Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the church records of the South Congregational Society (Unitarian), Boston, Mass., 1828-1929, including vital records, Standing Committee minutes and annual reports, financial and property records, Board of Charities records, Sunday School attendance records and class lists, scrapbooks, and a published volume of the history of the church, 1878. The collection also includes handwritten sermons of Rev. Edward Hale, an account book kept by Hale recording articles contributed to a magazine he edited entitled Old and New, and records of the Hale Club.

Historical Sketch

The South Congregational Society was formed in Boston in 1825 by three groups: the people of Boston's new South End; members of the over-crowded Hollis Street Church; and friends and supporters of Dr. Horace Holley, former minister of the Hollis Street Church. Holley had left Boston to accept a position as president of Transylvania University in Kentucky, but wanted to return to Boston.

The first meeting to consider the erection of a new church in the southern part of Boston was held on 19 April 1825. Alden Bradford, former secretary of the Commonwealth, was chosen chairman, and Henry H. Fuller, secretary. A committee of ten individuals was appointed to assess the need for a church in this area.

The first subscription for funds to build the church was begun in 1825. The subscription failed, but was renewed in 1827, and advertised as benefiting "Christians of the Congregational persuasion in the southern part of the city." A total of 150 shares, at $100 each, were subscribed, and work began on the church.

The cornerstone of the first meeting house, located at the corner of Washington and Castle Streets, was laid on 7 August 1827. Many of the subscribers and supporters of the church participated with the hopes that Dr. Holley would soon join them and accept the ministry, but unknown to them, Holley had died of yellow fever a week earlier on his journey from Kentucky to Boston. Many of Holley's supporters were so disappointed by his death that, although they had contributed to the original planning of the church, they never joined the congregation.

The first meeting house was completed in January 1828, and the dedication was arranged for the 30th of that month. Although Dr. William Ellery Channing's name was printed on the programs for the services, his health unexpectedly failed him, and he was unable to attend. At the last moment, Rev. Henry Ware, Jr. took his place and became the first minister to preach to the new congregation.

Rev. Mellish Irving Motte was installed as minister of the recently formed South Congregational Society on 21 May 1828. Motte expanded the activities of the church by forming the Sunday School, which met for the first time on 13 June 1828. There were 20 teachers and 70 children present, with Motte as the superintendent. Motte resigned his charge in May 1842 after 15 years of faithful ministry.

Motte's successor, Frederick Dan Huntington, was ordained on 19 October 1842. Huntington's ministry was successful, and during his 14 years as minister, "the Church was full; its debt was paid; the charities were admirably administered; [and] the Sunday School was in perfect order." Huntington formed the Board of Charities and the South Friendly Society (1833). In 1856, Huntington left the church to become preacher of the college chapel and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard College.

Rev. Edward Everett Hale, who was installed as pastor of the Society on 1 October 1856, succeeded Huntington and remained as minister of the South Congregational Church for 43 years. Hale possessed strong views about the general betterment of human relationships--social, political, and personal--and became involved in various charities in the Boston area. He is famous for his involvement in the development of a number of clubs of organized good-will, among them the Lend A Hand Society. Hale was also actively involved in the South Friendly Society and the Board of Charities at the South Congregational Church.

The role of the Board of Charities was to supervise church charities. Although organized by Huntington, the board was enlarged and strengthened by Hale. Many of the charities Hale instituted in Boston received the guidance and influence of the board and, while a moderate portion of the funds went toward remedial charity, larger sums were given to religious and philanthropic institutions in the city. Included among these were the American Unitarian Association, the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches, the Sunday School Society, Hale House, and the South End Industrial School. The remaining money went toward the work of The Associated Charities in the district and to aid the poor and aged connected with the church. In November 1902, the church voted to send all cases of charity other than those of Dr. Hale's to the Charity Committee of the South Friendly Society.

The cornerstone for the new church on Union Park Street was laid on 8 June 1861. The church, known as Hale's Church, was completed in seven months, and the dedication was held on 8 January 1862.

Hale preached his last sermon in this church on 26 June 1887. The building was sold to a Jewish organization to be made into a synagogue, and in October of that same year, the South Congregational Church and Society merged with the Hollis Street Church from which it had split 52 years earlier. The combined congregations, now known as the South Congregational Society, moved to the corner of Newbury and Exeter Streets.

Rev. Edward Everett Hale submitted his resignation as pastor of the South Congregational Church on 15 May 1899. The church formally accepted it on 30 January 1900. The congregation chose Rev Samuel Atkins Eliot as his successor, but Eliot declined the unanimous offer due to his commitment as secretary of the American Unitarian Association.

