Unitarian Universalist Religious Education History Group

Did You Know

Date: 11/27/2003
From: Elizabeth Strong
While at First Parish in Lexington, MA, for a meeting, I discovered four volumes titled The Sunday School Helper. They were published in England and lo and behold, contain W.E. Gannet's work from the Unitarian Sunday School Society in the 1850's and 60's. It seems the "Helper" idea was not just Universalist, nor was being part of a wider Christian Sunday School circle for curricula.

Date: 11/2/2003
From: frank.robertson26@verizon.net
I had never known that Universalists were interested in World Religions during the first half of the 19th Century, but evidence is found in rather early periodicals, namely "The Olive Branch," published in 1827 and 1828 by the New York Universalist Book Society, and "The Eastern Rosebud," published in 1841 to 1843 as a children's magazine by Universalists in Portland, ME. One has to go to the microfilm collections of the Andover-Harvard Library to view these rare periodicals and study of them. This may not have been done by most scholars who wrote about Universalist history in books more available to us.

In The Olive Branch is a "Hindoo Story: The Priest and his Disciple" (p.21), an article on the Golden Rule of Confucius compared to Jesus' Golden Rule (p.29), and a poem entitled "Zoroaster's Religion" (p.224). These elements are included as examples of religious ideas around the world without lots of negative comments. In that periodical, there is also a Universalist catechism by Lucy Barnes.

In The Eastern Rose-Bud there is a picture of "A Hindoo Temple" (it actually looks more like a mosque to me)(May,1841, p.163), information about the ancient Egyptians(Sept. 1841, p. 6), and a story of a Sultan and a Dervish(June, 1842, p. 123). There are also facts from the sciences of that period shared(astronomy, geology, zoology--story of the Arabian camel, etc.). There are some expressions of prejudices that were probably common in that period among Universalists. For example, in describing the "Hindoo" temple, the author states "...in its porch are seen a number of those poor deluded creatures, who bow down to gods of wood and stone, and worship images that 'saws and hammers' made." (p.164)

Some Unitarian Sunday schools were teaching World Religions by the early 1870s. By 1874, stories from the world's great religions were included in curricula being published by the Western Unitarian Sunday School Society headquartered in Chicago, mostly written by Jenkin Lloyd Jones. Soon afterwards, the Unitarian Sunday School Society, located in Boston, arranged to distribute such works along with their own books that they published for the Sunday schools. In 1883, the Unitarian Sunday School Society of Boston published Religions Before Christianity by Charles Carroll Everett. In 1893, the Western Unitarian Sunday School Society published Beginnings, According to Legend and According to the Truer Story by Alien W. Gannett via the Beacon Press of Boston. The latter includes information from anthropologists and paleontologists. Both books were written for teens. Some Universalist Sunday schools may have used these books, too, because there developed a growing positive relationship between the RE leaders of the Universalists and the RE leaders of the Unitarian movement in the early 1900s and a few ministers served churches in both denominations from the mid-1800s. How widespread was all this? Not very. Both movements' Sunday school curricula were mostly Bible-centered and Nature-centered in that period, but quite progressive compared to most other faith groups.

An universalist Sunday school existed among the Dunkers in Ephrata, Pennsylvania as early as 1740. Universalist scholar Richard Eddy wrote about that Sunday school in Volume I of his Universalism in America: A History. Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1891, p. 37. The first Sunday school is commonly believed to have been started in Gloucester, England in 1789 by Robert Raikes (pronounced "raks"). His was a school for poor working children who could not attend day schools during that period. Religious education for other children had been taught in a variety of ways long before, mostly in the context of day schools, catechism classes led by clergy, home study, and sometimes in Sunday schools like the one in Ephrata. As contrasting faith groups developed in communities and the separation of church and state evolved, more and more churches in the early 19th Century established Sunday schools to teach their brand of religion, adopting the name "Sunday School" from the outreach Sunday schools for poor children they sponsored. Those earlier Sunday schools for the poor taught everything, including religion in somewhat ecumenical ways.

The Public Gardens of Boston (where the Swan Boats are located) was vacant land in the early 19th Century that the City intended to sell for real estate. Unitarian minister Charles Francis Barnard(1808-1884) used some of that land in the mid-1800s to raise flowers to sell in support of the Warren Street Chapel, an outreach Sunday school and day school he established for poor children. He convinced the leaders of the City to add the land to the Boston Common and transform it into a public gardens.

The Unitarian Sunday School Society (U.S.S.S) grew out of a meeting on December 16, 1826, of the teachers of the Franklin Sabbath School. Josiah F. Flagg was the organizer of the U.S.S.S. and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Tuckerman was chosen its first President in November of 1827 following a series of planning meetings. It was first called The Boston Sunday School Society. The word "Boston" was dropped in 1832 and the group became simply The Sunday School Society, publishing numerous Sunday school books for various age levels over the years. Unitarian name was added in the 1860s. In 1912 the development of curricula was take over by the Department of Religious Education of the American Unitarian Association and representatives from the Universalists were added to the Curriculum Committee in the 1930s.

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