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History

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History--plaque at the Mabel Tainter.jpg

Unitarianism and Universalism had their roots in the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, and were brought to America in the early years of settlement, particularly to the New England region, which to this day has the largest concentration of UU churches and congregations.  From there, the liberal religious philosophy was carried to the Midwest in the 1800s.

The Unitarian Society of Menomonie (USM) has been a presence in Menomonie since the 1880s, when some Menomonie citizens, including Andrew and Bertha Tainter,  invited the Rev. Henry Doty Maxson to the community to launch a Unitarian congregation. Rev. Maxson was instrumental in helping shape the Tainters' vision of a memorial for their recently deceased daughter Mabel, resulting in a community center as well as a "permanent church home for the Unitarian Society of Menomonie" in the Mabel Tainter Memorial Building (now the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts). James Huff Stout, the founder of the educational institution which would become the University of Wisconsin-Stout, was also a friend of Maxson's and an early member of the congregation. Rev. Maxson also helped establish a new Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Eau Claire.

 

After Maxson's untimely death in 1891, the Society was served for many years by Rev. C.F. Niles (from 1893 until his retirement in 1916); he was followed by a number of shorter term ministers. Both the Niles and the Maxson families are buried in Menomonie's Evergreen Cemetery, as are many Unitarian Society members of that era.

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Maxson with his daughter, Julia.

USM was over 200 members strong in the early 1900s, but numbers dwindled over the next decades, and the Society became inactive, and dissolved in 1947. In 1961, the Unitarian-Universalist merger led to an upswing in liberal church membership. In 1983, the USM charter was re-activated by a group of Menomonie families especially desiring a liberal religious education for their children. Lay-led services and UU religious education activities began in homes, and soon thereafter, USM shared the Quaker Meeting House in Menomonie, for some 15 years.

 

A 1988 "Maxson Centennial Celebration" gathered UUs from the U.S. and Canada at the Mabel Tainter building, and explored the roots of Unitarian Universalism in Menomonie and the Upper Midwest. Beginning in 1995, USM began holding services and RE classes at the Mabel Tainter building, but space restrictions and the historic nature of the structure led us to look elsewhere for meeting space. In 2014, USM was fortunate to arrange to share meeting space with the newly organized Alano Club of Menomonie, thereby also helping to support their mission.  

 

Today's Unitarian Society of Menomonie, while smaller than the church of Maxson's and the Tainters' time, and no longer meeting in the historic Mabel Tainter building, carries on the tradition of liberal religion and social action in our community. Our mission, as cited in our historic 1888 Bond of Union, continues to be religious, educational, social and charitable:
 

"Relying upon reason as our guide, and freedom as our method, we unite to support each individual's search for truth, meaning, and wholeness; to further individual freedom of belief, discipleship to advancing truth, the democratic process in human relations, brotherhood undivided by nation, race, or creed, and allegiance to the cause of a united world community."    

The Unitarian Society of Menomonie is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association of congregations in North America, which was established in 1961 through the merger of the American Unitarian Association (founded in 1825) and the Universalist Church of America (founded in 1793). 

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