Shelter Neck’s Unitarian School

The following document was prepared by Eunice Milton Benton in December 1994 as her thesis for her Master’s of Arts Degree in Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.    Copyright by Eunice Milton Benton, 1994  All rights reserved.



Chapter  I.    Southern Work – Unitarianism in the South at the Turn of the Century

Chapter II.    The Chronicle of the Carolina Industrial School

  • 1900-1910  –  The Beginnings of the “Dix House School”
  • 1911-1919  –  The Heyday of The Carolina Industrial School
  • 1920-1926  –   The Last Years of the Shelter Neck School
  • Managing and Financing of the School
  • The Shelter Neck School Properties

Chapter III.  Northern Unitarian Women and Southern Backwoods Families

List of References


  • Personal Sketches
  • Chronology of Teachers and Staff (not  included)
  • Abby A. Peterson Memorial Society document
  • 1893 Map of  Southeastern U. S. from showing Unitarian  churches and preaching stations
  • Map of Shelter Neck area, showing school site (not  included)
  • Contemporary Site Plan of Shelter Neck Property, 1993 (not  included)
  • Photo of Shelter Neck School Students and Teachers (ca. 1915) (not  included)
  • Photos of Shelter Neck Site, 1993 (not  included)
  • Program from 1900 Shelter Neck Chapel Dedication (not  included)



This thesis is dedicated toGladys Oliver Milton, my  mother, whose lifelong belief in the value of education and whose own  example of earning a master’s degree at midlife opened the door for me to follow a similar path,  and to

William Grady Benton, my husband, with whom I have shared over a quarter century of living and whose support of women and their work–and of me–is a much appreciated gift.  His willingness to underwrite my midlife scholastic work provided the “grant” which allowed this research to be done.


At Shelter Neck, North Carolina, a never-incorporated community in the coastal piney woods of Pender County, New England Unitarians established a small church and operated of a school during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Never a strong denomination anywhere in the South, Unitarianism was an unlikely sponsor for a church in the backwater South at the turn of the century. Yet this endeavor erected the first Unitarian church building in North Carolina and offered education to the rural white children of this remote area before the state provided it.

The chronicle of events between 1900 and 1926 which precipitated, sustained, and finally terminated the Unitarian school at Shelter Neck, North Carolina, has never been researched or published. This thesis contains the account of this enterprise, which incorporated as The Carolina Industrial School. This study inquires about the motives of the northern-based philanthropists, the interaction between them and this small Southern community whose economy was based on timber and farming and whose established churches were evangelical, and the influence of their efforts on the community and the school’s students.

Background and Research Method

At Shelter Neck, North Carolina–a never-incorporated community in the coastal piney woods of Pender County–Unitarians based in New England sponsored a small church and operated of a school for most of the first quarter of the twentieth century. The endeavor erected the first Unitarian church in North Carolina and was an attempt to offer education to rural white children in this remote area where the state had not yet provided it.

The story of the educational enterprise which began at Shelter Neck and was later incorporated as The Carolina Industrial School has never been uncovered or reviewed. There were no other Unitarian churches in the state when the chapel, the first building built at the site, was dedicated in November 1900. Never a strong denomination anywhere in the South, that Unitarianism would sponsor a school and church in North Carolina is noteworthy and invites questions about the motives of these northern-based philanthropists, the interaction between them and this small southern community whose economy was based on timber and farming and whose established churches were evangelical, and the impact of their efforts on the community and its members in ensuing years.

The records of the school’s operations indicate that the main sponsor, organizer, and manager of this “Southern Work” was the National Alliance of Unitarian Women. How and why did the organization fix upon this particular community? How was the operation financed and managed? What was the experience of the organizers, ministers and teachers? Of the students? How did the school as an institution interact with the community? What was the long-range impact of the school on its students and on the community at Shelter Neck?

Using a wide variety of resources, this paper will attempt to unearth and examine the story of the Unitarian presence at Shelter Neck. Oral histories from former students of the school and their descendants, minutes of meetings of Unitarian organizations involved with the project, and correspondence between those working in North Carolina and the sponsors in New England will be primary sources. Published works about industrial schools in the South, philanthropies undertaken by women’s groups at the turn of the century, Unitarianism and other pertinent religious groups, and histories and data about Pender County, North Carolina, and the South at the turn of the century will also be consulted.


This is the story of a short-lived North Carolina school which grew from a schoolroom built by a missionary minister. It is a story where Unitarians meet Primitive Baptists and where Yankee women are teachers for Southern backwoods families. It is the story of a few years when a small Southern place coalesced around an institution, founded by outsiders yet accepted by the people of the community as their own. This study documents a quarter century when, in an obscure spot in the South, women of a small religious denomination from a Northern city schooled one generation of rural children. It is a short history of a brief experience in a small place, which, nonetheless, influenced the lives and world views of those who shared it.

The chronicle of events between 1900 and 1926 which precipitated, sustained, and finally terminated the Unitarian school at Shelter Neck, North Carolina, has never been researched or published. The mission of this work is to inform the historical record about these events and to inquire about their significance in the lives of those who experienced them.

Those who are interested in the interaction of religious and cultural groups, those interested in religion in the South, and especially those interested in the Unitarian and Universalist presences in the South will find this account meaningful. But this is not just a story about religion. While the Unitarian movement and its womens’ organization sustained the effort, the story of Shelter Neck is about human and cultural interaction, about people from the urban educated North coming to work with people in an obscure swampy corner of the South. It is a story of the work of women and of a womens’ organization born in the Victorian era–an era when women enjoyed educational privileges never before available but before professional doors fully opened to them, and an era when the concept of settlement work arrived and found an eager audience among educated upper class women. It is the story of an undertaking which rode to a large extent on the shoulders of one dedicated woman, whose death undoubtedly hastened its demise.

Chapter I of this paper provides background for the Shelter Neck story. It focuses primarily on two antecedents of the Shelter Neck school at the turn of the century–the Unitarian presence in the South and the National Alliance of Unitarian Women. Chapter II recounts the history of the school–its founding, curricula and operations, and closing. Chapter III inquires into the motivations, interactions and reactions of the people who shared this experience. It stirs the kettle of cultures, creeds, missions and memorials that mingled at Shelter Neck.

The Executive Board Minutes of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women proved to be the primary source for details about the school’s history. No financial or board meeting records of the Carolina Industrial School have been found. Sources for the story delineated here include the Alliance minutes, articles found in various publications (especially the Christian Register), interviews with former students of the school over a two-year period, and other documents which provided insight into the school’s curricula and activities.

The Shelter Neck school is the main subject of this study, but the Carolina Industrial School, Incorporated, consisted of two schools in North Carolina; the other, at Swansboro, was called the Emmerton School. This paper necessarily touches on the work at Swansboro because, after the Shelter Neck school closed, the work was “consolidated” into the Swansboro facility. Not until all the work of the Carolina Industrial School ended is there closure to this chronicle.

This paper intends to document and is deliberately descriptive. It is ribboned with quoted material because the view of this researcher is that the “voices” of those involved in the story–their own telling of what happened–illuminates events in a way that a recasting of their words could never do. Thus, especially in the second and third chapters, quotes from personal interviews, sections of the Alliance minutes, pieces of Reverend Key’s historical sketch, and passages from articles, correspondence, and documents are liberally used to capture both the chronicle of events and the flavor of the times in which they occurred.

Heard here are the voices of establishment New England Unitarians and their Harvard educated ministers purposing not only to spread the liberal Christian message in the South but also to “induce and establish right thinking and right living.” Recorded here is the chronicle of an effort whose retired leader claimed it had succeeded in “improving the health, elevating the tastes, arousing the ambitions of the people at large, and bearing undeniable testimony to the value of the Carolina Industrial School.”

