One of the most important of the philanthropies undertaken by the early Unitarians was the ministry to the poor and unchurched in Boston, usually known as the ministry at large. It began in 1822, came under the direction of the American Unitarian Association and the shaping hand of Dr. Joseph Tuckerman in 1826, and was taken in charge by the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches in 1834. It was not begun by Tuckerman, though its origin is usually attributed to him. Even before 1822 attempts had been made to establish missions amongst the poor by the evangelical denominations; but their work was not thoroughly organized, and it had reached no efficient results when Tuckerman entered upon his labors. The work of Tuckerman was to take up what had been tentatively begun by others, give it a definite purpose and method, and so to inform it with his own genius for charity that it became a great philanthropy in its intent and in its methods.
Association of Young Men.

When the Hancock Grammar School-house in the north end of Boston was being erected, a young man, in passing it on a September evening, said to a companion, “Why cannot we have a Sunday-school here?” The proposition was received with favor, and the two discussed plans while they continued their walk. They met frequently to mature their methods of procedure, and they invited others to join them in the undertaking. On the evening of October 2, 1822, these two young men–Frederick T. Gray and Benjamin H. Greene–met with Moses Grant, William P. Rice, and others, to give more careful consideration to their purpose of forming a society for mutual religious improvement.[1]

These young men met with little encouragement, and for some time there was small prospect of their succeeding in their undertaking. They continued to meet weekly, however; and on November 27 they formed The Association of Young Men for their own Mutual Improvement and for the Religious Instruction of the Poor. In 1824 the name was changed to The Association for Religious Improvement. The members met at each other’s houses weekly, for the purpose of considering topics which related to their own personal improvement or to the wants of the community, always keeping in view the fact that their own religious growth must lie at the foundation of any great good which could be done by them for society. By degrees their number increased; and during the six years following, as appears from the records, the subjects to which their meetings were successively devoted were the desirableness of employing a missionary and building a mission-house, the condition and wants of vagrant children, the diffusion of Christianity in India, the importance of issuing tracts and other religions publications, the means and best method of improving our state prisons, the utility of forming a Unitarian Association, the best means to be adopted to abolish intemperance, the character of theatrical entertainments, the want of infant schools, and the best methods which could be taken to aid in the promotion of peace. All of these subjects were then comparatively new, and they were but just beginning to attract attention. Their importance was by no means generally understood, and least of all was the place which they were soon to occupy in public estimation anticipated.[2] The Association was discontinued in December, 1835.
Preaching to the Poor.

One of the first enterprises entered upon by this society was the securing of preaching for the poor and those connected with no religious organization. In this effort they had the co-operation of the younger Henry Ware, then the minister of the Second Church, and of John G. Palfrey, then the minister of the Brattle Street Church. In November, 1822, Henry Ware began these meetings; and four series of them were held throughout the winter, in Charter Street, in Hatters’ or Creek Square, in Pitts Court, and in Spring Street. The Charter Street meetings were at first held in a room of a primary school, and then in a small chapel that had been built by a benevolent man for teaching and preaching purposes. In this place Mr. Ware was assisted by Dr. Jenks of the Christian denomination, and the chapel was afterwards occupied by the latter as a minister at large. The meetings in Pitts Court were also held in a school-room. Those in Hatters’ Square occupied a room in a large tenement house and “here the accommodations, and probably the audience, were of a humbler character than elsewhere.”[3]
Tuckerman as Minister to the Poor.

Early in the year 1826 Dr. Joseph Tuckerman expressed his willingness to devote himself to this ministry; and the American Unitarian Association was appealed to, that the necessary financial support might be secured. Dr. Tuckerman had been for twenty-five years the parish minister in Chelsea, but his health was such that he had been obliged to relinquish that position. On September 4 the sum of $600 was appropriated to the support of Dr. Tuckerman for one year as a missionary among the poor in Boston; and Ware, Barrett, and Gannett were made a committee to ascertain what amount of money could be raised for this purpose. It was thought wise not to use the regular funds of the Association for so special and local an object. The women of the Boston churches were therefore appealed to in behalf of this cause; and during the first year contributions were received from those connected with the congregations of the Brattle Street, Federal Street, West, New South, New North, Twelfth, and Chauncey Place Churches, amounting to $712. These contributions by the women of the churches were continued until the Benevolent Fraternity was organized.

