History needs to repeat: a ministry for affordable housing

I was reading the Universalist Register for 1912 to plan ahead for blog posts for next year. (What I don’t do for my readers.)

I noted a ministry affiliated with the old Massachusetts Convention: The Bethany Union for Young Women.

Its object is to maintain a home for respectable young women who are forced by the keen competition of a large city, to work for small wages.

Gauging by the horror stories I’ve heard in D.C. about housing, particularly among the 20-something set, even moderate wages get ground to nothing under the weight of student loans and a heritage of real estate speculation. Could use such a ministry in D.C.

It’s moved from its former location in the South End, but the Bethany Union still exists in Boston.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Where do you find the Universalist Registers? We should all be reading them more. It’s interesting to note the institutions created by Us and Us in Chicago e.g. Abraham Lincoln Center, the Darrow Center, that still survive but w/o UU participation any longer (to my knowledge) or even recognition by UUs that we once were active in building such institutions.

  2. I find them in Google Books, but the early 19-teens is about as recent as they go. For now.

    Interesting, the Abraham Lincoln Center was one thing I had in mind when I linked Jenk Jones with the steampunks, the Wisconsin Dells notwithstanding. I remember when it was listed in the UUA directory. (Perhaps it still is, in some fashion.)

  3. I think All Souls the only surviving link to that era. The original building is still there though. You can look at it with google maps. It’s part of Illinois’s Northeastern University. The ALC moved into a different building a few blocks away.

    I don’t know what’s become of the Darrow center lately. The Chicago Reader had this to say about it in 1991 as a little background over a dispute between Darrow Center and Hull House. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/bad-blood-between-do-gooders-hull-house-vs-the-clarence-darrow-center/Content?oid=878413

    “The Darrow Center was formed in the 1950s as part of the Unitarian Church’s efforts to help communities around the city. Then, as now, it was based in LeClaire Courts, a low-rise Chicago Housing Authority complex. Over the years there was some tension in the community as blacks moved in and whites out, but the center continued to earn high marks for its day-care, health-care, family-planning, and job-training programs. In the last decade, under the direction of former executive director Stan Horn, community residents affiliated with Darrow even opened their own catering businesses and a bus service for reverse commuters. ”

    LeClarie Courts closed recently. A correction to the above History is that the Universalists seemed far more active in the Darrow Center (originally the Ryder Center) than the Unitarians. It’s a curiously forgotten piece of our History given the emphasis on race, white privelege and all. UUs were very much in the forfront of civil rights and community work and a assessment of how that all went would be an interesting study.

  4. Footnote: The ALC notes the All Soul’s connection in their History http://abelink.org/about/history/ Curtis Reece lived in the building in the 50s too I think.

    I’m guessing UUs got out of the business of running centers like ALC, Darrow Center (it joined Hull House) and Bethany above, because at some point in the 60’s UUs realized they didn’t have ths skill sets to run programs like this. But that’s just a guess. It’s a history that should be written, and re evaluated in light of your comments on this post. Maybe we should get back into it.

  5. My impression is that the UUA actually got out of these type centers mainly because of the massive deficit of the late 1960s. The official reason at the time (if I recall what I read correctly) was the desire to only do short term projects. A lot of old projects were given the boot.

  6. The 1960’s UU exodus from local ministry centers was not merely a product of the denomination’s financial crisis. That era was also plagued with an ideology that said, “If the social transformation can not be systematic, then we should not do the program.” This was the official reason for the progressive abandonment of the Universalist founded Jordan School in Virginia, which served the educational needs of African Americans around Norfolk. In other words, the thought was to act globally or not at all. Local social ministry needs were viewed as too limited and parochial.

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