At Shelter Neck high-minded New Englanders, influenced by the notion of settlement work, led by such examples as the South End Industrial School and the Southern Industrial School, and surely seeing themselves as knights and ladies bringing good clean living to this unkempt community, gave “untiring service” for a quarter of a century.

Obviously the Northern Unitarian backers of the school wished to clean up and pretty up this backwater community. Unarguably their motivation was to extend their own notion of “right living.” Dominant cultures have, throughout history, been prone to extend their cultural ideas to less prominent groups, to attempt to make over lesser ranked societies in their own images. In doing so, such reformers risk exhibiting an inherent disrespect for the cultures of others.

Yet the influence of this effort was limited. Had the Unitarians touched a larger population or stayed longer in Shelter Neck, their influence, whatever its merits, might have been greater. The finest accomplishment of the Unitarian school at Shelter Neck may be that it fostered a sense of community pride, which nurtured individuals in the community and gave them a sense of value and worth. Those who experienced the school as students have fond memories and associations which seem, in their later years, to be sustaining.

Chapter I


Rev. Mr. Chaney said there was no doubt in his mind that the greatest work done for church extension in the next ten or fifteen years will be owing to the work done by the women in the last ten years, and they are bound to do more; to do what the A.U.A. cannot do.                                      National Alliance Minutes – 1891

The late nineteenth-century South, imbued with religious fervor though it may have been, had never embraced Unitarianism. “Overall, liberal churches made little impact on nineteenth century religious life in the Southeast,” concludes Earl Wallace Cory. His 1970 dissertation about nineteenth-century Southern Unitarians and Universalists declares that the efforts of both denominations–they would not merge until 1961–were “only modestly successful” in the region.[1]

Throughout the better part of the century the only Southern Unitarian churches of any size and stability were in the cities of Charleston, New Orleans and Louisville, with a congregation in Richmond intermittently active.   Both the Charleston and New Orleans congregations, still the oldest continually functioning Unitarian churches in the South, had been established by 1817. Begun as Presbyterian groups, both these Southern coastal city congregations were sustained through the mid-century years by long-term ministers, the Reverend Samuel Gilman in Charleston and the Reverend Theodore Clapp in New Orleans. In Louisville Bostonian clergyman George Chapman, who had come “at the solicitation of a few earnest and liberal-minded people to whom the principles of Unitarianism had long been dear,” was the minister who helped establish that church in the 1830s.[2]   As early as 1833 a congregation had been started in Richmond, but declined into inactivity during the Civil War years and was not revived until the 1890s. Short-lived congregations had also existed in the course of the century in Augusta and Savannah, Georgia, and in Mobile, Alabama.[3]

In addition, a number of unsettled Unitarian ministers, some of whom had been converted from other faiths, roamed the rural South in the latter part of the century. Joseph G. Dukes, in eastern North Carolina, and Jonathan Christopher Gibson, in northwest Florida, were among these. The National Alliance of Unitarian Women would become the primary support for the Reverend Dukes, whose missionary ministry would plant a chapel and school at Shelter Neck, North Carolina.

The Unitarianism that came to the South in the nineteenth century had arisen out of the Reformation and acquired its name for its preference of viewing God as one Being instead of a Trinity. The American denomination had its roots in Massachusetts, where it had been founded in the young American republic by a group of Boston clergy who had moved away from the more orthodox, Calvinist-centered belief system of New England Congregationalists. In its nineteenth-century form, Unitarianism was, primarily, a reaction against Calvinism’s belief that human beings were depraved and threatened with hell. Late nineteenth-century Unitarians considered themselves “liberal Christians,” but Christians nonetheless, and were frequently surprised and offended when more orthodox and conservative religious groups attacked them. “The central idea of Unitarianism was shared by those who bore this name, whether in the North or the South,” points out Cory. “[They] embraced both a denial of the dogma of the Trinity and an emphasis on the unity of God.” Cory also cites another common theme in the faith and its conflict with orthodox Christianity: “Reason increasingly became a hallmark of Unitarianism . . . Those holding the orthodox theology doubted the role of reason, because they considered man’s nature corrupt and dominated by the power of evil.”[4] While in urban Boston Unitarianism was the establishment denomination, the region below Mason Dixon line did not its “reasonable.” Most late nineteenth-century Southerners viewed Unitarianism not only as unorthodox but “Northern” as well.

Young as an American denomination, the Unitarian Church and its liberal religious precepts were confined almost entirely to New England for most of the nineteenth century. By the 1880s and 1890s, however, the Boston-based denomination stepped up efforts to spread the Unitarian message in the South. Its primary goal in the region was to foster churches in the larger cities. Although the last two decades of the century would witness more Unitarian activity in the South than ever before, in the mid-1890s the denomination would reassess its goals and resources and rein in its extension efforts, virtually abandoning some projects and precipitating the resignation of its recently established Southern Superintendent. The National Alliance of Unitarian Women would be called upon to rescue the pioneer work and to nurture those fragile patches in the South where Unitarianism had taken root.

Even though the denomination clearly wanted to promote itself, Unitarians’ outreach activities were less proselytizing than those of more evangelical faiths, and their projects tended to have prominent educational and social aspects. Particularly in the South, the denomination believed that education would lay a foundation for the acceptance of Unitarianism, and that, as Cory asserts, “liberal religion would thrive if the educational level of the southern communities was raised. “[5] In the period immediately after the Civil War, many individual Unitarians supported schools in the South for formerly enslaved African Americans. Later both individual Unitarians and Unitarian organizations aided educational ventures for southern white children.

Historian Cooke explains the Unitarian perspective about reform work:

The belief of Unitarians in the innate goodness of man and in his progress towards a higher moral life, together with their desire to make religion practical in its character and to have it deal with the actual facts of human life, has made it obligatory that they should give the encouragement of their support to whatever promised to further the cause of justice, liberty, and purity. Their attitude towards reforms, however, has been qualified by their love of individual freedom. They have a dread of ecclesiastical restriction and despotism over individual convictions. And yet, with all this insistence upon personal liberty, no body of men and women has ever been more devoted to the furthering of practical reforms than those connected with Unitarian churches.[6]

As early as 1868, in fact, the American Unitarian Association had become involved in reform in the South, focusing especially on the needs of recently enfranchised African Americans. In an agreement that year with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Unitarians furnished $4000, to be used primarily in educational work. In his Unitarianism in America Cooke lists individual Unitarians who “engaged in the work of educating the negroes” during the years immediately following the Civil War: “Rev. Henry F. Edes in Georgia, Rev. James Thurston in North Carolina, Miss M. Louisa Shaw in Florida, Miss Bottume on Ladies’ Island, and Miss Sally Holley and Miss Caroline F. Putnam in Virginia.” During its first eight years the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama received $5000 annually from Unitarians, and leaders at the Hampton Institute in Virginia observed at the turn of the century that “the Unitarian denomination has had a very important part in the work of Hampton.” Mary Hemenway, a Unitarian woman of some means, was the largest single donor to Hampton and also contributed generous sums for other Southern educational work. The Calhoun, Alabama, “Colored School and Settlement,” the first settlement school in the South, which two former Hampton teachers had founded, was supported “mostly by Unitarians.” In early 1886 the American Unitarian Association established a bureau of information about Southern schools; headed by Hampton Institute’s former treasurer, General J. B. F. Marshall, the bureau screened Southern educational ventures worthy of support and contributions for Unitarians interested in them.[7]

In late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century issues of The Christian Register , the major Unitarian periodical of the time, articles about Southern schools abound. Frequently found are letters from the leaders of Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes, as well as stories about the Alabama schools at Calhoun, Snow Hill, and Camp Hill. Northern Unitarians frequently exhibited a preference for backing African American institutions, however, about which a contributor to the The Register , writing after a trip to Camp Hill, complained: “Pure devotion has been invested in this school by its principal and his admirable helpers. Bitterness has often been expressed because northern people will give for Negroes but have no sympathy with the needy white children of the South.”[8] In eastern North Carolina, however, a circuit missionary venture, supported jointly by the American Unitarian Association and the National Alliance of Unitarian Women, would found the Carolina Industrial School, an institution for rural white children.

