-1864) British Unitarian

Daughter of the Rev. John Aiken and niece of Anna Laetitia Barbauld, her Memoirs (1864) include her thoughtful correspondence with William Ellery Charming about Unitarian theology. Her poems are published in two collections: Poetry for Children, Consisting of Short Pieces to be Committed to Memory (1801) and Poetry for Children (1803). Lewis Carroll parodied several of her poems in his Alice books. She also edited classics in words of one syllable: Robinson Crusoe, Aesop’s Fables, etc.

Louisa May Alcott (Nov. 29, 1832-Mar. 6, 1888) Unitarian

She was born in Germantown PA, but the family purchased the Orchard House in Concord MA in 1857, and it was in the attic room there that Louisa wrote most of her work. The daughter of Abigail May and Bronson Alcott, she was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau and a member of Theodore Parker’s Boston congregation. She wrote blood and thunder tales under the pseudonym A M. Bearnard” while also pursuing more literary work. Her well-known works include An Old-Fashioned Girl(1870), Little Women (1868), Little Men (1871) and many others. Some of her less well-known writings include Hospital Sketches (1863) about her work as an Army nurse under the supervision of Dorothea Dix, and her first book, Flower Fables, a collection of stories written for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

Elizabeth A. Aldrich (Dates unknown) Unitarian

She edited a women’s paper, “The Genius of Liberty,” from 1851 to 1853 in Cincinnati OH. In 1854 the paper became a department of another publication, “Moore’s Western Lady’s Book.” and Aldrich continued to write a regular column. She was a member of First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati. Elizabeth Aldrich wrote that “The Genius of Liberty” was “devoted to the interests of American women” and that she wanted “to arouse her twelve million country women to put forth all their energies for their self-culture, their soul’s adornment and beautification.” She attacked Horace Mann, then President of Antioch College, for saying that woman’s mental powers were not equal to man’s because her brain was smaller.

Sara Allen (Dates unknown) Canadian Universalist

She traveled to Boston where she heard Hosea Ballou preach. She invited him to come to Halifax. In 1843 she helped found the First Universalist Church in Canada.

Helen Allingham (Dates unknown) British Unitarian

She was a noted Victorian artist/water colorist and a member of Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel.

Tsuneko Amano (Dates unknown) Universalist

She was the author of “What Our Guild Means to Me,” published by the Universalist General Convention.

Blanche Ames (Feb. 18, 1878-Mar. 1, 1969) Unitarian

Well-known as a botanical illustrator and birth control advocate, Blanche was born and grew up in Lowell MA, where her family owned woolen mills. At Smith College, she excelled in art, played basketball, served as class president, and graduated in 1899. In 1900 she married Oakes Ames (not a relative), botany instructor at Harvard University, and moved to his home in North Easton MA. There they planned and built Borderland, an elegant estate where they farmed and raised cattle; it is now a state park. They had four children and belonged to Unity Church (Unitarian) in North Easton. Blanche and Oakes worked together on a seven-volume series on orchids and developed the Ames Charts for orchid identification. Blanche drew sketches of new species which they gathered on numerous collecting trips. Oakes became director of the Botanical Museum and supervisor of Arnold Arboretum. They also both worked for suffrage. Blanche co-founded the Birth Control League of Massachusetts and served as a member of the corporation of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Her collected papers, diaries, and letters are at Smith College. Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe has her material on New England Hospital, along with some of her correspondence on suffrage and birth control. Her drawings and etchings of orchids are at the Ames Orchid Herbarium at Harvard University.

Fanny (Julia Francis) Baker Ames (June 14, 1840-Aug. 21, 1931) Unitarian

She taught in the Cincinnati OH public schools and in 1863 married Charles Ames, a Unitarian minister. In 1869, she attended the founding convention in Cleveland of Lucy Stone’s American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1873, during the depression, the Ameses lived in Philadelphia, where Fanny created the Relief Society, a social welfare agency. In 1880, after moving to Boston, she founded the Women’s Auxiliary Conference of the Unitarian Church (later the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women). She often visited Philadelphia and in 1877 founded (and later became president of) Philadelphia’s reform-minded New Century Club. She held various offices in the Massachusetts and New England Woman Suffrage Associations, and served for three years (1896-99) on the Boston School Committee. In 1891 she became the state’s first woman factory inspector and in 1899 was appointed to the first board of trustees of Simmons College.

