UU History Mural

The photograph above shows most, but not all, of the 32-foot mural located in Room 4 upstairs in Forbes Hall. Dedicated on June 22, 1980, it depicts more than 400 years of Unitarian and Universalist history, and 1960s and 1970s social history, from 1568 in Transylvania to the Santa Monica church in 1980, with Ernie Pipes as the settled minister.

It was painted by (then local) artist and muralist Ann Thiermann, who today lives in Aptos, CA.

It cost $20,000, one-half paid for by fundraising at UUSM and one-half by a California Arts grant (a state government entity).


People in our Mural

The following was written by Coming of Age advisor Melissa Weaver to inform the middle school class about some of the people in our mural.  Please dig further into these historic figures, because in some cases, only the tip of the iceberg of interesting information was uncovered.

Francis David (Ferenc David) (1501-1579)
Francis David originally trained as a Catholic priest before becoming a Lutheran, and then a Calvinist. But he could not find a basis in the Bible for the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), so he became the founder of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania in the mid-16th century.

David was appointed court preacher to King John Siglsmund, who called a Diet (debate) in the city of Turda in 1568 to determine which religion would be the official religion of Transylvania. During the lengthy debate, Francis David convinced King Sigismund that it would be wrong to declare one religion as the state religion and force everyone to follow it. As a result, King Sigismund declared religious freedom In his realm, the first such declaration in history. Unfortunately, King Sigismund died 3 years later, and his successor was not as tolerant, so Francis David was sent to prison as a heretic, where he died.

George de Benneville (1703-1793)
Born in London to Huguenot French parents, he went to sea as a teenager, where he saw other religions in his travels that made him begin to question his own religious beliefs. Later, a near-death experience convinced him of God's universal love, and that all people would experience salvation, and he became an evangelical Universalist preacher, as well as a doctor.

He preached in France and Germany while completing his medical studies, but de Benneville experienced religious persecution in Europe, so he came to North America in the mid-18th century seeking religious tolerance. He settled in Pennsylvania, where he studied herbal medicine with Native Americans.

De Benneville's beliefs stressed that all people everywhere are loved by God, and cultures, races, and sexes have no bearing on the worth of a human being. He believed that taking religious truths literally, rather than symbolically, was the source of much religious conflict.

De Benneville believed that God, whom he called the "Sovereign Good," took different forms at different times, but these forms were each a part of the universal truth. He wrote: "As no church is pure in all things, so none can be found that does not contain some truth. Glorious truths are found in every church and religion under the sun. And this glorious chain of truths ... we believe will someday unite all of them into one form of love."

Joseph Priestly (1733-1804)
A British scientist, political philosopher, scholar and theologian, Priestly was responsible for numerous significant scientific discoveries and publications, including discovering oxygen in its gaseous form and inventing soda water. Science was integral to his religious beliefs, and he believed in tolerance and equal rights for religious Dissenters (people whose beliefs did not conform to the Church of England), which led him to become one of the founders of the Unitarian church in England. The controversial nature of Priestley's publications combined with his outspoken support of the French Revolution aroused public and governmental suspicion. He was eventually forced to flee to the United States after a mob burned down his home and church in 1791, where he helped found the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.

A scholar and teacher throughout his life, Priestley also made significant contributions to writing in the areas of education, history and philosophy, as well as science, political theory and theology.

Hosea Ballou (1771-1852)
A self-taught itinerant (traveling) minister who was originally a Calvinist Baptist like his father, Ballou became one of the most influential Universalist preachers in the United States. He has been called "the Father of American Universalism," along with John Murray, who founded the first Universalist church in America. Ballou was initially an itinerant (traveling) preacher in Massachusetts and Vermont, who also taught school to support himself, and after Murray's death, Ballou founded the Second Universalist Church in Boston, where he remained for 35 years.

Ballou wrote a number of influential books and thousands of sermons, and he published the weekly Universalist Magazine. His book,"A Treatise on Atonement," radically altered the thinking of many of his minister colleagues and consequently their congregations. It sets out Ballou's beliefs that as finite creatures, humans are incapable of offending an infinite God, who has eternal love for his human children. Ballou believed that once people became convinced of the universal salvation of all souls, then they would take pleasure in living a moral life and doing good works, and life on earth would be transformed.

