Unitarian Universalism and the Area That Was Prairie Star District

Bring, O Past, Your Honor is an indispensable resource for learning about the growth of Unitarianism and Universalist in the Upper Midwest. A product of the Prairie Star District Professional Leaders’ Retreat in April 1986, it contains essays on the regional development of our movement and histories of individual congregations.

Please note: the History and Heritage Committee has encouraged each congregation to post its history on its own Web site rather than submit it to us for the online Bring, O Past, Your Honor. Therefore, please regard Bring, O Past, Your Honor only as a source for the history of a defunct congregation or one that has not updated its history since 1986 or posted that history on its own Web site.

Ronald Knapp, Editor

Electronic Version Prepared 2004 and Adapted for the Web 2005-06

Historical Essays and Congregational Histories

concentricThe PSD History and Heritage Committee provided a District initiative and ongoing program coordination for UU history, in recognition of the importance of preserving, understanding, and celebrating the past that has forged our identity.

This is now MidAmerica Region History and Heritage!

In 2002, UUs in the Twin Cities held the Light on the Prairie history conference, attended by 100 people from 32 congregations in the District. Organizers of that conference and others formed the History and Heritage Committee.

The committee served congregations by:

  • Providing an institutional base for regional or District-wide grant-funded historical projects.
  • Organizing historical source material and disseminating it for inspiration and education.
  • Providing assistance for maintaining records and preserving stories through interviews and oral histories.
  • Creating and maintaining the PSD Heritage web site pages.
  • Developing a network of people with an interest in UU history.

Test your knowledge of our history!

Why does Minnesota have the highest concentration of UUs outside Massachusetts?

Some of the following factors were probably significant: a strong New England influence; Minnesotans’ identification with abolitionism; the influential and benevolent Universalist entrepreneurs of Minneapolis; the high concentration of colleges and universities, reflecting a populace that valued education; the broad popularity of humanist minister John Dietrich; the prominence of St. Paul’s Unity Church.

In what western state did Olympia Brown spend nearly 200 days promoting woman suffrage?

Olympia Brown toured Kansas in 1867 advocating woman suffrage. Writing in 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton described her as “the most promising young woman now speaking in this cause” and continued:

She is a graceful, fluent speaker, with wonderful powers of continuity and concentration, and is oblivious to everything but the idea she wishes to utter. While in Kansas she spoke every day for four months, twice and three times, Sundays not excepted. She is a close, clear reasoner and able debater. The Kansas politicians all feared to meet her. One prominent judge in the State encountered her in debate, on one occasion, to the utter discomfiture of himself and his compeers. By some mistake their appointments were in the same place. She, through courtesy, yielded to him the first hour. He made an argument to show the importance of suffrage for the negro, with an occasional slur on woman. She followed him, using his own words, illustrations, and arguments, to show the importance of suffrage for woman, much to his chagrin, and the amusement of the audience, who cheered her from beginning to end. At the close of the meeting, a rising vote was taken of those in favor of woman's suffrage. All the audience arose, except the judge, and he looked as if he would have given anything if consistence would have permitted him to rise also. (Lewis, 2011, adapted).What role did Unitarians play in the anti-slavery turbulence in Kansas before the Civil War?

In the 1850s American Unitarians began opposing the attempted expansion of slavery into the newly created Kansas territory. Their publication The Christian Register supported the New England Immigrant Aid Society in its effort to send anti-slavery settlers to Kansas. Unfortunately, internal disputes limited the capability of the Lawrence congregation, established in 1856, to act effectively in that effort.

Which US denomination was the first to ordain women to the ministry?

The Unitarians were first, but Universalists ordained someone a few years later who became more famous. According to David Robinson’s The Unitarians and the Universalists, Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins was granted a letter of ministerial fellowship in 1858 by a Unitarian body in Geneva, New York. In1860 she was ordained along with her husband. A few years later the pair left the ministry to practice medicine. (Lewis, Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins, 2011) In 1863 Olympia Brown graduated from the Theological School of St. Lawrence University, a Universalist seminary in New York State. She was ordained by the faculty and in 1864 she took a parish in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Brown went on to a long and distinguished career as a minister and advocate for woman suffrage.


Groth, Bobbie (2011). The Incredible Story of Ephraim Nute: Scandal, Bloodshed and Unitarianism on the American Frontier. (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2011)

Lewis, J. J. (2011). Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins. Retrieved June 9, 2011, from About.com Women's History: http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blbio_jenkins_lydia.htm

Lewis, J. J. (2011). Women's History. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from About.com: (no longer available)

The History and Heritage Committee was dedicated to answering such questions—and to spreading the information far and wide. Our charge: “to provide a District initiative and ongoing program coordination for UU history.”

2013 members of the Committee:

  • David Conradi-Jones, Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Arden Hills, MN
  • Jim Grebe, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Kansas City, MO
  • Lowell Hanson, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Mahtomedi, MN
  • Ann Herington, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, Davenport, IA
  • Tim Hirsch, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Eau Claire, WI
  • Carol Jackson, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN (chair)
  • The Rev. Michael Nelson, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan, Manhattan, KS
  • Frank Potter, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Of Dubuque, Dubuque, IA
  • Victor Urbanowicz, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Mahtomedi, MN
  • Walt Wells, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Kansas City, MO
David Conradi-Jones Jim Grebe

Tim Hirsch

Tim Hirsch

Carol Jackson
The Rev. Michael Nelson

Frank Potter

Frank Potter

Victor Urbanowicz

Walt Wells