Mary Clemmer Ames (May 6, 1831-Aug. 31, 1884) Unitarian connections

Born and raised in Utica NY, Mary Clemmer was an imaginative girl who began writing verse almost before she could write. About 1847 the family moved to Westfield MA where she attended the Westfield Academy, but further education was denied her. Her family’s financial straits helped bring about her unfortunate marriage to Daniel Ames in 1851. They were separated in 1865 and divorced in 1874. Her need to support herself led her to begin sending letters from New York City to the Utica Morning Herald and the Springfield Republican. She became close to Alice Cary who, with her sister Phoebe, introduced her to their literary circle. After her divorce she moved to Washington where she wrote a column, “Women’s Letter from Washington” for the Independent. She also wrote for Brooklyn Daily Union producing book reviews and commentary. She wrote three novels including Eirene or, a Woman’s Right (1871). Her Memorial to Alice and Phoebe Cary (1873) was considered one of her best works. Several volumns of her columns were also published.

Jane Andrews (Dec. 1. 1833-July 15, 1887) Unitarian

She was a pioneering educator and a well-known children’s author who, in her youth, took part in a small writing group directed by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, pastor of the Unitarian church. She began teaching at a free evening school for cotton mill workers which was organized by Higginson. In 1860, she opened a small primary school in her home where she developed new and innovative teaching methods. Her first and most famous book was a collection of stories used in geography lessons, Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball that Floats in the Air (1861). For history lessons, she wrote Ten Boys Who Lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now (1886). In all she wrote six books which were widely used in elementary schools for more than five decades after her death. Seven Sisters alone paid royalties for ninety years and appeared in a new edition 63 years after its first publication. It sold close to half a million copies and was printed in England and translated into German, Chinese, and Japanese.

Susan B. Anthony (Feb. 15, 1820-Mar. 13, 1906) Unitarian

This well-known reformer was raised a Quaker but was an active member of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester NY, for most of her adult life, although she did not officially sign the membership book until 1893. Her writings include The History of Woman Suffrage (6 volumes, 1881-1922), co-authored with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. She also contributed many articles to the suffrage paper, Revolution. Excerpts from her hand-written notes for an 1854 speech are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).

Kate Cooper Austin (1864-1902) Universalist

Influenced by her aunt, Reform Cooper Goddard, Kate’s radical thought as a feminist, freethinker, and anarchist writer evolved from a Universalist/Spiritualist background in a family from rural Vermont and upstate New York. She moved to northern Illinois, central Iowa and finally Missouri. Howard S. Miller of the University of Missouri is working on her biography. [Miller, Howard S. (April 1996). “Kate Austin: A Feminist-Anarchist on the Farmer’s Last Frontier”. Nature, Society and Thought 9 (2): 189 – 209.]

Martha Moore Avery (Apr. 6, 1851-Aug. 8, 1929) Unitarian

Born in Steuben ME, in 1880 she joined the Unitarian church, where she met and married Millard Fillmore Avery. When he became a travelling salesman, she and her daughter moved to Boston. After her husband’s death in 1890, she joined the Socialist Labor Party and founded the Karl Marx Class, which later became the Boston School of Political Economy. She later turned Catholic and renounced Marxism. With David Goldstein, she wrote Bolshevism: Its Cure (1919), and Socialism: The Nation of Fatherless Children (1930). Her papers are at Xavier College in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Gertrude Elise Ayer (Dates unknown) Unitarian

She was the first African American to become a principal of a New York City school. She was the mother of Cornelius McDougald, Esq. who was honorary Chair of Community Church Board of Trustees for life.