Deepening Faith. Living Well. Enacting Justice.

A Brief History of Unitarian Universalism

Unitarians organized churches in Poland and Romania 450 years ago, during a brief period of religious freedom in Eastern Europe. A few Polish Unitarians, fleeing later persecution during the 1600s, went to England, bringing with them such radical ideas as the use of logic and reason as an inherently religious act.

The Puritan settlers of New England brought with them the seeds of these ideas and, by the early 1800s, many of the oldest Puritan churches were Unitarian. From these churches came such famous American writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson (also a Unitarian minister), and Louisa May Alcott. Four U.S. Presidents have been Unitarians. Read biographies of famous UUs.

Universalism began as the belief that all people would go to heaven. This religious principle was brought to America by German Pietist Christian settlers of Pennsylvania during the 1700s. Universalism spread to farmers and working-class people in New England and the frontier and by 1860 was the sixth largest religion in the United States. P.T. Barnum (of circus fame) was a passionate Universalist

There is a long tradition of action for social justice in UU history. Over 125 years ago, Unitarians and Universalists were the first churches to ordain women to the ministry. From these churches came many suffragists, such as Susan B. Anthony. In the 1930s, nearly half of the signers of the civil rights document, the Humanist Manifesto, were Unitarians and Universalists.

The Unitarian and Universalist churches merged in 1961, and Unitarian Universalists remain a vital presence in American life today.

Read more about UU historical origins and about various UU philosophies, projects, and groups.

chalice symbolThe flaming chalice is used by UU congregations everywhere, uniting members in worship and symbolizing the spirit of our religion. During the Nazi regime, it was used as a badge for agents moving refugees to freedom and as an identifying seal on papers used for this resistance effort. Today, "the flaming chalice, like our faith, stands open to receive new truths that pass the tests of reason, justice, and compassion." Read more about the UU chalice.


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