Tuckerman entered upon his work November 5, 1826. On the evening of that day he met with the Association for, Religious Improvement, and discussed with its members the work to be undertaken. He began at once the visiting of the poor and the study of their condition in the several parts of the city, though confining himself largely to the north end. In making his first quarterly report to the Unitarian Association, February 5, 1827, he said that he had taken fifty families into his pastoral charge. He had given special attention to the children, had arranged that those should be sent to school who had not previously attended, and provided them with shoes and clothes where these were necessary. He had also aided the sick, provided necessaries for those who were helpless and deserving, secured work for those out of employment, and given religious consolation and correction where these were required.

After Dr. Tuckerman had entered upon his work of visiting the poor, the Young Men’s Association arranged to have him resume the discontinued evening meetings. They accordingly secured the use of a room up two flights of stairs, in what was known as the “Circular Building,” at the corner of Merrimac and Portland Streets. In this rude place, that had been used as a paint-shop, services were begun on Sunday evening, December 3, 1826. Tuckerman recorded in his diary that he had “a large and very attentive audience”;[4] and on the same evening he met at the house of Dr. Channing “a large circle of ladies and gentlemen, who formed a society to help him visit.”[5] As soon as services were begun in the Circular Building, it was proposed to form a Sunday-school; and on a very cold December day seven teachers and three children met to inaugurate it. They hovered about the little stove, by means of which the room was warmed, and began their work. The school grew rapidly, soon filled the room, and was given the name of the Howard School. Very soon, also, this room became too small to accommodate the attendants at the preaching services. In recognition of this need the Friend Street Free Chapel was erected, and opened for use on November 1, 1828.
Tuckerman’s Methods.

During the first year of his ministry Dr. Tuckerman reported quarterly to the American Unitarian Association, and then semi-annually. In all there were printed four of the quarterly reports and fifteen of the others. It was not his custom in these reports to confine himself to an account of his work, which usually received only a brief statement at the end; but he discussed important topics relating to the condition of the poor and their needs. His third quarterly report was devoted to a consideration of the remedies to be used for confirmed intemperance. Others of the topics upon which he reported were the condition of the poor in cities, the duties of a minister at large (a title invented by him, which he preferred to that of city or domestic missionary), the effects of poverty on the moral life of the poor, the means of relieving pauperism, the causes of poverty and the social remedies, the several classes amongst the poor and the best means of reaching each of them, the means to be employed for the recovery of those sunk in pauperism, poor laws and outdoor relief. Among the subjects he discussed incidentally, and sometimes at considerable length, were the duty of providing seats for the poor in the churches at a small rental, the employment of children, education as a means of saving children from growing up to a life of vagrancy and pauperism, the wages of the poor and how they can be increased.[6] He was especially interested in the rescuing of children from ignorance and vice, and he strongly advocated the establishment of schools for the instruction of dull children and those whose education had been neglected. Through his efforts the Broad Street Infant School was established, in order to reach the younger children of the poor. In 1829 he made a careful study of the religious condition of the poor; and he found that out of a population of 55,000, which the city then contained, there were 4,200 families, or about 18,000 persons, who were not connected with any of the churches or who did not attend them with any degree of regularity. This gave him an opportunity to urge upon the public more strongly than before the importance of procuring free chapels, and a sufficient number of ministers to care for this large unchurched population. One or two ministers had labored amongst the poor before he began his work, and three or four had entered upon the same line of effort since he had done so; but these workers were too few in number to meet the large demands made upon them.

In carrying on his work, Dr. Tuckerman sought out all who were in need of his services, without distinction of nationality, color, creed, social position, or moral condition. If he gave the preference to any, it was those who were the most wretched and debased. “It is the first object of the ministry at large, never to be lost sight of,” he wrote, “and to which no other is to be preferred, as far as shall be possible to extend its offices to the poor and the poorest, to the low and the lowest, to the most friendless and most uncared for, the most miserable.”[7] He recognized the individuality of the poorest and the most vicious: he sought to foster it, and to make it the basis of moral reform and social recovery.
Organization of Charities.

