The Ladies Benevolent Society of the First Universalist Church of Cincinnati

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

Located in our archives is a book containing the minutes of the church women’s group from January of 1892 to May of 1905. The entries in this record yield a glimpse at the contributions of these women during this period.

The group would typically meet once or twice a month with their main goal being the creation of clothing for the local children’s home. Thus, their group might be described as a sewing circle. The entry for January 5, 1892 applauds Mrs. Richard Woolley for her donation of 75 yards of cloth, two dozen spools of thread and two gross of buttons.

At the April 23, 1892 meeting, the group had completed their latest sewing project. They delivered to the home fourteen waists, fifteen large dresses and 12 small dresses for use by the children.

To raise money for the group, a social was held at the church in November. The event raised a total of $61.85 through ticket sales for the supper and the sale of candy, cakes, art and fancies.

The loss of key members was noted in 1893 and 1894. Henrietta Utz passed away in November of that year. Mrs. Utz is described as “an old member of the church who had lived to be eighty-seven with all her faculties. A pleasant faced woman remembered by all with her white collar and snowy white apron, she was a model for all her grandchildren. She came of old revolutionary stock and could trace her ancestry far back to the beginning of the colonies.”

On April 4, 1894, the death of Mrs. Charlotte Woolley was announced to the group and a tribute to her included in the minutes. The tribute stated “Perhaps no other member was so thoroughly imbued with the benevolent work of the Society as she. The Children’s Home was her favorite charity. For several years before her death, she supplied most of the materials used in the making of garments for the Children’s Home and, until the last year of her life when increasing infirmities prevented, she rarely missed a meeting, sewing on the garments all day with the other members. We missed her face at those meetings which she was unable to attend: we shall miss her still more in the meetings to come. But we feel that her life was an inspiration for us to continue the good work and to press on into other fields of benevolent work as our lives expand, feeling she will be with us even there. Quietly, in the early morning of February 14, 1894, she passed away from the scenes of earth into the fuller life beyond. Blessed be her memory!”

Both Mrs. Utz and Mrs. Wooley were from families involved in the formation of the church. Both families had members who married into the Crosley family and were stalwarts of the Society during the period around the turn of the century.

Late in 1894, the Benevolent Society voted to join the state Universalist Women’s Missionary Alliance. They changed their local name to reflect that affiliation. During this period, attendance at meetings ranged as high as 20. Normal attendance was around a dozen.

At one point, Reverend Milburn approached the group to request that they sponsor a dinner once a month during winter to raise money for the church. The women compromised and started a tradition of two dinners each winter and these “Oyster Dinners” became a part of the church routine. The first of these raised $54.00 for the church.

It is noted that in early 1895 the group purchased a cloth for the communion table for $3.00. This is likely the same table that adorns the front of our sanctuary to this day.

The women’s group continued to meet for years until it adopted the name of one of our national heroes, Clara Barton. The group continues as a vital organization within our church to this day.

Image: Ladies Benevolent Society, 1903. (This one was in Australia, not Cincinnati.)