On 7 October 1900, Professor Edward Cummings of Harvard College was ordained and given the associate pastorship at South Congregational Church. Hale became pastor emeritus of the church and society.

In 1925, the South Congregational Church merged with the First Church of Boston. The merger came about as a result of the changing conditions in the Back Bay and would aid the two congregations to greatly strengthen their position and largely increase their influence and usefulness. Rev. Edward Cummings was made minister emeritus after the consolidation.

The merger precipitated the sale of the property at Newbury and Exeter Streets. The building was sold for approximately $130,000, and the proceeds applied first to the expense of refitting the First Church. The balance was placed in the hands of the Edward Everett Hale Fund for maintenance of the Edward Everett Hale Memorial built in the basement of the First Church building.

The South Congregational Society was officially dissolved on 13 May 1929.


Memorials of the History for Half a Century of South Congregational Church, Boston (Boston: Rand, Abery & Company, 1878).

Collection Description

The records of the South Congregational Society are housed in 18 cased volumes, 3 document boxes, and 1 extra-tall volume. They document the history of the Society from 1828 to 1929, when it was officially dissolved. The collection has been divided into nine series: Church records; Standing Committee records; church financial and property records; Board of Charities records; Sunday School records; Hale Club Records; Memorials; Scrapbooks; and Edward Everett Hale papers.

The bulk of the records are bound and contain records of baptisms, marriages, and funerals; financial and property records; and warrants, votes, and minutes. Early in the church's history, baptism, marriage, and funeral records were kept in a single volume with other general church records.

The collection also contains one box of Edward Everett Hale papers. These include sermons and a volume of records of contributors to Old and New, a monthly magazine edited by Hale. Loose items removed from bound volumes have been stored in folders and are listed after each specific volume.

In addition to the general church records, the collection includes material related to Hale and his charities. Many were created during Hale's ministry and therefore reflect his strong dedication to charity and public betterment. This is particularly evident in the Board of Charities minutes, which include information about church involvement with the South Friendly Society and the Lend a Hand Society, both of which were greatly influenced by Hale. Hale also played a key role in many other charities in the Boston area, and the records of the Society reflect the guidance and influence these organizations received from the Board of Charities of the South Congregational Society.

Acquisition Information

This collection was removed from the Boston First and Second Church Records. The records of the First and Second Church were placed on deposit at the Massachusetts Historical Society by the church in February 1991.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Church records, 1828-1929

Arranged chronologically.

This series of official church records is arranged chronologically and contains the bulk of the volumes in this collection. The records include warrants, votes, and annual meeting minutes of the Society, as well as registers of baptisms, marriages, and funerals. An alphabetically-arranged index refers to the before-mentioned registers kept from 1841 to 1897 by volume and page number. General records of the South Congregational Society contain records of baptisms, marriages, and funerals, as well as general records pertaining to the organization and development of the church.

Loose items removed from these volumes include copies of marriage and divorce certificates, baptism records, correspondence, and miscellaneous printed pamphlets.

Box 1Folder 1
Mr. Motte's register of baptisms, funerals, and weddings, 1828-1839
Vol. 1
Index to baptisms, funerals, and marriages in volumes 3-6, 1841-1897
Vol. 2
Records of the South Congregational Church, 1842-1855

Records include baptisms (1842-1855), marriages (1842-1855), and funerals (1842-1844).

Box 1Folder 2-3
Loose items removed from Volume 2, 1842-1907
Vol. 3
Baptisms, 1856-1908

This volume also includes two entries dated 1 June 1850 and 22 October 1854. These also appear in Volume 2.

Box 1Folder 4
Loose items removed from Volume 3, [1859-1892]
Vol. 4
Marriages, 1856-1908
Vol. 5
Funerals, 1856-1907
Box 1Folder 5
Loose items removed from Volume 5, 1892
Vol. 6
Records of the South Congregational Society, 1871-1929

Includes a copy of the final decree dissolving the South Congregational Society.

Vol. 7 (XT)
Census of residents (of Boston?) and their church affiliations, compiled by Walter C. Green, 1897Extra-tall volume.

Includes Edward E. Hale's notes on members, ca. 1900.

II. Standing Committee records, 1857-1921

Arranged chronologically.

This series is made up of two volumes of Standing Committee minutes arranged chronologically from 1857-1921, as well as reports of the annual meetings of the Standing Committee for the years 1920-1921. Due to severe mildew, the second volume of minutes (1884-1921) has been disbound and is stored in five folders in Box 1.

Responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Church, the Standing Committee oversaw the work of the following sub-committees: supply of pulpit, music, finance, social gatherings, Sexton's duty and care and repair of the church, care of grounds, pews, flowers, managing committee of the Christian Unity Chapel, and publicity. The records of the Standing Committee document surrenders and transfers of pews, use of the church building by other groups, society membership, closing of the church during the summer months, furnishings, and staff.

Loose items removed from these volumes include printed materials such as by-laws, calls, warrants, and financial reports of the trustees. There is also a plan of pews, including the price charged for each.

Vol. 8
Standing Committee minutes, 1857-1884
Box 1Folder 6-11
Standing Committee minutes, 1884-1921Disbound volume.
Box 1Folder 12
Standing Committee reports, 1920-1921

III. Church financial and property records, 1862-1928

See also Series X. A. - Additions-Proprietors' records related to church construction, 1860-1862.

A. Church financial records, 1897-1928

Arranged chronologically.

Church financial records are made up of the general records of the treasurer and include both account books and cashbooks.

Vol. 9
Treasurer's account book, 1897-1908
Vol. 10
Treasurer's account book, 1908-1916
Vol. 11
Treasurer's account book, 1916-1926
Vol. 12
Cash book, 1908-1917
Vol. 13
Cash book, 1917-1928

B. Church property records, 1862-1867

Church property records consist of a single volume of pew ownership records. Pew sales and transfers are recorded on the back of the deeds. A list of names and addresses titled "pew proprietors" has been moved to a folder in Box 1.

Vol. 14
Pew deeds, 1862-1867
Box 1Folder 13
List of pew proprietors, undated

IV. Board of Charities records, [1889]-1925

Arranged chronologically.

The Board of Charities records consist of two volumes of chronologically-arranged minutes and lists of names and addresses of members of the board. The 1900-1925 volume also includes printed copies of treasurer's reports for some years.

The role of the Board of Charities was the supervision of the church charities and support for Dr. Hale in his plans of public betterment. This is reflected in the minutes of the board. Only a moderate amount of the funds appropriated by the board went towards remedial charities, while much larger sums were given to important religious and philanthropic institutions in the city. These included the American Unitarian Association; the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches; the Sunday School Society; Hale House; and South End Industrial School. The remaining money went toward the work of the Associated Charities in the district and for the aid of the poor and aged connected with the church.

Loose items removed from the minute books include one folder of correspondence (1890-1912) consisting largely of letters of resignation and acceptance for seats on the board. There is also some correspondence from the Lend a Hand Society regarding emergency sewing and other charity work. Other items include a sermon, lists of members, and treasurer's reports.

Vol. 15
Board of Charities minutes, [1889]-1899
Vol. 16
Board of Charities minutes, 1900-1925
Box 2Folder 1-2
Loose items removed from Volumes 15 and 16, 1890-1924

V. Sunday School records, 1857-1867

This series consists of a single volume containing names of teachers and students (divided into boys and girls classes) for each year. Attendance records, listing the aggregate, average, smallest, and largest attendance, as well as any deaths, are also recorded for some years.

Loose items removed include a class list, orders of exercises, and services.

Vol. 17
Sunday School records, 1857-1867
Box 2Folder 3
Loose items removed from Volume 17, 1866-1867

VI. Hale Club records, 1891-1913

The records of the Hale Club reflect its purposes: the promotion of social feeling and good fellowship among the attendants of the church and the cause of Unitarianism.

The first meeting of the Hale Club was held on 17 November 1891, and this volume contains the minutes of each of the regular monthly meetings of the club until 3 November 1913. Meetings were held on the first Monday of each month and were attended by its members, gentlemen who attended the church, and their invited guests.

Dr. Hale attended most meetings, and a guest speaker was often invited to entertain the members with lectures on various subjects, ranging from travel to immigration. There was an annual ladies' night, and receptions were occasionally held in place of a meeting. The records consist of minutes and invitations.

Due to severe mildew, this volume has been disbound for treatment and stored in Box 2 (folders 4-9).

Box 2Folder 4-9
Disbound volume.

VII. Memorials, 1878

This series consists of a single published volume entitled Memorials of the History for Half a Century of South Congregational Church, Boston (Boston: Rand, Abery & Company, 1878). This volume is a special edition and includes original correspondence and photographs of individuals associated with the church. Included among the correspondents are Rev. George Putnam and Rev. F. D. Huntington. Many of these items are addressed to Rev. Hale. The volume also includes a printed history of the first 50 years of the South Congregational Society, sermons, hymns, and other notes listing original membership and other information about the congregation. Orders of exercises, pamphlets, and other printed materials relating to the church are also included.