The influence of Tuckerman’s work was soon felt outside the city in which it was carried on. The people of the state came to take an interest in it, and to feel that its principles should be applied throughout the commonwealth. Therefore, a commission was appointed by the lower house of the state legislature, February 29, 1832, to inquire into the condition of the poor in all parts of the state, and to make such report as might be the basis of needed legislation. Dr. Tuckerman was made a member of this commission. The work of investigation largely fell upon him, as well as the writing of the report. His suggestions were accepted, and the results were beneficent. In the mean time the work of visiting the poor was carried on by a young man, Charles F. Barnard, then a student in the Divinity School, who entered upon his duties in April. In October he was joined by Frederick T. Gray, the founder of the Association for Religious Improvement and of the first Sunday-schools for the poor. These workers were ordained in the Federal Street Church on the evening of November 5, 1834, after having thoroughly tested their capacities for the task they had assumed.

Dr. Tuckerman set forth all the principles which have since been described under the name of “scientific charity,” and he put them all into practice. In the spring of 1832 he organized a company of visitors to the poor, the members of which were to act as friends and advisers of those who were needy. In October, 1833, he brought about a union of the ministers at large of all denominations for purposes of consultation and mutual helpfulness. This union resulted in a meeting held in February, 1834, at which those interested in the proper care of the poor took counsel together as to the best methods to be followed. At a later meeting in March, it was decided to secure the aid of all the charitable societies in the city with a view to their co-operation and the prevention of the duplication of relief. There was accordingly organized the Association of Delegates from the Benevolent Societies of Boston, the objects of which were “to adopt measures for the most effectual prevention of fraud and deception in the applicants for charity; to obtain accurate and thorough information with regard to the situation, character, and wants of the poor; and generally to interchange knowledge, experience, and advice upon all the important subjects connected with the duties and responsibilities of Benevolent Societies.” The principle upon which this organization acted was that “the public good requires that the character and circumstances of the poor should be thoroughly investigated and known by those who administer our public charities, in order that all the relief which a pure and enlarged benevolence dictates may be freely bestowed, and that almsgiving may not encourage extravagance or vice, nor injuriously affect the claims of society at large upon the personal exertions and moral character of its members.” The first annual report of this Association, which appeared in October, 1835, was written by Dr. Tuckerman, and was one of the best he produced. He laid down certain rules he had accepted as the results of his experience: that beggary was to be broken up; that all misapplications of charity should be reported to the board of visitors; that those asking for alms should be relieved only at their homes and after investigation; that industry, forethought, economy, and self-denial were to be fostered in order to prevent pauperism, and that no help should be given where it led to dependence and reliance upon charity. Registration, investigation, prevention of duplication of alms, and the fostering of self-help were the methods brought to bear by Dr. Tuckerman in the organization of this Association.[8]
Benevolent Fraternity of Churches.

In the spring of 1834 the part of the ministry at large in Boston supported by Unitarians consisted of Dr. Tuckerman’s work in visiting and ministering to the poor in their own homes, two chapels, in which Barnard and Gray preached and conducted their Sunday-schools, and the office of the Visitors to the Poor. In order more effectually to organize the support of this work, the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches was then suggested. The Second, Brattle Street, New South, New North, King’s Chapel, Federal Street, Hollis Street, Twelfth, and Purchase Street Churches entered upon the work; and there was organized in each a society for the purpose of aiding the ministry at large. Each of these societies was privileged to send five delegates to a central body that should undertake the support and direction of that ministry. At a meeting held April 27, 1834, an organization of such delegates was effected. It was distinctly stated that “it was not the wish to add another to the eleemosynary institutions of the city to which the poor might resort either for the supply of the comforts or for the relief of necessities which belong to their bodily condition”; but the object of the Fraternity was described as being “the improvement of the moral state of the poor and irreligious of this city by the support of the ministry at large, and by other means.”[9]
Other Ministers at Large.