Unitarians valued education and held reason and rational thinking in high esteem; indeed, observes Cooke, “it has often been assumed that Unitarianism attracts only intellectual persons.”[9] Unitarian Horace Mann had been the first secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education and was later president of Antioch College in Ohio, an institution promoted as “the Harvard of the West” and supported largely by Unitarians. Harvard Divinity School was almost exclusively Unitarian for the first half of the nineteenth century, although in later years it opened up its doors to other denominations under the presidency of Charles W. Eliot.[10] The Proctor Academy, established in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1848, was a Unitarian preparatory school, and the Hackley School, another Unitarian-supported New England preparatory school, was founded in 1900 at the urging of Samuel A. Eliot, son of Charles W. Eliot and then President of the A.U.A. [11]

Closer to the Carolina Industrial School’s site, in Wilmington, North Carolina, a Unitarian woman who had distinguished herself with the Unitarian-supported Sanitary Commission during the Civil War would devote the balance of her life to establishing schools which would become the foundation for the Wilmington public school system. Amy Morris Bradley would be known as “Wilmington’s School Marm.” There is, however, no indication of any interaction between Amy Bradley and the women who taught at Shelter Neck, though the latter small community is only about forty miles north of Wilmington. The two educational efforts by Unitarian women in North Carolina sprang from separate eras and motivations and had no connection. While Amy Bradley’s work received support from the American Unitarian Association, it was substantially finished by the time the A.U.A. and the National Alliance became involved in North Carolina. Bradley died in 1904.[12]

Only as recently as 1825 had the American Unitarian Association been founded, and, “Up to the year 1865 the Unitarians had not been efficiently organized, and they had developed very imperfectly what has been called denominational consciousness, or the capacity for co-operative efforts.”[13] Yet, aided by the circulation of denominational tracts and periodicals, Unitarianism spread westward to the larger cities of Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, and California. Given the disturbance of the Civil War and its attendant issues, however, Unitarians directed little or no effort toward the South.

Appomattox ushered in a new era for the country, and for Unitarianism. Writes Cooke:

The war had an inspiring influence upon Unitarians, awakening them to a consciousness of their strength, and drawing them together to work for common purposes as nothing else had ever done. . . Whatever its effect on other religious bodies, the war gave to Unitarians new faith, courage, and enthusiasm. For the first time they became conscious of their opportunity, and united in a determined purpose to meet its demands with fidelity to their convictions and loyalty to the call of humanity.[14]

In the spring of 1865, with victory for the Union assured, Northern Unitarian leaders for the first time called for the raising of a significant sum of money ($100,000) and “a convention . . . to consider the interests of our cause and to institute measures for its good.”[15] Although the resolution of theological issues between conservative Christian and the more “radical” transcendental elements consumed a good deal of the movement’s energy over the next decade, the period between 1865 and 1880 saw a “denominational awakening” and the instigation of an annual National Conference.[16]

In 1885 the establishment by the A.U.A. of “sectional” superintendents, one of which was the Southern Superintendent, set the stage for Unitarian expansion in the South.   The influence of the first Southern Superintendent and his wife, the Reverend George L. Chaney and Caroline E. Chaney, profoundly changed the demography of Unitarianism below the Mason Dixon line. By the early 1880s the Reverend Chaney was already doing missionary work in the South and in 1882 was the catalyst for the beginnings of a congregation in Atlanta. Chaney was Southern Superintendent until 1896. During his years in the South the number of Southern cities claiming Unitarian churches increased dramatically. The early 1890s saw the revival of the Richmond congregation as well as the founding of new churches in Chattanooga, Memphis, St. Louis, Austin, San Antonio and Galveston, and the beginnings of more formative groups in Greenville, South Carolina; Jacksonville and Tampa in Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Asheville and Highlands in North Carolina; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Chaney’s influence not only established new congregations but connected them to each other at meetings of the Southern Unitarian Conference, founded in 1884, and through The Southern Unitarian, a monthly journal published, beginning in 1893, for five years. Although tracts and periodicals printed in Boston also circulated,The Southern Unitarian encouraged the young Southern congregations. The Southern Conference met almost annually for many of those years: in Atlanta in 1887, 1888, and 1894; in Charleston in 1885 and 1892; in Chattanooga in 1889 and 1891; in New Orleans in 1893; and in Memphis in 1897.[17]

While her minister husband was Southern Superintendent, Caroline E. Chaney served on the Board of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women as Vice-President for the Southern States, first elected in the re-organized National Alliance’s first annual meeting in September, 1891. Her voice in the board meetings and her reports at annual conferences were stirring as she championed the causes of fledgling southern churches and isolated missionaries and implored the Alliance’s support for them, once exclaiming that she “wished that words might be given her to express the needs of the South.” [18]

The influence of the Chaneys and Mrs. Chaney’s position with the National Alliance undoubtedly drew the women’s organization into the major role it would play in Unitarian extension in the southeast. The Reverend Chaney, speaking in 1891 at the first annual meeting of the freshly reconstituted National Alliance, urged the women to continue their missionary projects: “Rev. Mr. Chaney said there was no doubt in his mind that the greatest work done for church extension in the next ten or fifteen years will be owing to the work done by the women in the last ten years, and they are bound to do more; to do what the A.U.A. cannot do.”[19]

By the 1890s the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women was a busy and dynamic organization, yet, at only ten years old, still a relatively young one. As Jessie E. Donahue has observed, the American Unitarian Association was fifty-three and the National Conference thirteen years old before a Unitarian women’s association organized.[20] While Unitarians had been among the first to support women in education, the ministry, and other professions, no woman appeared as a delegate at the first two National Conferences of the denomination. By the third, in 1868, however, thirty-seven women were delegates, a result undoubtedly inspired by a resolution the previous year suggesting to the member churches the appropriateness of such representation. The denomination had ordained its first woman minister, Celia C. Burleigh, in 1871, only a year after delegates elected Lucretia Crocker the first woman board member for the A.U.A.[21]

The organization of Unitarian church women formally began in 1880 as the Women’s Auxiliary Conference. The first stirrings of Unitarian women, led by Fanny B. Ames, occurred in concert with the meeting of the 1878 National Conference, which appointed a committee of ten women to prepare a plan for an auxiliary organization which would be run by women. “Women had been listeners at all meetings of these organizations [the A.U.A. and the National Conference],” writes Sara Comins in a later history of the Unitarian women’s movement. “Strong personalities had effected reforms in society outside the church, . . suddenly . . . a spark of enthusiastic determination animated these women, led by Mrs. Ames,” she continues.[22]

Growing momentum led to a formal organizational meeting in 1880 at Saratoga, New York, which created the “Women’s Auxiliary Conference.” (The Auxiliary could claim among its founding members some of the activist women of the day–Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Peabody, Dorothea Dix, Kate Gannett Wells, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and Fanny B. Ames, among others.) The understood intent of the new organization was to involve women in the work of the American Unitarian Association and the National Conference and, thus, the name “auxiliary” was fitting. The Auxiliary’s meetings were planned to coincide with those of the National Conference, to which it made reports and to which it was subsidiary. The male-led American Unitarian Association received and managed all the monies raised by the women’s organization. By 1890, however, enough women were ready for change to support the adoption of a new constitution and a new name: “The National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women.” The move caused some alarm:

The change made then in its handling of funds created a near panic. . . Hitherto it had been deemed imprudent and inadvisable for the women’s organization to maintain an independent treasury. For a separate executive body of Unitarian women to disburse its own money was regarded as dangerously revolutionary and the change was accomplished in 1890 only after long and heated debate in the denominational press and among ministers, laymen and the Auxiliary members themselves.[23]

In September 1890 the newly constituted Alliance–its shortened name the one by which it became known–pointed toward the turn of the century with a new structure and new officers, most of whom would shepherd the refocused association through the next decade: Emily A. Fifield was Recording Secretary; Mrs. Robert H. Davis, Corresponding Secretary; Miss Flora L. Close, Treasurer, and, in the chair as President was Mrs. Ward B. Dix. A bevy of Vice-Presidents and Directors represented the various regions and clusters of Alliance branches. Through the last decade of the nineteenth century and into the first several of the twentieth, the Executive Board of the National Alliance would meet monthly, its minutes dutifully recorded in Mrs. Fifield’s neat handwriting, at the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association at 25 Beacon Street in Boston.

