Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: bMS 378

Eliot, Frederick May, 1889-1958. Presidential Papers, American Unitarian Association, 1936-1958.


Unitarian minister Frederick May Eliot was president of the American Unitarian Association from 1937 to 1958. The collection contains correspondence of Frederick May Eliot with Unitarian ministers, including A. Powell Davies and Stephen Hole Fritchman; correspondence with Unitarian churches; material dealing with the Beacon Press and the Christian Register; material dealing with committees and commissions of the American Unitarian Association and related organizations; correspondence with non-Unitarians (Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Willard L. Sperry, Leverett Saltonstall, T.S. Eliot, et al.); and some personal papers.


  • Creation: 1936-1958.


48 cubic feet (38 boxes)

The following notes on the collection were supplied by Walter Donald Kring:

The first section is general correspondence with many Unitarian ministers. Since this material is dated before the merger with the Universalists, any correspondence with Universalists is included with the section on "Other Denominations." The collection includes correspondence from: Louis C. Cornish, Dale DeWitt, Samuel A. Eliot, Dana McLean Greeley, Clayton Brooks Hale, Donald S. Harrington, Clara Cook Helvie (the only women represented), Randall S. Hilton, John Haynes Holmes, Charles R. Joy, Robert Killam, Walter Donald Kring, Harry C. Meserve, Irving R. Murray, George F. Patterson, Robert Raible, William Brooks Rice, Frank G. Ricker, Wallace W. Robbins, Harry B. Scholefield, Harvey Swanson, Pierre van Paassen, and Earl Morse Wilbur.

The papers of A. Powell Davies are filed separately as the collection is large and important. So also is the large collection of the letters of Stephen H. Fritchman, the most controversial person of the "Eliot Era." A great deal of material about Dr. Fritchman is also to be found in "The Christian Register" section.

The section listed as correspondence with persons other than Unitarian ministers contains some interesting names, such as Percy W. Gardner and Richard Lloyd-Jones. Especially interesting is the correspondence with and about Adlai Stevenson, and pertains as to whether he was a professing Unitarian or a Presbyterian.

The correspondence with ministers from individual Unitarian churches usually deals with some particular problem of that church.

One of the most interesting sections is "The Beacon Press," and the publication of the Paul Blanshard book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, in 1948-1949. Also the publication of the Albert Schweitzer books. There is material on the separation of the Beacon Press as a separate corporation when Joseph McCarthy threatened to sue, and the last struggle of Eliot's life over the dismissal of Thomas Bledsoe as editor when he signed contracts for several score of novels. Eliot was fiercely loyal to his staff and we were to meet in New York City to discuss the matter after he preached at All Souls Church the day before his death. My train from Ithaca was late due to a snow storm, and Dr. Eliot died at the gate to the garden of All Souls Church.

The Beacon Press matter about W. Forbes Robertson concerns the dismissal of a long-time editor whom Eliot wanted replaced. "The Christian Register" folders deal with the great controversy over the dismissal of Stephen H. Fritchman in 1947 for following what was termed "the communist part line" as editor of the "Register." It is a good indication as to what was happening in the American churches after World War II.

"Unitarian Advance" essentially represented a mark-time project to study the Unitarian movement while World War II was in progress.

The Commission on Appraisal correspondence has to do with the commission of which Dr. Eliot was the Chairman in 1935-1937. It did an extensive study of the moribund denomination and the good work eventually led to Dr. Eliot's election to the Presidency.

The section on Unitarians and Universalists for Political and Economic Freedom is most interesting in the way that Eliot handled a strongly right wing group within the denomination.

The National Committee of Free Unitarians, also called "The Committee of 14," strongly criticized Eliot's administration. Again it tended to be a very conservative group politically and economically.

The correspondence with Frank Ricker and the Pacific Coast Unitarian Council is most interesting for Ricker goes into great detail about the problems in the west.

Eliot was very active at the Harvard Divinity School and was on the Committee to raise the new endowment. He was also on the Board of Visitors and the Board of Preachers.

Eliot also served on the Board of Trustees of Mount Holyoke College and was the President of the Board at the time of his death.

In the FME personal files is the schedule of his New York visit and the outline of his sermon. (Eliot wrote out very few sermons.) The correspondence about his nomination for President is extensive and relates to the candidacy of who later withdrew.

It was a pleasure for me to put these papers of Dr. Eliot in order. I knew him very well as I was the Secretary of the denomination from 1953 until his death in 1958 and was the Chairman and then President of the Board of Beacon Press and Beacon Press Inc. We never made that appointment in New York City to talk about the sad affairs of the Beacon Press. I arrived late only to view his body. But in these papers one gets the spirit of the man, perhaps our best churchman since Henry Whitney Bellows.

Walter Donald Kring, March 24, 1980

Biographical / Historical

Frederick May Eliot (1889-1958) was born in Boston and graduated Harvard College with an AB in 1911 and an AM in 1912. He was a Harvard College instructor of government in 1912-1913 and attended Harvard Divinity School from 1912 to 1915. He was ordained to the Unitarian ministry in 1915 at the First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also served at the Unity Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He served as president of the Young People's Religious Union from 1916 to 1918 and served as an army chaplain in France during World War I from 1918 to 1919. He chaired the Unitarian Commission on Appraisal from 1934 to 1937. In 1937 he was elected president of the American Unitarian Association and held the post until his death in 1958. While president, he established the Unitarian Service Committee in 1940 in order to aid Europeans under the Nazi regime. He served as a trustee of Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts) from 1940 to 1958, and the College designated its religious services building as the Eliot House. He was chaplain of the Massachusetts State Senate from 1948 to 1948 and again from 1951 to 1958. He was on the Board of the Massachusetts Bible Society, served as a director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He authored The Unwrought Iron: An Introduction to Religion (1920).


Organized into the following series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence with individual Unitarian ministers
  2. Series II. Correspondence with A. Powell Davies
  3. Series III. Correspondence with Stephen H. Fritchman
  4. Series IV. Miscellaneous correspondence with non-Unitarian ministers
  5. Series V. Correspondence with Unitarian churches
  6. Series VI. American Unitarian Association departments
  7. Series VII. Department of the Ministry
  8. Series VIII. Unitarian committees and commissions
  9. Series IX. Unitarian organizations
  10. Series X. Theological schools and related institutions
  11. Series XI. Correspondence with overseas Unitarians
  12. Series XII. Correspondence with denominations or persons other than Unitarians
  13. Series XIII. Mount Holyoke College
  14. Series XIV. Frederick May Eliot personal files
  15. Series XV. Sermons
  16. Series XVI. Radio talks
  17. Series XVII. Addresses and talks
  18. Series XVIII. Book reviews
  19. Series XIX. Articles
  20. Series XX. Unitarian Horizons
  21. Series XXI. Funeral remarks
  22. Series XXII. Prayers
  23. Series XXIII. Miscellaneous

Related Materials

See also bMS 70, bMS 111, bMS 173, and bMS 578.

Eliot, Frederick May, 1889-1958. Presidential Papers, American Unitarian Association: A Finding Aid.
Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Divinity School Library, Harvard University Repository

Special Collections at Harvard Divinity School Library preserves and makes accessible primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School's evolving focus on global religious studies. Known as Andover-Harvard Theological Library since 1911, it was renamed the Harvard Divinity School Library in 2021.

45 Francis Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138-1911 USA
(617) 496-2485