Dr. Tuckerman continued his work of visiting the poor, so far as his health permitted, until his death, which occurred April 20, 1840. His assistants and successors continued the work of visitation outside of their own congregations. In August, 1844, Rev. Warren Burton was assigned to this special form of ministry, and to that of a systematic investigation of the condition of the poor. He gave much attention to the needs of children, and made inquiry as to intemperance, licentiousness, and other forms of social degeneration. He was a diligent and successful worker until his ministry came to an end in October, 1848. For about a year, in 1847, Rev. William Ware also devoted himself to the house-to-house ministry; but failing health compelled his withdrawal. In April, 1845, Rev. Andrew Bigelow took charge of the Pitts Street Chapel for a few months; and then for thirty-two years, until his death, in April, 1877, he continued to visit the poor. With the assistance of his wife, he went about to the homes of the people, administering to their physical needs, acting as their friend and adviser, and giving them such moral instruction and spiritual consolation as was possible.

For about one year, beginning in March, 1856, Rev. A. Rumpff visited German families in behalf of the Fraternity. He was succeeded in 1857 by Rev. A. Übelacker, who continued the work for two or three years. From 1860 to 1864 Professor J.B. Torricelli carried on a ministry amongst the Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, and other natives of southern Europe resident in Boston. After the death of Dr. Bigelow this personal ministry was discontinued, owing to the increase in the number of other agencies for doing this kind of work.
Ministry at Large in Other Cities.

The work of the ministry at large was not confined to Boston. The original vote of the Unitarian Association establishing it was that it should be aided in New York as well. In December, 1836, Rev. William Henry Channing entered on such a ministry in New York; and it was continued there for some years. It was also established in Charlestown, Roxbury, Cambridge, Salem, Portsmouth, Portland, Lowell, New Bedford, Providence, Worcester, and elsewhere in New England. With the aid of the Unitarian Association it was undertaken in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis. In 1845 Rev. Lemuel Capen was carrying on the ministry in Baltimore, Rev. W.H. Farmer in Louisville, and Rev. Mordecai de Lange in St. Louis. The ministry at large was begun in Cincinnati in 1830, and was in charge for a short time of Christopher P. Cranch, who was succeeded by Rev. James H. Perkins, a most efficient worker, who soon became the popular minister of the Unitarian church in that city. It was established in St. Louis in 1840, and a day school for colored children was opened in 1841. A mission-house was built, and Rev. Charles H.A. Dall was put in charge. In 1841 the Mission Free School was founded, and now has a matron, nursery, kindergarten, Sunday-school, with lectures and entertainments. Dall was succeeded by Mordecai de Lange, Corlis B. Ward, Carlton A. Staples, and Thomas L. Eliot. The City Mission, as it was called, grew so large that in 1860 no one denomination could carry it on; and it became the St. Louis Provident Association, which has done an extensive and important work.[10]

In July, 1850, was formed the Association of Ministers at Large in New England, of which Rev. Charles F. Barnard was for many years the president, and Rev. Horatio Wood, of Lowell, the secretary. It met quarterly, or oftener, essays were read on subjects connected with the work of ministering to the poor, and the special phases of that work were discussed. In the spring of 1841 Rev. Charles F. Barnard began the publication of the Journal of the Ministry at Large as a sixteen-page octavo monthly, which was continued until 1860, part of the time as The Record; but during the later years it was issued irregularly.

In 1838 Dr. Tuckerman published The Principles and Results of the Ministry at Large in Boston, which embodied an account of his work for twelve years, and the conclusions at which he had arrived. It did much to give direction and purpose to the ministry, and to extend its influence. It can be read with interest and profit at the present time; for it contains all the principles since put into practice in many forms of charitable activity. Dr. Andrew P. Peabody truly said of Tuckerman’s enterprise in behalf of the poor that it “was the earliest organized effort in that direction. Its success and its permanent establishment as an institution were due to its founder’s strenuous perseverance, his self-sacrifice, his apostolic fervor of spirit, and the power of his influence.”[11] Joseph Story spoke of the ministry at large as being one of “extraordinary success.” “I deem it,” he wrote, “one of the most glorious triumphs of Christian charity over the cold and reluctant doubts of popular opinion.” The labors of Dr. Tuckerman “initiated a new sphere of Protestant charity,” as his nephew well said.[12] “This has been the most characteristic, the best organized, and by far the most successful co-operative work that the Unitarian body has ever attempted by way of church action,” was the testimony of Dr. Joseph Henry Allen.[13]