The minutes of the Alliance monthly board meetings are a rich source of information and reveal the remarkable level of commitment of its executive officers. The organization’s leaders were as involved in its operations and promotion as the management of any modern corporation.   Its officers were almost constantly on the road, and its secretaries generated reams of written records. These women leaders, who clearly believed in the value of face-to-face contact, made frequent excursions into the South, an area which few nineteenth-century Bostonians had visited. In May 1895, for example, “the secretary [probably Mrs. Davis] gave a detailed account of her visit of Baltimore where she had. . . attended all the meetings of the Southern Conference. She had met . . . some of the ministers doing the circuit service’ in which the Alliance is much interested.[24]

To finance its expanding work, the Alliance published, in denominational periodicals and circular letters to its branches, an “appeals list” to request support for its causes. Its Appeals Committee acted as a clearinghouse for the many solicitations and reported regularly to the board.

Of all the Alliance projects in those years, none was more successful than the “Post Office Mission.” Well suited to the times, the Post Office Mission’s purpose was to spread the message of Unitarianism by means of the United States mail. Comins notes, “ It was not a new thing for the stronger churches to send . . . religious literature to the new and struggling churches. . . But the Post Office Mission was to extend a knowledge of Unitarianism to those who applied for it in answer to advertisements in magazines and newspapers.”[25]

As a result of the Post Office Mission new Unitarian groups in the South and West frequently emerged. How to support those in the hinterlands who had heard the message but had no preacher or congregation around whom to develop their new-found faith became the challenge of the women’s organization. In the effort to support struggling new congregations, especially those in the South, the National Alliance and its branches played a substantial role. An 1892 announcement from the Alliance board reminds the women of the special needs of less-established churches: “Every small society should understand that though large and influential churches might be able to dispense with the National Alliance branch, a small society finds in it the very heart of strength and courage, and the more isolated the society the more it is needed.” [26]

Northern Unitarians also often played a paternalistic role for Southern Unitarians, especially when the financial base of a Southern church needed undergirding. Fledgling churches in the South looked North to the denomination’s headquarters for sustenance while they gained a footing and often openly and specifically solicited Northern help. In 1893 the Alliance branch in Atlanta requested any “articles left over from fairs in the North” which they declared would “come to most excellent use” in Atlanta. An 1893 letter from a member of the Chattanooga Alliance branch sounded a plaintive cry for assistance:

I write you in the hope that you may use your influence in our behalf in one of the most difficult periods we have had to endure since our organization. All Souls Church, organized in 1889 . . . has until this year kept steadily increasing in strength, numerically and financially, and has secured very satisfactory recognition in the community. It is one of the outposts of the Unitarian work and has been frequently gladdened by kind remembrances from Northern churches and individuals. Naturally, the stress of great financial or other disturbances falls most heavily on new communities, and ours is poor. Even the comparatively rich are poor now, because their investments are in manufactories which are lying idle or in real estate which is unproductive. There is a mortgage on our church building , due January 1, which we are anxious to pay off. In ordinary times there would be no difficulty; now we are obliged to cry to our Northern friends, “Come over, and help.”[27]

As the Alliance women attempted to coordinate their missionary efforts with those of the male-led American Unitarian Association some subtle conflicts arose, most of them over areas of responsibility.   An 1896 explanation about an A.U.A. communique is illustrative:

“The attention of the board was called to the perplexity of many of the secretaries of the Branches over an enclosure of circulars sent to them recently from 25 Beacon St., Boston. The board desires to assure the Branches that the circular touching Post Office Mission work is simply the proposed plan of the treasurer of the American Unitarian Association for a wider effort at church extension. It in no way affects the present or future work of the Post Office Mission of the Alliance, which will be carried on as heretofore.[28]

In general, courtesy and respect prevailed, and much harmony was achieved by the creation of the Committee of Conference, composed of members of both organizations and whose purpose was “to maintain careful communications . . . in order that all field work may be done in the closest sympathy and co-operation, the general plan being to have the Association stand ready to take charge of all movements which the Alliance has created from the small beginnings of Post-office Mission circles, and brought to the maturity of preaching stations or pastors in a preaching circuit.”[29] In 1909, Alliance President Emma Low would note that the Committee on Conference had “been especially helpful in the Southern Missionary work,” and, indeed the committee would prove an excellent support for the joint ventures, as would the attitude of A.U.A. President Samuel A. Eliot.[30]

Eliot’s 1900-1927 term of leadership at the A.U.A. overlapped the years of Southern missionary work and The Carolina Industrial School. His willingness to work with the women of the Alliance was evident to them, and his appreciation of learning and education unquestionably aided the work in the South. “His enthusiastic backing of the schools [at Shelter Neck and Swansboro] seems to have had two personal motivations, over and above the obligation of his office to foster them: his commitment to missions and his envy of the handyman,” notes his son-in-law biographer. Eliot would be present at the 1900 dedication of the chapel at Shelter Neck and would later serve as Board President of the Carolina Industrial School upon its incorporation in 1911. In appealing for financial aid for the North Carolina schools his arguments to prospective contributors were that such investments would net a return “in better citizenship, higher standards of living, happier and more useful lives.”[31]

In the mid-1890s reduced income at the American Unitarian Association obliged its leaders to rein in its missionary efforts in a move referenced in the Alliance minutes as the A.U.A.’s “retrenchment.” In October 1893 Mrs. Chaney, “about to leave for her winter work,” lamented the situation for the South, noting, “The American Unitarian Association has decreased its appropriations twenty-five percent, and this deficiency must be met in some way. . . Without money many interesting openings . . . cannot be followed up.”[32] In the wake of the cutbacks the Alliance was drawn in and became even more involved in the Southern work. It seems clear that the Chaneys’ influence persuaded the women to deepen their commitment to the region and whose plan provided a structure by which the work could be carried on. The 1893 January minutes document Reverend Chaney’s persuasive powers:

Rev. Mr. Chaney, being in the building, was invited to tell the board something about the Southern work. . . .The American Unitarian Association thinks it can only support men who can start churches in centres of population. Considering its present resources, Mr. Chaney agreed with this policy. [Southern rural missionary] work would not at once result in churches. . . . Mr. Chaney appealed to the Alliance, saying, “The truth is, the women have made a great constituency in the South, even if they have not heard of it, through many letters.” He was coming across the result of the work at every turn; and he hoped that, if it approved, the Alliance would encourage [southern missionary work] by helping. . . [33]

A published report from the January 1895 Alliance board meeting explains how the “southern circuits,” which were supported almost solely by the Alliance by the end of the century, came under its protection:

