WORKSHOP: “THE IN-AND-OUTS OF LOOKING FOR HISTORY IN PHOTOGRAPHS” Cynthia Grant Tucker Kathleen R. Parker Brief Description Nothing feels more immediate than the history embedded in the photographs that turn up when we sift through old papers in institutional archives and private homes. When these links to the past fall into our hands, we want to be able to “read” them as deeply as possible, looking not only inside the frames but holding them up to “the light outside.” In this workshop, two UU historians will discuss the “ins and outs” of images they have found in the course of their research. With its buildings and artifacts, and people who breathed life into their churches, this gallery will illuminate both the apparent stories and subtexts, both the explicit and unstated aspects of their relationships. This program will aim to stimulate discussion, and time will be left for this group interaction. Below are examples of what this presentation included:
6. Two comparative images of women in the church -- from 1860, and 1904. The 1860 image is of a single woman who joined the church in 1889 and gave generously of her wealth to the fledgling congregation -- a rich story is connected with her. A cross on her brooch suggests she was a Christian. Yet, in her later years, she alone from her prominent Presbyterian family joined the Unitarians, an action which caused her to be "stricken from Mrs. Thaw's Social List." A small item in her will from 1913 is a pin, bequeathed to her cousin, which was "purchased in Rome on the spot where Bruno was burned." This surely says something about her theology. The 1904 photo shows five women standing in front of the new church building, completed that year. The women appear to be close and share a bond associated with the building, which so intentionally forms the background of the picture. One of the women is likely the same woman pictured in the earlier photograph, now 70 years old. The women are happy to share in each other's society -- and the larger narrative is that this was a positive & hopeful time for the church. As yet they had no idea of WWI and what it would bring.
photo from Kathleen Parker collection photo from Kathleen Parker collection
Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society  UU History & Heritage Convocation 2010 Proceedings
photo from Kathy Parker collection photo from Kathy Parker collection
3. The Davenport, Iowa, Unitarian Church's Christmas bazaar, 1903. A wide interior shot, the detail is so good, you can see the tables' arrangement, the hall's decorations, the handmade goods, and even read some of the signs listing prices. A write-up about the bazaar in the regional periodical, Unity, referenced the Arts and Crafts movement, while the hall, itself, tells us something about the trend toward the institutional church. 4. A St. Louis studio portrait of Abby Adams Cranch Eliot (1817-1908), and two of her daughters, Mary, 9, and Ada, under a year, c. 1848. All are dressed in plaid, Abby seated, Mary standing at her left, and Ada lying in Abby's lap. Dangling from Mary's neck on a ribbon is something square, maybe a (medicinal?) pouch or a small photograph. Ada is missing a shoe and sock, which seems strange for a studio portrait. Neither girl would live to adulthood. Lots of narrative here. 5. A shot of the second building constructed by the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh in 1893, this image shows a modest wooden frame edifice with a portico and hexagonal annex probably used as a parlor. Aside from marking the liberal society’s rebirth after twenty years lying dormant, this image leads into the story of how the building would ultimately be sold to a Lutheran congregation, who took it apart and reconstructed it in a town two hours north of Pittsburgh. The Lutheran reconstruction so completely changed the look of the building as to make it barely recognizable, save for the arched window at the front of the sanctuary. The visual contrast says much about how the Unitarians viewed their worship space versus how the Lutherans viewed their worship space. Oddly, the Lutheran records tell of buying a church building in Pittsburgh, but make no mention of buying it from a Unitarian congregation. In this case, the written and visual records both give evidence of the gulf that separated the two faiths.
2. A photo of the rural town of Smithton, PA (about 45 miles SE of Pittsburgh), where a small Universalist church was begun in 1860. The first building was constructed of brick, but had to be abandoned because a coal company set up coke ovens nearby, filling the air with smoke and related debris. This story begins with a photo of the coke ovens, which was submitted in the court case in which the congregation sued the coal company. A wooden church was constructed in 1878 to replace the brick church, which the coal company bought and used to house the mules that went into the mines. Another photo, taken from a distance, shows the new wooden church standing in the middle of a cluster of small homes set against a large open landscape, appearing to be in the middle of nowhere. A close-up photo shows the "common" detail of this church building at that time; then another shows the building in recent years. This sequence would offer a pertinent example of what happened to rural Universalist churches.
1. A photo of Mordecai De Lange -- minister-at- large to the West -- served the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh from 1850 to 1860 --and was instrumental in founding the Western Unitarian Conference with William Greenleaf Eliot in St. Louis. He had been converted from Judaism to Unitarianism under the influence of Eliot. The De Lange image will be paired with a close-up of quotations in his handwriting in which he speaks of the importance of the "post at Pittsburgh" and needing to "overcome the disgrace and dispiriting results of failure" in that city. He also asks for prayers among churches in New England to help the churches in the West. There is much here in terms of who De Lange was and the issues of western development that pertain to his work in ministry.
7. A pair of snapshots, one showing the Rev. Eleanor Gordon with a male colleague (name escapes me) in Iowa City, c. 1930; the other showing the Rev. Julia Budlong with her colleague William G. Eliot in Portland, Ore., c. 1927. The women's very small stature compared to the men's both gives us a metaphorical mirror of women's diminished standing as clergy and captures the actual fact of how physical stature helped serve men's reductive treatment of females. 8. A 1933 photo is of a woman of approximately 45 years of age, rather matronly, looking very distinguished and fashionable -- but also warm-hearted in her facial expression. She could represent almost any woman of that day -- who was not economically impoverished -- yet the reality of her life is that she served as a leader of young girls in teaching church school (was "much loved"), and after WWII, a younger women's Evening Alliance was named after her -- the Anderson Group. The rationale for this group in the 1950s was that some women needed to stay home with young children; in the 1920s, a similar evening group for women had been established for a very different reason: it was for women "who were employed during the day" -- thus a contrast in thinking (1920s versus 1950s) about women's place in church and society.