Sunday, April 30, 2017

Meadville's Other Major College

The Unitarian College, 1908
From the mid 1800’s up through the early 1900’s Meadville had not just one college in the city, but two--Allegheny College and the Meadville Theological School. This was unique as most other cities in Pennsylvania at the time were lucky to boast one school of higher learning if any. While Allegheny College still exists and is flourishing within the community the same cannot be said about the Meadville Theological School it was closed here in 1926, but it lives on as part of the Meadville-Lombard Theological School of the University of Chicago.

Origins

Rev. Frederick Huidekoper
The Meadville Theological School originally opened its doors in 1844, and was founded by Harm Jan Huidekoper. Mr. Huidekoper had discovered and converted to Unitarianism and wanted to spread the doctrine. The principles held by the religion promoted equity, and justice in human relations, a desire for a world community promoting peace, liberty, and justice for all, acceptance of one another, and the use of democratic processes. The school was run by a combination of Unitarian and Liberal Christians, and did not require any sort of doctrinal test for entrance into the school only a divine belief in Christianity. This allowed for a wider range of people to be admitted.

The school rested between Alden and Arch Streets on a hill towards the eastern edge of the city. Rev. Frederick Huidekoper had donated four acres of land for use as the school grounds that would later house the buildings out of which the school operated. It operated out of a brick building that had been built for Cumberland Church, and was home to the chapel, library and classrooms.

Growth and Influence

Hunneywell Hall, 1910
In its earliest years the school was supported by, and survived off of donations made by three churches in New York City along with proceeds from the American Unitarian Association in Boston. By 1851 the school, through major fundraising efforts, was able to raise enough money for a $50,000 endowment. After this initial fundraiser the school began to grow and thrive. A formal building was erected in 1856 it housed classrooms and a chapel. A library was added in 1890 through the generous contributions of the Huidekoper family after whom the building was appropriately named. In 1903 Hunnywell Hall was added to the school, which housed the gymnasium as well as a dining hall for the students making the school a bit more modern and accommodating.

Unitarian College Library built in 1890
The Theological School’s first class of three students graduated in 1846. The graduating classes would continue to be small over the course of the following years, graduating at most up to twelve students in one year, and in other years no one at all. Despite it’s relatively small size the school played a prominent role in the beginning of Meadville’s history, and as the city grew so too did the school’s importance within the community and within religious circles around the country. (The school’s influence had a more personal impact for some as well. A 1902 publication heralded the fact that to date, 36 male students had all married Meadville women, as did 6 female students with their husbands.)

The area’s strong religious and educational foundation was further fortified by the extended efforts of the Theological School and its leadership beyond the campus. The school’s trustee’s not only served the school and it’s functions, but also operated a trust which aided inadequately paid ministers, improved the libraries of ministers, and assisted parishes in forming ministerial study resources. In this capacity the school’s influence extended beyond just Meadville, as it supported the efforts of the region’s larger religious base.

Relocation

The Meadville-Lombard School, Univ. of Chicago, 1960's
The school thrived and functioned as an important part of the community until the early nineteen hundreds when a push for the school’s movement to Chicago gained momentum. Relocating the school had been explored before in the 1880’s with Cleveland as a possible location. Simple economics necessitated such a consideration. Growth in the area couldn’t keep pace with the ever-growing centers of industry beyond its borders, and as more and more students began to travel to work in these larger cities, admission and financial support for the Theological School began to wane. This, combined with a shift in social consciousness had a debilitating effect on the school.

Ultimately, the decision to move the school was one of practicality to make the students studies easier. The Huidekoper family played a prominent role in keeping the school in Meadville as long as they did, and played a large part in the workings of the school itself. Despite their best efforts, and in the interest of the students the school was moved to Chicago and incorporated into the University of Chicago in 1926, where today, the Meadville Lombard offers a variety of advanced degrees in religious studies with an emphasis in Unitarian Universalist doctrine. Today, a number of publications from the early school can easily be found through online resources, further testament of the school’s lasting legacy.


Sources:

Bates, Samuel. Our County and its People. Ferguson and Company, 1899.
Moore, William, and Elizabeth Rekas. Meadville. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
Meadville Theological School website. www.meadville.edu.
History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville. www.uumeadville.org.

About the Author
Ariana Sabatini is a junior at Allegheny College studying History and English. She has grown up around history her entire life, and has deep connections to the Crawford County region and it’s colorful history. A native of Titusville Pennsylvania she has a strong background in the history of the oil region having come from a family that lived and worked in the oil industry. She is excited to be serve as an intern to the Crawford County Historical society this spring, and will be interning at Gettysburg this summer. She hopes to use her time with the historical society to broaden her knowledge of the area’s rich history, and share those findings with the public through her work on the Society’s social media pages.  




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