Rev. Mr. Chaney, the Southern superintendent for the American Unitarian Association, was received by the board, and gave a most interesting account of the Southern field. Mr. Chaney enlarged upon the proposition he had before made of sending resident ministers on missionary “circuits” in their own sections. This the ministers will willingly do if traveling expenses can be assured. Mr. Chaney has formulated a plan for such circuits which would cover a large part of the Southern States. The [Alliance] Branch of the First Parish, Dorchester, has already appropriated $200 for one such “circuit”; and it is hoped that other single Branches, or two or more uniting to send one man, may enable Mr. Chaney to fully carry out his wishes. . . .If any Branch desires it, direct communication can be established between it and the person engaged in the proposed circuit work.[34]

A section of the board minutes of those months further clarified where the circuit work would be done and Mrs. Chaney’s role in the effort:

The [Appeals] committee again recommends church extension work in the South by means of traveling circuits, to be distributed among various ministers on payment of their traveling and other necessary expenses, estimated at $200 a year. It is thought that such work will be very valuable in arousing new interest in our faith. If any Branch is willing to appropriate money for such preaching, Mrs. Chaney will receive it, making quarterly remittances to the preacher, and receiving regular reports through Mr. Chaney. Correspondence can also be carried on between those especially interested at the various points and the Branches aiding the work. Such correspondence may result in the formation of Alliance Branches, even if no church is formed… These circuits embrace various points in Virginia . . . in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee under Rev. H. A. Westall, central station Asheville, N. C.; in North And South Carolina under Rev. H. A. Whitman, central station Charleston, S. C.; in Georgia under Rev. W. R. Cole, central station Atlanta, Ga.; in Florida under Rev. J. C. Gibson, central station Edwards, F.; in Louisiana under Rev. W. C. Pierce, central station New Orleans, La.; in Tennessee under Rev. S. R. Free, central station Chattanooga, Tenn.; in Texas under Rev. Emily Wheelock, central station Austin, Tex.; . . The circuit of East Tennessee, in care of Rev. H. A. Westall, has already been taken by one of the Alliance Branches. It will include, as visiting points, Knoxville, Tenn., Greenville, SC, Western NC, etc.[35]

In the spring of 1896, because of reduced funds available for the support of work in the South, Reverend Chaney resigned as Southern Superintendent. At the Alliance board meeting in September Mrs. Chaney submitted her resignation as Vice-President for the Southern States. Both departures were mourned by the Alliance women, the March minutes noting, “among Unitarians throughout the South is heard the expression of great sorrow at the resignation of the Southern Superintendent. . . ..”[36]

Mrs. Chaney’s successor, Mrs. Anna Moss of St. Louis, made an emotional speech at the opening of the 1897 Southern Conference, noting “Mrs. Chaney’s absence . . . is not only a great loss to our Cause, but a personal sorrow to each. . . On the other hand, our recognition of her service would be unworthy, did we not gather new courage.” Mrs. Moss was also able to announce the Alliance’s proposal for supporting the Southern Unitarian effort after the Chaneys’ departure, an overture which, Mrs. Moss said, “needs but to be understood by us. . . in that cordiality never refused by a Southerner to a sincere proffer of friendship.”[37]  The plan, which had been worked out under the leadership of Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, an Alliance Director, assigned a “strong branch in the north” to each of the young Alliance Branches in the southern areas. The Alliance Minutes record the plan and Mrs. Peterson’s leadership in its operation:

Mrs. Peterson reported that, concurring with Mrs. Chaney in her request that the southern branches so soon to be left without a superintendent should each be put into communication with a strong branch at the north, she had suggested the matter to the Suffolk [County, Massachusetts] branches and made arrangements as follows: That Church of the Unity, Boston should take Richmond; Roxbury, Asheville; New South, Highlands; Bullfinch Place, Charleston; First Parish, Greenville; [unreadable name], Atlanta; Church of Disciples, Memphis; Chelsea, New Orleans; Jamaica Plain, Austin; Brighton, San Antonio. Circuit work in Florida through Mr. Gibson was undertaken by the Arlington St. Branch.[38]

Noting that “there are now fourteen churches in the Southern Conference and fifteen Alliance Branches,” the National Alliance of Unitarian Women at the end of the century was thoroughly involved in the South, taking up, as the Chaneys had hoped, where the American Unitarian Association had bowed out. Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, who had been elected to the Alliance Board in 1895 as a Director from the strongest district in the Alliance, would, with the branches in her Suffolk County constituency, become directly involved with the southern work in the wake of the Chaneys’ departure. Mrs. Peterson’s experience would propel her into the chairmanship of the soon to-be-created Southern Work Committee, in which capacity she would, in the early 1900s, recommend that a chapel be built at Shelter Neck, North Carolina. Her–and the Alliance’s–involvement with the Shelter Neck community would be extensive and would continue for more than twenty years.

Chapter II



How did the school happen to be there? I only know it began with a church, or perhaps I should say, with a preacher. This man became a Unitarian and asked the Unitarians in Boston to help him. It seemed to him, as it did to our New England ancestors, that the school was an important adjunct of the church. Edith C. Norton, 1924

Shelter Neck, North Carolina, was not a spot the American Unitarian Association would likely have targeted for a liberal religious congregation in 1900. Yet the remote community became a center of Unitarian activity for over a quarter of a century, an accidental and ironic anomaly in the denomination’s history. Known to posterity as The Carolina Industrial School, the Unitarian settlement school at Shelter Neck had its beginnings in the involvement of the National Alliance of Unitarian Women in denominational extension in the South. Yet the “Dix House School,”as the community of Shelter Neck knew it, would surely never have existed had not the Reverend Joseph G. Dukes become Unitarian and gained the National Alliance’s support to preach in eastern North Carolina.   The Alliance backed Dukes’ wish to build a chapel, a parsonage, and a schoolroom, resulting in the organization’s becoming a property owner in Pender County. By 1905 the Alliance decided to use the property for an “experiment in settlement work,” and from that beginning the larger school enterprise grew. What began at the turn of the century as an effort to sustain the tenuous Unitarian presence in the South ultimately planted the Carolina Industrial School, which operated at Shelter Neck until 1926.

The Reverend Joseph G. Dukes’ North Carolina circuit had been supported since the mid-1890s by the A.U.A. and the National Alliance. Most probably Dukes was a convert to Unitarianism; Comins asserts, undoubtedly based on a 1930 report in the Alliance records, that he had previously been a Baptist and became Unitarianism through reading the pamphlets of the Post Office Mission. Although little other information is recorded about him, Dukes likely was a Southerner who had previously preached for another faith.   His name was first mentioned in Alliance records in an 1895 discussion about Southern missionaries:

Mr. Gibson of Florida and Mr. Dukes of North Carolina are working in fields untilled by other liberal Christians. They are earnest men, working in the true spirit among people grateful and responsive to their work, and yet able to do little for their support. Unless we help them, no one will. . .

In the ensuing end-of-the-century years, Alliance board minutes frequently mentioned Dukes and Gibson and the “southern circuit work.” The regular “appeals” to member branches through those years included financial support for the two, and, underlining the importance the organization attached to their work, an 1898 address by President Mrs. B. Ward Dix cited the work of Dukes and Gibson as two of the “three missionary enterprises likely to need assistance for several years.” Later in 1898 the Alliance financed Dukes’ and Gibson’s expenses to attend the upcoming Southern Conference, noting that “the two missionaries of the Alliance. . . are in a wilderness, isolated and unable to meet other ministers . . . [I]f they could tell of their work to the whole Conference it would help the Conference and give others an opportunity to help them.”

In March 1898, seemingly in a quandary about how supportive to be of the missionaries, especially of Dukes, the Alliance sought retiring Southern Secretary George Chaney’s opinion: “Rev. Mr. Chaney was “invited [a revision in the handwritten minutes shows this word substituted for “admitted”] into the meeting. . . Of Mr. Dukes he did not know . . . but told us of the conditions under which he had seen the work of Mr. Dukes. He advised care and broad supervision and thought the officers of the branch at Charleston might help.” In April a letter from Reverend Mr. Whitman, of Charleston, was read “speaking earnestly concerning the good work of Rev. Mr. Dukes.” The Alliance board voted to continue its assistance to Dukes and provided “that the branch at All Souls’ Church, Roxbury, [Mass.] would assume the friendly care of his work.” By 1899 the two missionaries were even more prominently mentioned in Alliance records, the reports and letters often read by Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, who became more and more involved in the “southern work” as the Chaneys withdrew from the region.