Vol. 18

VIII. Scrapbooks, 1828-[1926]

The first scrapbook (1828-[1926]) contains copies of church publications; clippings; materials related to Hale's 70th and 80th birthday celebrations, resignation, and memorials after his death; and the church's merger with First Church in 1925. Due to its brittle condition, the original scrapbook has been photocopied and discarded.

The second scrapbook includes Edward Everett Hale's articles on various subjects published in the Christian Register. This scrapbook covers the years 1906 to 1909 and includes an alphabetical subject index.

Box 2Folder 10-12
Scrapbook, 1828-[1926]Photocopies only; due to its brittle condition, the original scrapbook was photocopied and discarded.
Vol. 19
Scrapbook (Christian Register), 1906-1909

IX. Edward Everett Hale papers, 1870-1889

Arranged chronologically and numerically.

This series consists of sermons read by Edward Everett Hale from April 1888 to May 1889. Most are handwritten in notebooks, with typescript pages inserted. The sermon number, title, place, and date are recorded on the front cover of each notebook.

This series also contains a notebook entitled "Author's Account Book." This book lists names of contributors, number of pages, price per page, and payment details for articles contributed to Old and New, a monthly magazine edited by Hale from 1870 to 1875.

See also Series X.B. - Additions-Edward Everett Hale papers, 1844-1925.

Box 3Folder 1
Sermons, undated
Box 3Folder 2
Sermons, Apr.-May 1888 (no. 1297-1299)
Box 3Folder 3
Sermons, Sep.-Oct. 1888 (no. 1300-1303)
Box 3Folder 4
Sermons, Nov.-Dec. 1888 (no. 1304-1306 1/2, missing 1305)
Box 3Folder 5
Sermons, Jan.-Feb. 1889 (no. 1308-1311)
Box 3Folder 6
Sermons, Mar. 1889 (no. 1312-1313, 1315)
Box 3Folder 7
Sermons, Apr.-May 1889 (no. 1314, 1316-1317)
Box 3Folder 8
"Author's Account Book," 1870-1871

X. Additons (2021), 1828-1933

Records in this series were removed from the records of First Church (Boston, Mass.) and added to the collection in July 2021. They include proprietors’ records related to building the 1861 church; correspondence of Edward Everett Hale; papers related to Hale, including a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and ephemera; and other printed material.

A. Proprietors' records related to church construction, 1860-1862

Arranged chronologically.

Included are building committee records concerning land purchase and building expenses; a report on subscriptions to pay for expenses; pew owners’ proxies to vote for building a new church; and committee records related to valuing and selling pews, including reports, lists of pew owners, pew purchase and tax accounts, and blank copies of old and new pew deeds.

Box 4Folders 1-2

B. Edward Everett Hale papers, 1844-1925

i. Correspondence, 1844-1908

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence includes three letters from Hale to George Abbot in Washington, D.C. turning down an offer to become minister of a Washington church (1844-1845); two letters from C. D. Bradlee of the Christian Unity Society to John Sweetser, referring to Hale (1876); and a series of personal letters from Hale in Washington, D.C., primarily written to “Annie” (1892-1908). Also included are speech notes for “Dr. Hale’s 80th Anniversary at Symphony Hall” (1902).

Box 4Folders 3-4

ii. Edward Everett Hale scrapbook, 1856-1925

This is a photocopy of the original, which was damaged by mildew. The scrapbook was compiled by Ella F. [Jenkins?]to document the life and career of Hale. It contains orders of service, newsclippings, and other ephemera, including commemorations of birthdays, anniversaries, recognitions, obituaries, and memorials. Also included are programs and clippings about the dedication of South Congregational Church in 1862, South Congregational Church’s 50th anniversary in 1878, and the merger with First Church in 1925.

Box 4Folders 5-8

C. Printed material, 1828-1933

Arranged chronologically.

Included are orders of service at the dedication of South Congregational Church on 30 Jan. 1828, programs for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edward Everett Hale in 1922, a May 1927 program for an annual meeting of the Lend a Hand Society, and a 1933 reprint of a sermon preached by Hale at South Congregational Church in 1888.

Box 4Folder 9

Preferred Citation

South Congregational Church records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Hale, Edward Everett, 1822-1909.


Hale Club (Boston, Mass.).


Boston (Mass.)--Church history.
Boston (Mass.)--Statistics, Vital.
Church charities--Massachusetts--Boston.
Sunday schools--Massachusetts--Boston.
Unitarian churches--Clergy.
Unitarian churches--Massachusetts--Boston.