[1] The record of the first meeting states the objects for which the young men met, as follows: “Feeling impressed with the importance of giving religious instruction to the youths of that class of our poor who are destitute of any regard for their future well-being, and who, from being under the care of vicious parents, have no attention paid to their moral conduct; and also wishing to become acquainted with those persons of the different religious societies who profess to be followers of the same Master, they agreed to associate themselves. Having great reason to believe that God will bless their humble efforts for the spread of pure religion and virtue, and looking to Him for guidance, the meeting was organized.”

[2] Ephraim Peabody, Christian Examiner, January, 1853, LIV. 93.

[3] John Ware, Life of Henry Ware, Jr., 132-135.

[4] The secretary of the Association for Religious Improvement made this record of the meeting: “December 3, 1826. The Lectures under the conduct of the Association commenced this evening at 6-1/2 o’clock at Smith’s circular building, corner of Merrimack and Portland Streets, which was very fully attended by those for whom it was intended. The services were of the first order. Rev. Dr. Tuckerman officiated.”

[5] Eber R. Butler, Lend a Hand, V. 693, October, 1890.

[6] The substance of these reports has been reproduced in a book edited by E.E. Hale in 1874, Joseph Tuckerman on the Elevation of the Poor.

[7] The Principles and Results of the Ministry at Large in Boston, 61.

[8] Ministry at Large in Boston, 124.

[9] The following is a list of the churches now maintained by the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches, with the date when each was formed, or when it came under Unitarian management: Bulfinch Place Church, successor to Wend Street Chapel (1828); Pitts Street Chapel (1836), 1870. North End Union (begun in 1837); Hanover Street Chapel (1854); Parmenter Street Chapel (1884), 1892. Morgan Chapel, 1884. Channing Church, Dorchester, successor to Washington Village Chapel, 1854. The Suffolk Street Chapel (1837), succeeded by the New South Free Church (1867), continues its life in the Parker Memorial, 1889. The Warren Street Chapel (1832), now known as the Barnard Memorial Church, continues its work, but is not under the direction of the Benevolent Fraternity. In 1901 the churches constituting the Benevolent Fraternity were the First Church, Second Church, Arlington Street Church, South Congregational Church, King’s Chapel, Church of the Disciples; First Parish, Dorchester; First Parish, Brighton; Hawes Church South Boston; First Parish, West Roxbury; First Congregational Society, Jamaica Plain.

[10] In 1830 the British and Foreign Unitarian Association began to consider the value of this ministry, and in 1832 the first mission was opened in London. In 1835 was formed the London Domestic Mission Society for the purpose of carrying on the work in that city. In 1833 a similar movement was made in Manchester, and in 1835 was organized the Liverpool Domestic Mission Society. The visit of Dr. Tuckerman to England in 1834 gave large interest to this movement. He then met Mary Carpenter, and she was led by him to begin her great work of charity. It was during the next year that she entered upon the work in Bristol that made her name widely known. In 1847 there were two ministers at large in London, two in Birmingham, and one each in Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Halifax, and Leicester. The writings of Dr. Tuckerman were translated into French by the Baron de Gerando, a leading philanthropist and statesman of that day, who praised them highly, and introduced their methods into Paris and elsewhere. Of Tuckerman’s book on the ministry at large M. de Gerando said that it throws “invaluable light upon the condition and wants of the indigent and the influence which an enlightened charity can exert.” He also said of Tuckerman that “he knew the difference between pauperism and poverty,” thus recognizing one of those cardinal distinctions made by the philanthropist in his efforts to aid the poor to self-help and independence.

[11] Memorial History of Boston, III. 477.

[12] Sprague’s Annals of the Unitarian Pulpit, 345, the words quoted being from the pen of Henry T. Tuckerman, the well-known essayist.

[13] Our Liberal Movement in Theology, 59.