When William Greenleaf Eliot came to the “untamed West” from Boston in 1834, it was to establish the first Unitarian church in St. Louis, then a frontier town of 7,000. Yet Eliot’s vision and efforts, and the generosity of his congregation, led to the founding of Washington University, Mary Institute, the Mission Free School, and indirectly the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Eliot was president of the St. Louis School Board and fought successfully for public funding of the city’s schools. He helped keep Missouri in the Union, and he proposed and worked tirelessly for the Western Sanitary Commission (forerunner of the American Red Cross). All the while, Eliot preached and taught, visited his parishioners three hours a day, and founded several Unitarian churches in the West.
Earl K. Holt III, who succeeded to Eliot’s pulpit at First Unitarian Church of St. Louis in 1974, brings to life this diminutive, frail minister—William Greenleaf Eliot: Conservative Radical—who laid the foundation for what was, by 1900, one of the most dynamic cities in the nation.