The Alliance minutes reflect the distance these New England women felt from the Southern enterprises, however. The Southern climate and culture were, clearly, unfamiliar to them. An 1899 section reports that “Mr. Dukes preaches every Sunday to one or the other of the <churches’ [quotations are those of the recording secretary] started by him.” When Alliance President Mrs. B. Ward Dix and A.U.A. President Samuel A. Eliot attended the 1898 Southern Conference, Rev. Eliot observed that “many of the enterprises in the South [are] not yet beyond the stages of experiment. . .”

The spring 1899 minutes note the annual compensation for the two missionaries: Gibson was being paid $500 and Dukes $300. At the national meeting that year a talk by Dukes was one of the centerpieces of the convention. A report circulated to the Alliance branches noted:

Mr. Dukes made a strong impression, not only upon his audience, but also on the people with whom he came in contact in Washington. His simple but enthusiastic statement of the work he is trying to do, the long journeys he takes, the people he reaches, and the great hope he feels in the success of his efforts, made his story a most telling one, and those who heard it will not soon forget.

At the end of 1899, Dukes proposed building a chapel in his circuit–but the site he originally mentions is Prospect, not Shelter Neck. The Alliance women seem unsure of Dukes; they are reticent to be directly involved in the building of the chapel and decide that “before further steps were taken Mrs. Chaney [retired from her previous Alliance position but still accessible] should give the board such information concerning Mr. Dukes and his work as she may be able to gather.” In December “the President and Mrs. Peterson were chosen a committee to consider the erection of Mr. Dukes’ chapel at Prospect.”

In early 1900 Dukes’ letters suggested that Shelter Neck might be a more promising spot than Prospect. In the spring months of 1900, having secured five-year pledges from Alliance branches to support “the southern circuit work,” the Southern Committee recommended that “all additional money shall this year be spent to strengthen the work of each [missionary] by assisting to buy or build a church.”

In June 1900 the Alliance moved more assertively: “It was voted that the board approved . . . sending someone to view the situation and report.” By July Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, appointed by Mrs. Dix, had visited Mr. Dukes’ circuit in North Carolina. Her report in the July, 1900, minutes introduced Shelter Neck to the Alliance and secured the board’s support:

Mrs. Peterson gave a full account of her visit to Mr. Dukes and the conclusion to which she arrived. Six miles from Burgaw at Shelter Neck seemed to be a suitable place for a chapel which is much desired by the people. Mrs. Peterson had promises of land, lumber, nails and work which would leave only a comparatively small amount to be raised. . . [I]t was voted that $250 be appropriated for building a chapel at Shelter Neck, North Carolina. . . [I]t was voted that this amount be placed in the hands of Mrs. Peterson to be advanced as she thinks best. [I]t was voted that Mrs. Peterson be authorized to expend such additional sum as might be reasonable to complete furnishings, pay freight, etc. . .

The desirability of securing a home for Mr. Dukes in the vicinity of the new chapel was considered and . . . it was voted that Mrs. Dix have authority to expend one hundred dollars of the sum especially given to her for the use of Mr. Dukes and his work, if in the judgement of Mrs. Dix and Mrs. Peterson it becomes wise and expedient to do so.

The Shelter Neck chapel was completed in time for a dedication on November 16, 1900, when, because A.U.A. President Samuel Eliot and Alliance President Mrs. B. Ward Dix were already in the South, they would both be present for the day-long services. Having the new structure ready by that date was clearly intentional; the October minutes note that “the chapel is progressing rapidly, and it is expected that it will be finished early in November. An effort will be made to have it dedicated about the same time as the meeting of the Southern Conference, and to have the President of the American Unitarian Association and the President of the Alliance take part in the services.”

The years 1900-01 marked a decided upswing in Unitarian activity in North Carolina. Not only were the chapel and a parsonage built at Shelter Neck, but Dukes was also preaching in Swansboro and other nearby points. The Alliance minutes in late 1900 provide a glimpse of the increased activities:

[Dukes] held three services at Wells Chapel, a Baptist church, where he had large congregations and distributed papers and tracts. At Island Creek his congregation was divided, as there was preaching in different places on the Sunday when he was there, but the people are much interested. . . Will the branch that has been sending literature [to him] please accept his thanks. Both he and his wife are reading the sermons, and would like to receive more. . . .

Sufficient interest has been aroused in Swansboro to secure a hall which has been hired for Mr. Dukes’ use one Sunday in each month. At Richlands, the Presbyterian church, now without a pastor, has been obtained, and at Green Branch a school-house. This circuit, which also includes Stella is said to be in the most intelligent and progressive section of the county, and much is anticipated from Mr. Dukes’ ministrations.

Swansboro, in nearby Onslow County, would soon attract the attention of the Alliance’s educational workers and the venture there would, together with the one at Shelter Neck, be incorporated as the Carolina Industrial School. While missionary outreach came first and touched almost a dozen communities in the area, only at Shelter Neck and Swansboro would school operations be established. Dukes would soon be joined by the Reverend W. E. Cowan, who would augment the effort to spread the denominational message and who would remain in the North Carolina circuit until his death in 1922. While many nearby eastern North Carolina communities experienced the preaching of these Unitarian missionary ministers over the next twenty or thirty years, Shelter Neck and Swansboro would be the two bases for circuit ministers.

The parsonage for Dukes, for which the Alliance had made a commitment during the winter of 1900-01, was under construction during the spring of 1901. The March minutes reported that “Mr. Dukes’ house will be finished by May first and will cost $1150.”   Sometime in 1901-02, though the decision is not clearly documented, the Alliance decided to name the Shelter Neck parsonage in honor of its pioneer president, Mrs. B. Ward Dix. The name for the house was referenced in November 1902 when Mrs. Dix, who had been ill, wrote to the Alliance board suggesting the house be called the Shelter Neck “parish house.” The board overruled her modest request, however, and “ Dix House” was the name that stuck.

By June 1901 Dukes initiated another building venture at Shelter Neck–and this one would have a long-lasting influence: “Mr. Dukes proposes to raise $10 to clear ground for the house or schoolhouse.”   The move to add a schoolroom seems to have been put forward by Dukes, not the Alliance, an ironic corner of this story.   A 1924 article by Edith Norton, then school superintendent at Shelter Neck, says that “it seemed to [Dukes] that the school was an important adjunct of the church. . . He built a little wing on his house for a schoolroom, and sent North for teachers.” The completed schoolroom was in place by spring 1902 when Miss Ellen Crehore, the first northern woman to come to Shelter Neck for the express purpose of teaching school, visited. This room was the first space to which Shelter Neck children came to school, and, hence, the entire generation of citizens and school alumni refer to the school as the “Dix House School.”

The move to add educational work at Shelter Neck precipitated a lively debate at the board meeting that announced Dukes’ proposal:

Mrs. [Kate Gannett] Wells . . asked to be recorded as disapproving any connection of the Alliance with schools or educational matters. . . Discussion followed on denominational work in general and the southern circuit work. . . Mrs. Wells moved that none of the money received for southern circuit work, shall be used as payment for public school work. The president declared that the money was intended for circuit [ sic] work and would be so used. Mrs. Wells asked to withdraw her motion Voted: “All money sent for the south shall be used for church [sic] work.” The president ruled such a motion out of order as the money was given to southern circuit work. Miss Waldo asked why the question need be brought up at this time. Miss Wells gave reasons why the future work should be guarded and moved that “Southern circuit work does not include specific public school instruction. Voted by those present.

