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Augusta Jane Chapin ordination date correction

In May, 2014, the editors of the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography (DUUB) changed the year of ordination from 1863 to 1864, in our biography of Augusta Jane Chapin. We base this change on three primary documents. Ed Busch, a member of the First Universalist Church of Lansing, Michigan provided us with the first item, a photocopy of a December 14, 1864 newspaper clipping. The second item supporting this revision is an 1864 diary entry penned by Chauncy W. Knickerbocker (1843-1884), a Universalist minister who delivered the sermon at Chapin's ordination. The third item is a front page article in the  Monday, December 19, 1864 Detroit Free Press. The Detroit Free Press can be accessed at Newspapers.com.

The following publications cite 1863 or December 1863 as the date of ordination for Chapin:
Getting this date right is of interest because Augusta Jane Chapin was among the first women ordained to the Universalist ministry. It is claimed that Olympia Brown, ordained in 1863, was the first woman to achieve full ministerial standing recognized by a denomination. There is also some evidence that Lydia Ann Jenkins was the first woman to be ordained with full denominational authority. An in depth exploration of early women in the ministry can be found in Barbara Coeyman's article, "Celebrating the Ordination of Olympia Brown: Context and Implications," in the Journal of Unitarian Universalist History, Volume XXXVII (2013-2014).

The newspaper clippings

A copy of an 1864 newspaper article from the Lansing State Republican found in a scrapbook kept by the First Universalist Church of Lansing, Michigan provides an 1864 date for the Chapin ordination. The scrapbook resides in the archives at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. The First Universalist Church of Lansing and the UU Fellowship of East Lansing merged in 1957 to form the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing (UUCGL). Ed Busch, a UUCGL member, cross-checked the clipping with archive microfilm copies of the newspaper to insure the authenticity of the clippings.

December 14, 1864 <i>Lansing (Michigan) State Republican</i> newspaper clipping

Another version of the same newspaper article was found in February 2016 using the archives at Newspapers.com

Detroit Free Press - 19 December 1864

C. W. Knickerbacker diary entry

Chauncy Washington Knickerbacker (1843-1884) was a Universalist minister in Michigan. Ordained in 1850, Knickerbacker was minister in Lansing, 1853-60; an officer in the Michigan Universalist Convention, 1855-1880; and a circuit riding preacher to congregations in Farmington, Wayne, Rochester, and New Hudson, Michigan.

In 2007, Gwen Foss published a collection of transcriptions:  Diaries of the Reverend Chauncy Washington Knickerbacker, Universalist Minister: 1843-1884. The originals are in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. Here is a copy of page 50 of the transcribed diary entries for December 4-10, 1864:

italics indicate the author's (Gwen Foss) interpretation and exposition
C W Knickerbacker diary

Knickerbacker's diary, like the Lansing Newspaper clipping, supports the 1864 date. One could doubt the Knickerbacker diary entry for a number of reasons; it is a transcription from handwritten diary and the transcriber could have errored, the entry on the original diary page was entered or altered at a later date, or maybe the diarist kept poor records. On the other hand; daily entries by Knickerbacker that all have the wrong year are highly unlikely. As a circuit rider who traveled by trains—often two or three a day— it is likely that Knickerbacker had a keen sense of time and date. The 230 page transcription of the Knickerbacker Diaries are available from Gwen Foss at gwenfoss.com

Universalist Register and Almanac for 1871

There is one document that gives the Chapin ordination date as 1862. The Universalist Register and Almanac for 1871 says on Page 72, in the "alphabetical list of clergymen, with their post-office address, and date of ordination as far as ascertained:" that Chapin was ordained in 1862. The copy of this Register and Almanac at the HathiTrust library says it was "gifted on Jan 7, 1871 to the library" according to handwritten note on the title page. That would suggest that the "Universalist Register and Almanac for 1871" was probably composed and printed  in 1870.

Ministerial, national, state, and local congregation information in The Universalist Register depended on voluntary submissions from state association officers and others. The 1862 ordination date for Chapin was  not repeated so it's likely a reporting error. A. B. Grosh, the Register editor encouraged corrections and early submission of statistics.


The Lansing newspaper article and the diary entry by Knickerbacker both point to an 1864 ordination for Chapin. Both items were recorded within days of the original event. In addition, Knickerbacker took part in the ordination and his list of participants is consistent with the newspaper account. The 1862 date in the Universalist Register and Almanac for 1871, on the other hand, has no collaborating items and no supporting details.

The first mention of the 1863 ordination date found is in Our Women Workers: Biographical sketches of women eminent in the Universalist church for literary, philanthropic and Christian work by E. R. Hanson  (1881). This biographical sketch appears to be based on correspondence with Chapin and others that took place more than 15 years after the ordination. It seems likely that this became the source of the 1863 date for subsequent books and articles.

Based on the 1864 newspaper article and reverend Knickerbacker's 1864 diary entry we are changing the ordination date for Augusta Jane Chapin in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography (DUUB) to Wednesday, December 7, 1864 not Thursday, December 3, 1863.

Jim Nugent, managing editor
Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography

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