Ballou was an early champion of the separation of church and state (debating William Ellery Channing on the issue, among others), and at the end of his career, in the mid-1800s, he wrote against capital punishment and slavery.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
The third President of the United States as well as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson also held a number of other political offices, including Secretary of State under George Washington and Vice President under John Adams. And he is well known for his astonishingly far-ranging accomplishments, which included farmer, architect, inventor, author, and lawyer. After his retirement from politics, he helped to found the University of Virginia (as well as designing its early buildings) and his personal library was donated after his death to form the initial core collection of the Library of Congress.

Although Jefferson was not formally a member of a Unitarian church, he is often "claimed" by Unitarians because of the "Jefferson Bible" and other writings and correspondence that reflect religious beliefs that are consistent with Unitarian beliefs and teachings. Jefferson is also known to have been Influenced by Joseph Priestly's writings, and he attended Unitarian church services while visiting with Priestly after Priestly emigrated to Pennsylvania.

The Jefferson Bible (actually titled "Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth") was published by the Library of Congress after his death. It is an edited version of the four Gospels of the New Testament - Jefferson literally cut out sections of the Bible with a razor and pasted them into a blank book. He removed all references to virgin birth, miracles, claims to Jesus' divinity and the resurrection, leaving only the story and the moral teachings of Jesus.

Jefferson's political opponents included some evangelicals who tried to make his religion a factor in elections, attacking his "deistical" beliefs in the press. Jefferson refused to respond to these attacks or to make any public statement concerning his personal religious beliefs. Ironically, in spite of these attacks, evangelical voters actually flocked to support Jefferson because he strongly favored the end of tax support for established churches - which meant freedom for the independent evangelical churches, which were not supported by taxes. Today, many religious conservatives portray Jefferson as a sympathetic figure, unaware of his religious beliefs, his understanding of religious freedom or his criticisms of evangelical religiosity.

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)
A famous Unitarian minister who was the minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston for almost 40 years, Channing was an early advocate of social reform in human rights, free speech, education, peace, relief for the poor and abolition of slavery. Channing pioneered a path between spirituality and secularity, and his Christian humanism writings and sermons influenced and inspired the Transcendentalists.

Although Channing's wife was one of the wealthiest women in the country, he did not claim her money, as he was then legally entitled to do, and he often took stands on social and political issues that were at odds with his wealth and social standing. He was a vocal opponent of war, and he opposed slavery as early as 1825. Channing was interested in the spiritual education of children, and an innovation of his ministry was to invite children to gather around him after worship, which eventually led to study groups that became part of the Sunday school movement. He also worked with educational reformers such as Dorothea Dix, Bronson Alcott, Elizabeth Peabody and Horace Mann.

Channing was the spokesman during the "Unitarian controversy" for the liberal - or Unitarian - churches within Massachusetts, and he helped defined "Unitarian Christianity" as a liberal religion that embraced all individuals who wished to live a Christian life, regardless of whether they agreed with particular doctrines or creeds. (As distinguished from the orthodox, or Calvinist, churches that wanted to limit membership to those who believed certain doctrines.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
A Unitarian minister who became the most famous essayist of the 19th century, as well as a preeminent lecturer and philosopher, and a key figure in the Transcendental movement. Emerson and the other Transcendentalists did much to open Unitarians and other liberal religious people to the influences of science, the spirituality of nature, and Eastern mysticism.

Emerson's father was the minister at the First Church in Boston, who became a Unitarian and had drawn the congregation with him, but he died when Ralph was 8. Although he grew up very poor, due to his family's social position, he was educated at Harvard. Emerson taught briefly following college, then attended Harvard Divinity School. He served as a minister for 6 years, then resigned and became a lecturer and writer. He joined a group of ministers, authors and other intellectuals that began meeting in 1836 who eventually became the core of the movement known as Transcendentalism (although Emerson preferred the term "Idealism").

Emerson gave a number of significant anti-slavery speeches in the 1840s and 1850s, and he also supported women's educational and economic rights, as well as greater freedom in religion and in university education.

Theodore Parker (1810-1860)
A Unitarian minister in Boston who was a Transcendentalist, Parker was the first (in 1850) to use the phrase "of all the people, by all the people and for all the people," which were echoed in the Gettysburg Address. And his words predicting the success of the anti-slavery movement were made famous by Martin Luther King: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one... And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

Although one of the most influential Unitarian ministers in America in the 19th century, Parker was extremely controversial for his writings and sermons that denied Biblical miracles and put forth "natural religion" (which could be determined by reason) over "revelatory religion" (the Bible and its interpretations and church doctrines).