In spite of the objections raised at the Alliance, the “ell” on Dukes’ house was built. Miss Crehore, Shelter Neck’s first teacher, visited in the spring of 1902. She was later present in Boston at the close of the Alliance’s May board meeting and gave “an interesting account of the three months she has just spent at Shelter Neck.” Who or what motivated her visit is, again, unclear, although Edith Norton’s 1924 article suggests that Dukes had a hand in it.

While “Miss Ellen” did not immediately return South, by the fall of 1902 the educational work clearly influenced a request asking “if the [Alliance] Board would be willing to allow the use of the school room at Shelter Neck to the state of North Carolina for a public school for two months if satisfactory arrangements could be made.” The board, in November 1902, “voted to allow the rooms to be so used if desired, and the matter of rent be left to the Southern and Finance Committees.”

The Alliance made no further efforts in educational or social areas in 1903. But in the winter of 1904-05 significant change occurred: the Reverend Dukes resigned, effective November 1, 1904, and, to oversee the transition in leadership and to further acquaint herself with the circumstances at Shelter Neck, Mrs. Petersonwent South. As a replacement for Dukes the Alliance retained the Reverend W. S. Key, an Englishman.

Mrs. Peterson’s report to the January 1905 board meeting called the board’s attention to the challenges arising at the growing enterprise. As a result of her presentation the Alliance formed a special committee to focus on Shelter Neck. While the minutes do not include details of the committee’s work, the results of its efforts are evident in the prominence the North Carolina work is given in Alliance reports that year. One example is the address at the 1905 Annual Meeting by Reverend W. S. Key, “who gave an exhaustive and most interesting account of the circuits in North Carolina.”

The Shelter Neck school, born of the Reverend Dukes’ schoolroom, was begun in the years when settlement houses and schools sprang up in many areas of the country. Toynbee Hall, established in London’s East End in 1884 by a group of young Oxford men, motivated by the notion of personal service to the poor, provided the first internationally known model for settlement work. The concept made a relatively rapid passage across the Atlantic. Hull House, founded in Chicago by Jane Addams in 1889, was one of the earliest and is surely the most famous of the settlements in America.

In America “liberal Christians,” Unitarians among them, were the most ardent supporters of settlement work. The Boston area knew a number of these institutions. Articles about Boston settlement houses, particularly South End Industrial School and Hale House (founded in honor of Edward Everett Hale, a revered Unitarian leader), ran in The Christian Register.   A December 1911 Register article claimed that the South End Industrial School was “the only one in or near Boston supported entirely by Unitarian chruches and individuals, and as such it should have a wider recognition.”

While most settlement work was directed toward city neighborhoods, the idea made its way to rural areas and to the South. The most famous settlement work in the South was done in the mountains of Appalachia, but some settlements were established in other areas, a1937 article, “The Settlement Movement in the South,” noting that the first such institution in the South was founded “for Negroes in 1893 by Mabel W. Dillingham and Charlotte R. Thorn at Calhoun, Alabama.” Unitarians supported the Calhoun school as well as the Southern Industrial School (for white children) at Camp Hill, Alabama, whose founder, Lyman Ward, would later serve on the Carolina Industrial School board and whose graduates would from time to time teach at the North Carolina schools.

The women of the Alliance were surely familiar with settlements both in concept and practice. Women were the backbone of settlement work in America–and especially in the South–and it is unthinkable that these liberal Christian women of Boston would not have been conversant with these ideas. Indeed, a bibliograpy of writings about settlement work notes that Caroline S. Atherton, a long-time member of the Alliance’s executive board and a frequent member of the southern committee, was the author of an essay on the subject. Both Mrs. Atherton and her attorney husband, Percy A. Atherton, would be involved in the Carolina Industrial School.

The term “Shelter Neck Settlement” first appears in board reports in 1905. In the October minutes, “Mrs. Atherton spoke of the furnishings needed in the [Dix] house and the expectation that an experiment in settlement work would surely be begun.” The committee for “the Shelter Neck Settlement” asked for a loan for the settlement work from the “southern fund” and also reported that the property–the Dix House with Mr. Dukes’s attached schoolroom–was now secured, with “Mrs. Everett and Miss Hawes to undertake the settlement and school experiment.”

The year 1905, clearly, marked a turning point in the scope of work at Shelter Neck. Most later stories about the “Dix House School” cite this year for its founding, although some, being aware that 1902 was the year when the “ell” was built for teaching purposes and when Ellen Crehore first visited, claim that year as the school’s beginning. The progress of events which the Alliance board minutes reveal, although the settlement and educational work’s start-up decisions are not detailed, is clear evidence that a commitment for work beyond denominational expansion was made in the winter of 1905-06.

When school opened in October 1905 the chapel and the “Dix House” were in use by students, teachers, and the circuit minister.   Classes met in the schoolroom of the Dix House, the teachers and ministers lived in the adjoining main house, and the chapel was used for religious services. Mrs. Peterson, now becoming a permanent resident in North Carolina, was working for the first time with Mr. Key and without Dukes. Miss Hawes and Mrs. Everett were the first full-term volunteer teachers. Mr. Key was the circuit minister in residence, although he is not remembered to have done any teaching. The January 1906 minutes “report the success of the school in the Dix house–25 pupils from 5 to 33 years of age” and acknowledge the Alliance’s receipt of a deed to “the property at Shelter Neck to be known as Dix House, and to be used as headquarters for our missionary work in that section and as a parsonage for our representation, as long as it remains in the possession of the National Alliance.”

A brief history of the Shelter Neck school, almost surely written by Reverend W. S. Key (although no author is credited in the document), explains the Dix House “ell:” “The object in view, when the buildings were erected, was the providing of a rural school for the benefit of the children whose homes were in the immediate neighborhood, the nearest schoolhouse being over two miles distant. Several of the families had no less than a dozen children in each household.” The same document–which will be referenced here as “Key’s history”–describes the first years at the school:

. . . These two estimable women [“Mrs. Everett and her friend Miss Hawes”], accepting the urgent invitation of Mrs. Peterson, went to Shelter Neck [in the fall of 1905] and soon had the school work under way. At first there was some hesitation shown by the parents of some of the children about attending the school which was owned and was to be carried on by Northerners [sic]. Very shortly, however, as it became known what excellent teachers there were at Dix House school, and that they did no proselytizing for Unitarianism, (as it had been predicted they would) the attendance began to improve, so that the limited accommodations were taxed to the utmost. For six months the school work went along smoothly and satisfactorily, and when the term drew to a close, in the spring of 1906, there was a crowded attendance of parents and neighbors at the closing exercises, which proved a revelation to all the community who didn’t hesitate to express their astonishment and delight when they discovered how apt at picking up the rudiments of education (the “Three R’s”) their children were when under the care of and receiving the instruction from competent teachers. Many were the compliments paid the teachers for the work they had done. . . Indeed, so marked was the kindly and neighborly feeling which had been evoked between the entire community and the Northern teachers that the latter resumed their labors in the fall of 1906, and during the next six months conducted a still more successful school, with a larger attendance, increased enthusiasm and ambition, and with a still fuller measure of all round success.

. . . At the closing exercises at the end of [the 1907-08] term there was again a large attendance of parents, friends and neighbors, and so satisfactory were the results of the instruction that the same teachers [Clapp and Warren this term] accepted an invitation to return in the fall, which they did with most gratifying results, for by this time the school had gained an enviable reputation among the educational institutions of the State.

