Wilbur, Earl Morse

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Earl Morse Wilbur (1866 - 1956) was born in Jericho, Vermont; elder of the two sons of LaFayette Wilbur, a lawyer, and Mercy Jane Morse Wilbur. He graduated from the University of Vermont with an A.B., 1886 (valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa). For one year he taught at the Mt. Beacon Academy in New York before entering Harvard Divinity School. He received both the S.T. B. from the Divinity School and the A.M. from Harvard College in 1890. Having been raised Congregationalist, yet denied a license to preach from that denomination, Wilbur accepted a position at the First Unitarian Church (Church of Our Father), Portland, OR serving under Thomas Lamb Eliot as Associate Minister 1890-93, then as Minister 1893-98. He was ordained to the Unitarian ministry at the Pacific Unitarian Conference, Oakland, CA, September 28, 1892.

In June, 1898 he married Dorothea Dix Eliot (Dr. Eliot's daughter) at Portland; then left immediately for a year in Europe, studying at the University of Berlin and traveling extensively. Wilbur returned to pastor the Independent Congregational Church (Unitarian) in Meadville, PA, and tutored in the Meadville Theological School. In 1904, he came to Berkeley as organizer, Dean, and sole faculty member of the Pacific Unitarian (later Starr King) School for the Ministry, serving as President from 1911-31. During this time he also served as Pacific Coast Field Secretary for the American Unitarian Association (1908-14) and Director of the American Unitarian Association (1915-22). After a sabbatical year of study and travel in Europe, 1924-25, he published Our Unitarian Heritage.

After retiring from the presidency of Pacific Unitarian, Wilbur returned to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship for extensive travel and historical research working on what became The History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and Its Anecedents published 1945; and The History of Unitarianism: Transylvania, England and America published 1952. He taught at the Unitarian College, Manchester, 1933 and the Manchester College, Oxford, 1934 after which he retired from teaching. During this period, he mastered several languages enabling him to do primary research in Eastern Europe, as well as make translations of early Unitarian works. Further, his extensive collection of primary materials, made during this period and later incorporated into the Starr King School library, have gained more significance following the distruction of Eastern European libraries during World War II and the Cold War Era.

Wilbur received the honorary degrees, D.D. from the University of Vermont, 1910; and S.T.D. from the Starr King School for the Ministry, 1950. Other honors include the Citation at the General Conference, Portland, 1949 and the Annual Unitarian Award for distinguished service, 1953. The 1949 Citation concludes: "We salute Dr. Wilbur who has done as much as, perhaps more than, any other contemporary to advance our cause by showing the deep spiritual roots which nourish us and by searching out the spiritual substance of our movement as it emerges in the long course of our history."

Earl and Dorothea had five children, three of whom died in infancy. Thomas Lamb Eliot Wilbur died at the age of 20 in 1932. Elizabeth Fuller Wilbur Nelson was the only child to survive him. Wilbur was a member of the American Society of Church History, Unitarian Historical Society, Unitarian Literary Society of Kolazvar, Hungary, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the Mazamas Mountain Climbing Club of Oregon, and the Tahoe Meadows Club of State Line, California. He died in Berkeley, January 8, 1956.

(Earl Morse Wilbur, A Few Extracts from a Long Ministry, 1957; and The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 42)

From the guide to the Earl Morse Wilbur Papers, 1851 - 1960, (The Graduate Theological Union.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Wendte, Charles William, 1844-1931. Papers, 1867-1931 Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Papers, 1945-2005. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Presidential Papers, American Unitarian Association, 1936-1958. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Papers, 1862-1933. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn American Unitarian Association Presidential Papers, 1920-1927. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Papers, 1945-2005. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
creatorOf Earl Morse Wilbur Papers, 1851 - 1960 The Graduate Theological Union.
referencedIn Eliot, Christopher Rhodes, 1856-1945. Papers, 1872-1943 Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Bowen, Clayton Raymond, 1877-1934. Papers, 1889-1994. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
referencedIn Papers, 1885-1950. Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alice Heustis Wilbur person
correspondedWith Bowen, Clayton Raymond, 1877-1934 person
associatedWith Dorothea Dix Eliot person
associatedWith Eliot, Christopher Rhodes, 1856-1945 person
correspondedWith Eliot family family
correspondedWith Eliot, Frederick May, 1889-1958 person
correspondedWith Eliot, Samuel A. (Samuel Atkins), 1862-1950 person
associatedWith Elizabeth Robins, 1865-1952 person
associatedWith Elizabeth Wilbur Nelson person
associatedWith Henrietta M. Eliot person
associatedWith Henrietta R. Eliot person
correspondedWith Moore, Edward Caldwell, 1857-1943 person
correspondedWith Parke, David B. person
associatedWith Ralph Wilbur person
associatedWith Thomas Lamb Eliot person
correspondedWith Wendte, Charles William, 1844-1931 person
correspondedWith Wilbur family family
associatedWith William G. Eliot, Jr. person
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