Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: bMS 550

Papers of Francis Ellingwood Abbot, 1815-1940.


Correspondence, compositions, genealogical material, and photographs of minister and founder of the Free Religious Association, Francis Ellingwood Abbot (Harvard A.B., 1859; Divinity School, 1859-1860; Ph.D., 1881; Meadville Theological School 1863). The collection also includes correspondence, diaries and photographs of Abbot's family members and friends.


  • 1815-1940.


There are no restrictions on access to this collection.


18 boxes

While much of this collection is specifically associated with Francis Ellingwood Abbot, it is a multi generational family archive, beginning with a journal Abbot's mother wrote in 1815 when she was eight years old, and ending with correspondence between E. Stanley Abbot (F. E. Abbot's son) and officials at Harvard University concerning the papers in this collection. In addition to family and personal correspondence, the collection includes journals, poetry, photographs, and memorabilia. Correspondence includes letters from Colonel T. W. Higginson, O. B. Frothingham, Henry James, Dorothy Dix, and Booker T. Washington. There are also printed materials with marginal annotations by F. E. Abbot.

Biographical / Historical

Francis Ellingwood Abbot (1836-1903), son of Joseph Hale Abbot and Fanny Ellingwood Larcom, married Katharine F. Loring in 1859 and graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor of arts degree that same year. He attended Harvard Divinity School from 1859-1860, but did not graduate. He was awarded a degree in theology from Meadville Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1863, and was ordained a Unitarian minister in Dover, New Hampshire in 1864. At the Unitarian conference in Syracuse in 1866 Abbot led a minority group who challenged the wording of the Unitarian constitution and preamble, claiming that it needed to be more liberal. The outcome of this dispute was the founding of the Free Religious Association in 1867.

The objectives of the Free Religious Association were to promote liberty of religious thought, increase humanitarian action and respect for reason, and to encourage a scientific study of theology. The organization attracted members from various Protestant denominations, especially from the Unitarians, as well as some non-Christian religions such as Judaism. Alongside Abbot, the original founders of this Association were William J. Potter, John Weiss, Dr. Cyrus A. Bartol, Edward C. Towne, and Octavius B. Frothingham. Abbot was editor of the Index, the publication of the Free Religious Association from 1870-1880. Abbot was also awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1881.


Organized into the following series:

  1. Series I. Family correspondence
  2. Series II. General correspondence
  3. Series III. Writings and biographical material of Francis Ellingwood Abbot
  4. Series IV. Free Religious Association
  5. Series V. Other materials
  6. Series VI. Genealogy
  7. Series VII. Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Katharine Abbot Wells Leffler, 1990. Many of the photographs in this collection were donated by Theodore S. Abbot in 1983.

Papers of Francis Ellingwood Abbot, 1815-1940.: 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