The history of Unitarian Universalism

“Our History of Religious Freedom”

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious tradition that was formed from the consolidation of two religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. In America, the Universalist Church of America was founded in 1793, and the American Unitarian Association in 1825. After consolidating in 1961, these faiths became the new religion of Unitarian Universalism through the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

Both religions have long histories and have contributed important theological concepts that remain central to Unitarian Universalism. To learn more about the history of Unitarian Universalism, please see the pamphlet, “Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith.”

Since the merger of the two denominations in 1961, Unitarian Universalism has nurtured its Unitarian and Universalist heritages to provide a strong voice for social justice and liberal religion. You can learn about our shared history on the UUA website.

The history of UU Wausau

On December 10, 1870, a society was organized in Wausau known as the Liberal Religion Society, and in 1871, a church was built on the northeast corner of Fifth and McClellan Streets. The first minister, Reverend Schultz, came soon after the church was finished. He conducted a private school in the adjoining parsonage. He was followed by Reverend Fall who stayed until 1879. After he left, no services were held for several years.

In 1886 a new church was erected on a lot donated by Mrs. Mary Scholfield on the northwest corner of Fifth and McClellan. This building was sold in 1914 to Mount Sinai Synagogue, and at a meeting in April, 1914, the Universalist Society reorganized under the name First Universalist Church of Wausau. Property on the corner of Fifth and Grant Streets was purchased and Alexander Eschweiler, a well-known Milwaukee architect, was chosen to design the building. It took him one and half years to build the church, which included Yawkey Hall and an attached parsonage. The cost was about $150,000 and Mr. and Mrs. Yawkey paid for the cost of Yawkey Hall, the parsonage, and the furnishings of these buildings.

On November 2, 1915, the church was dedicated and the cornerstone was laid with full ritualistic ceremonies by the Masonic lodge of Wisconsin. In 1956, a remodeling of the parsonage was completed and this east wing now consisted of seven separate classrooms, a church office, the minister’s office, and a combined lounge and library.

On September 26, 2006, our congregation broke ground on a $1.9 million addition. The east wing was demolished and a new handicapped-accessible addition with elevator and atrium was built and completed in August, 2007. We will celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Grant Street church this year, but we have been a liberal religious presence in Wausau for 145 years!