Famous Unitarians

Famous Unitarians

Frank Lloyd Wright

Famous as the architect of buildings that broke the mold of the day, Frank Lloyd Wright was a lifelong Unitarian and the designer of several Unitarian meeting houses. His iconic and more familiar works include the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Fallingwater, a residence which has been called the best work of American architecture of all time.

Not only did Wright design the exterior of the buildings and interior infrastructure, he designed windows, furniture and other small details in a style which would become known as the Prairie School.

He and his wife Olgivanna started the Taliesin Fellowship in Wisconsin and later Taliesin West in Arizona. The purpose of the institute was to teach both architectural and spiritual principles. The goal of the Fellowship was, according to Wright, “to develop a well correlated, creative human being with a wide horizon but capable of effective concentration of his faculties upon the circumstance in which he lives.”

The basic educational philosophy was “learning by doing.” Students converted all the Fellowship buildings by hand and helped farm the land in what was envisioned as a total educational concept.

Wright’s Unitarian background began with his father who had been a Baptist minister but changed to Unitarian. His mother’s family was Unitarian and his uncle was Jenkin Lloyd Jones, an important figure in the spread of the Unitarian faith in the Midwest.

Wright designed the Unitarian Meeting House, Madison, Wisconsin, US

Frank Lloyd Wright Read More »

Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents!”

Thus begins the arc of the psychological, spiritual, and romantic development of the four March sisters in the beloved 1868 novel Little Women. Louisa May Alcott was the daughter of New England transcendentalist philosophical leader and Unitarian minister Bronson Alcott. She grew up in a household rich in culture and visited often by the most free-thinking liberals of the day: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her stories of home and youthful development that are still loved today: Little Women, Jo’s Boys, Little Men, Jack and Jill, An Old-Fashioned Girl, and Jack and Jill. Many movies have been made of her signature work, but few know that she also wrote under a pen name, A. M. Barnard, in order to help her family pay the bills. The stories were written for tabloids of the day, featuring blood-curdling plots and high romance.

Alcott served as a nurse in the American Civil War and spent her life as a contented single woman. An abolitionist and temperance worker, she worked tirelessly in feminist movements and women’s suffrage. She died of a stroke in in 1888.

Louisa May Alcott Read More »

e. e. cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), the poet e. e. cummings, was an American poet distinguished by using the lower case in his poetry. Though Harvard born and bred, cummings was a lifelong rebel and Unitarian. He penned poetry that is abstract and evocative.  He was noted for unconventional punctuation, capitalisation, and grammatical syntax as part of his poetry style. The best way to know cummings is through his poetry such as the following entitled “in Just-“

in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s


when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far          and             wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and






balloonMan          whistles




e. e. cummings Read More »

Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1-August-1819 – 28-September-1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet. Among his best-known works are Moby Dick (1851), Typee (1846), and Billy Budd, a posthumously published novella. 

Melville’s works were not celebrated in his lifetime and he earned little from his books and poems. Moby-Dick, which has been touted as the greatest American novel ever written, was particularly poorly received when first released and it didn’t gain real popularity until the 1920’s and became considered as one of the great American novels.

Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a prosperous merchant. However, his father died when Melville was 12; leaving the family in financial straits. As a result, Melville never completed his education but had a great love of books and taught himself through reading and experience.

Melville took to sea in 1839 as a common sailor on merchant ships and whalers – an experience he described as: my Yale college and my Harvard. After that, he worked as a writer, bank clerk, salesperson farmhand, and school teacher and eventually moved to New York to take a position as a customs inspector.

Moby Dick uses a great deal of Biblical symbolism, especially in the names and allegorical roles of characters, containing 250 biblical references. Some literary critics see religion in Moby Dick as a struggle between Melville’s personal adoption of Unitarianism and his mother’s Dutch Reformed Calvinism. Perhaps it also reflects his own personal life struggles including his business failures and the death of his children.

The contemporary public rejection of Moby Dick was largely due to the fact that the novel shows equal respect for a wide variety of religious traditions and, at the same time, not-so-gently mocks the foolishness of religious extremism. In Moby Dick tribal pagans and New England Christians seem pretty similar—and frequently the pagans seem more ethical than some of the Christians around them. In contrast to both this complexly egalitarian attitude toward religiosity and the heavy satire that accompanies some of the religious commentary.

Melville has been described as a tentatively optimistic skeptic. The Unitarian Church was, for Melville, a safe place for him to explore his questions about life and God. Melville said: We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.

Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891.

Herman Melville Read More »

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve (25-September-1952 – 10-October-2004) was an American actor. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in music theory and English, and later attended the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Reeve was a prolific theatre actor, performing in about 150 plays the Broadway plays, most notably in A Matter of Gravity (1976), along with Katharine Hepburn. However, Reeves was most famous for his films — especially his title role in Superman (1978) and its three sequels. Reeve also appeared in numerous television shows such as Smallville and Sesame Street. He married Dana Morosini in 1992 and they had one son, William, born in 1992. Reeve also had two children with Gae Exton: Matthew, born in 1979, and Alexandra, born in 1983.

In 1995, Reeve was in a horseback riding accident that injured his spinal cord and left him paralysed from the neck down. From that point on, Reeves became a noted disability activist and spokesperson.

In a 2002 interview with Charlie Rose, Reeve spoke about his childhood fear of church and its images of a violent god: It’s frightening to me, the organised religion…My father was not religious at all, so I really did not bother with questions of faith and spirituality.

During Reeve’s post-accident spiritual journey, he joined a Unitarian church. When asked about that in a Reader’s Digest interview, Reeve replied: It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, ‘When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.’ I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.

Reeve died at age 52 after an antibiotic for an infection sent him into cardiac arrest and a coma.

Christopher Reeve Read More »

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (11-November-1922 – 11-April-2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, he published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works, with further collections being published after his death.

Vonnegut was an atheist, a humanist and a freethinker, serving as the honorary president of the American Humanist Association. He occasionally attended a Unitarian church, but with little consistency. In a speech to the Unitarian Universalist Association, he called himself a “Christ-loving atheist”. However, he was keen to stress that he was not a Christian. 

Vonnegut was an admirer of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, particularly the Beatitudes, and incorporated it into his own doctrines. He also referred to it in many of his works. In his 1991 book Fates Worse than Death, Vonnegut suggests that during the Reagan administration, “anything that sounded like the Sermon on the Mount was socialistic or communistic, and therefore anti-American”. In Palm Sunday, he wrote that “the Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade.” However, Vonnegut had a deep dislike for certain aspects of Christianity, often reminding his readers of the bloody history of the Crusades and other religion-inspired violence. He despised the televangelists of the late 20th century, feeling that their thinking was narrow-minded.

Religion features frequently in Vonnegut’s work, both in his novels and elsewhere. Vonnegut’s works are filled with characters founding new faiths, and religion often serves as a major plot device, for example in Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle. In The Sirens of Titan, Rumfoord proclaims The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Slaughterhouse-Five sees Billy Pilgrim, lacking religion himself, nevertheless become a chaplain’s assistant in the military and displaying a large crucifix on his bedroom wall.In Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut invented the religion of Bokononism. (source – Wikipedia)

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Read More »