Some Trinitarians in the congregation for one of these sermons questioned whether Unitarians were Christian, if Parker's views were representative, which caused Parker to be ostracized by other Unitarian churches and ministers. His supporters founded 28th Congregational Society in Boston, where Parker's ministry was so popular that the congregation grew to 7000, including Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Julia Ward Howe. Parker was also active in all the social justice movements of his day, including abolition, peace, temperance, women's rights and prison reform.

Although the Unitarian leadership opposed Parker until the end, he was also admired by younger ministers for his attacks on traditional ideas, his fight for a free faith and pulpit, and his public stands on social issues. Today Parker is regarded as "the model of a prophetic minister in the American Unitarian tradition."

Olympia Brown (1835-1926)
The first woman to graduate from theological school and become an ordained minister, Brown was also a women's rights activist due to the discrimination she experienced.

Brown was born in Michigan, and she grew up in a family that valued education. She was excited to go to college at Mount Holyoke, but grew disappointed by the actual experience, which was clearly not going to be sufficiently challenging, as exemplified by a chemistry professor who told his female students that they were not expected to remember all the material -just enough to make them intelligent in conversation. She transferred to Antioch College, but also encountered discrimination and low expectations for women there, such as an English class where men were required to memorize the speeches they gave, while women were not (Brown defiantly gave each of her speeches from memory).

Brown took the countless rejections from graduate divinity schools, and the other forms of discrimination that continued once she was admitted, as a challenge. After graduation, she appealed to the Universalist Board to ordain her, and framed it as a plea for equality. The board had heard some of her sermons and agreed, so she was ordained.

Although she continued to experience discrimination in her professional life, such as a congregation that agitated for her removal while she was on maternity leave, Brown served as pastor to congregations in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Michigan. She became active in the women's suffrage movement and all areas of women's rights, working closely for decades with leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One of the few first-generation suffragists who was still alive when the 19th Amendment passed, Brown voted in her first presidential election at the age of 85.

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
Anthony was a prominent U.S. civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in women's suffrage and women's rights.

She was born in Massachusetts and raised by a father who was a Quaker abolitionist. They moved to New York following a financial collapse, where Susan taught and became active in the anti-slavery and temperance movements, and started attending a Unitarian church.

She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and they organized the first women's state temperance society in America after being refused admission to a temperance convention because of their gender.

Her focus soon broadened to women's rights and suffrage, and Anthony became known as a powerful advocate, travelling the United States and Europe giving 75 to 100 speeches a year on women's rights for 45 years.

Anthony tried to unite the African-American and women's rights movements, but when the 15th Amendment gave rights to African American men, but not to women, Anthony questioned why women should support it, when black men were not showing support for women's voting rights. After that, she devoted herself exclusively to women's rights.

In 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting, and she was later convicted despite her argument that the 14th Amendment, in guaranteeing the privileges of citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," without qualification as to gender, gave women the right to vote in federal elections. (She wrote that she voted the "Republican ticket- straight.")

Thomas Starr King (1824-1864)
King was raised in New England, the son of a Universalist minister who died when he was 15, which prevented him from going to college. Inspired by men like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Ward Beecher, King embarked on a program of self-study for the ministry and was given his first job at 21 at the same Universalist church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where his father had previously served.

A few years later, King was offered a position at a Unitarian church in Boston, where he became one of the most famous preachers in New England. Although some people thought this was deserting his old faith, King thought that his broad ecumenical religion could include Unitarians without repudiating Universalism. When questioned about it, King famously said: "The one [Universalist] thinks God Is too good to damn them forever, the other [Unitarian] thinks they are too good to be damned forever." According to King, the only reason that Unitarians and Universalists had not already joined together was that they were "too near of kin to be married."

In 1860, King took a position at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco, where he was active in California politics. His ardent support of the Union was credited by Lincoln as keeping California from becoming a separate republic.

Mountain peaks in the White Mountains in New Hampshire (where King vacationed and about which he wrote) and Yosemite are named after King, as is the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. There is a statue of King in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and his statue used to be in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. However, in 2006, the California Legislature voted to replace it with a statue of Ronald Reagan, in a last minute vote with only one dissent.

State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, who authored the bill removing the statue, said that he didn't know who Thomas Starr King was, and he thought there are probably a lot of Californians like him. Hollingsworth also said that King is not a native Californian. (Junipero Serra, who is honored with California's other statute in the Capitol, was born in Majorca, and Reagan is a native of Illinois.)