Key’s history continues, in similar vein and style, to explain that the school term at Shelter Neck “never exceeded six month’s duration, always beginning on or about the first day of October and continuing until about the first day of April, these being the slack months among the farmers and planters, when the children are free from out of door labors.” He adds, furthermore, that such a schedule was workable, too, because the days beyond April brought “increasing temperature which is far from agreeable to persons brought up in the north and who feel the effect of the southern heat greatly.” At the close of the 1910 term “the outdoor exercises. . .aroused so great an amount of public interest and were attended by so large a crowd from all the countryside that they have been continued ever since and have become an established institution.” By the fall of 1910, Key says, “the school had become known all through Eastern North Carolina.”

At the Unitarians’ annual gathering in Boston in May 1906, Dr. Edward Everett Hale, by then one of the denomination’s confirmed elder statesmen, declared in his opening remarks, “The Alliance is the best thing we have. It is up with the times. The women can do what they want to do now; to say what they want to say now; and they can do it together. The Alliance is wide awake, it is the best conducted business I have seen.” In North Carolina, at least, the Alliance had begun one of his most significant projects.


We had a French teacher who taught us French and we had sumptuous dinners and we danced the Virginia reel every Saturday night.   It was a lovely place and we just had a lovely time and I’m just happy I could be a part of it.             Clara Deal Watkins – 1993

The 1911 incorporation of the North Carolina school operations as “The Carolina Industrial School” facilitated the expansion of the work at Shelter Neck work and brought it to the peak of success. The greater measure of attention the school enjoyed after 1911 increased its financial support and allowed it to pay salaries to its staff and to enlarge its physical plant. The new corporation’s board of trustees, headed by A.U.A. President Samuel A. Eliot, was filled by some of the more prominent leaders of the Unitarian movement. Mrs. Abby A. Peterson remained the school’s superintendent and indefatigable promoter, and she, along with the Reverend W. S. Key, was based at “the Dix House, Shelter Neck” for most of each year, returning to New England in the summer months to recruit staff and raise funds. In a June 1911 article in The Christian Register , A.U.A. President Eliot introduced the newly incorporated school:

[N]ew enterprises allied to our general denominational work have come into being during the last winter. The incorporation of the Carolina Industrial School has provided for the enlargement and continuance of the educational work which has grown up in connection with the group of Unitarian churches which was originated by the Women’s Alliance in Pender and Onslow Counties, North Carolina. The new corporation has taken over the school properties. . . and expects soon to increase the equipment of the schools and enlist the co-operation of new friends. Mrs. Peterson, who has been from the beginning the moving spirit in this work, has been presenting this cause to a number of conferences, churches, and Alliance branches in New England, and we may confidently expect that the Carolina Industrial School will soon take its place among the formative and uplifting influences for the white boys and girls of Eastern North Carolina.

Many issues of the Register in 1911 carried articles about the North Carolina school. Most applauded the “pioneer work” of Mrs. Peterson, Mr. Key, and the volunteer teachers and stressed the need for contributions. In a particularly long piece Henry Wilder Foote, the A.U.A.’s Secretary for Education and a Carolina Industrial School board member, described for the Register’s largely northern Unitarian readership the school’s setting and facilities and revealed his own opinion about its possibilities:

Shelter Neck is a rural community. . .the number of pupils ranging from 25 to 45, of all ages and sizes, that being as many as can be crowded into the school-room. Dix House, and four acres of land adjoining the church property, belong to the National Alliance, the house having been intended as a parsonage. . . Being housed thus, the school has heretofore cost but very little. It is to be hoped, however, that means can be found to develop its work. The greatest blessing which we could confer upon this district, and I believe, the strongest method of reinforcing our churches as well, would be to develop this little school into a modest industrial and agricultural school. With proper accommodations boarding pupils could be taken, and they would come in from all the localities where we have churches. They would get training of a kind which is now practically unobtainable, and for want of which many of them are growing up almost illiterate.

Foote’s stated goals for the school were successfully realized over the next ten years: the Carolina Industrial School expanded its facilities and curricula and became widely respected in the state. In 1912 a new separate school building provided two large classrooms, an auditorium, and a library which doubled as a principal’s office. Key’s history points out that “the classrooms were equipped with individual desks and stools; the library with shelves which now accommodate a valuable library of books, numbering nearly 2000 volumes, while the auditorium is available alike for class work, social meetings and special school and community gatherings.” The new schoolhouse was dedicated on October 30, 1912, with “the building crowded with pupils, parents, and friends” and speeches made by the Rev. A. T. Bowser of the Unitarian church at Richmond, Virginia, Mr. Archibald. M. Howe of Cambridge, Massachusetts, “and other friends.” Also in 1912 additional acreage and a second house, financed with a contribution from Miss Ellen Kimball and named Kimball House, were acquired. These added properties afforded the school considerable farm land and allowed, in the fall of 1912, four girls to be the first female boarders while two boys were the first to stay in Dix House.

Key’s history offers the most detail on record about the curricula at the Shelter Neck school. The “usual courses of academic studies” were taught alongside other multifaceted curricula, he writes. “The primary grades were instructed according to established kindergarten methods, including clay modeling in which some of them excelled.” With the arrival of some teachers with special talents, “musical, literary and dramatic entertainments were given occasionally.” Key singles out Miss von Lavner , a teacher proficient in music and languages, noting that “with the addition of this lady the study of French became part of the course of study. . . [and] occasionally recitations in French were delivered in public.”

“The older girls,” he continues, “were taught sewing, basketry and rug weaving, one of the rooms in Kimball House being equipped with an old time hand loom on which the girls quickly learned how to weave most attractive rugs.” In addition to the teachers, housekeepers were frequently retained at Dix House, and, one of them, Miss MacIntire, “held regular classes in cooking at Dix House for the boarding pupils, who were taught bread making and the preparation of all kinds of good wholesome food, and the preservation of vegetables and fruit. Miss MacIntire likewise gave regular lessons in millinery to all the girl students. . . [and she] remained at Dix House throughout the whole of the summers of 1917 and 1919 during which season she assisted in preserving literally thousands of cans, jars and bottles of fruit and vegetables for the Dix House family’s winter use.”

If the girls were being taught domestic skills, the boys were being offered the training which Foote must have, specifically, had in mind: agricultural and industrial instruction became such a successful program that the school became known for it around the state. There was, Mr. Key writes, “a commodious and well equipped workshop which was built soon after the new schoolhouse was completed.” Boy students were taught “the use of mechanical tools. . .to repair boots and shoes, carpentry, making and repairing harnesses, farm tools and agricultural implements, buggy and wagon work, etc. . . . “

As the school’s agricultural and industrial programs for boys and girls expanded, the school’s leadership reached out to connect its production with the surrounding area.   To Key, Mrs. Peterson “was the leading spirit in the organizing of county and community fairs, neighborhood welfare societies, school exhibitions and other uplifting movements.” She was able to “display every conceivable kind of school work in most attractive exhibits which invariably gained the notice and attention of all visitors. . . and the Carolina Industrial School always won the highest honors, the judges being invariably State experts in their respective departments.” Key obviously relished these successes and added a tale of an event in nearby Wilmington, North Carolina: at the Annual Corn Show, which he gives Mrs. Peterson credit for helping organize, “a New York financial and railroad magnate, whose summer home was located near that city, was so attracted by the beauty of these hand woven rugs that he bought every one then on exhibition and gave orders for additional ones.”

Whatever other fairs Mrs. Peterson organized, the events for which the school became most well-known were the “Farmers Institutes.” Key’s history says they were organized by the Department of Agriculture and held once or twice during the school term. Five or six “expert agriculturists, botanists, horticulturists and veterinarians equipped with lantern slides, diagrams, and specimens of almost every conceivable variety of Southern fruits, grains and vegetables” would give presentations and addresses, “the meetings being attended by a large crowd coming from all parts of the County,” he writes. The fame of these “Institutes” spread even to the pages of the Unitarian Christian Register,  where a 1914 article, “From Shelter Neck,” paints a colorful picture of them:

What proved to be the most important and successful event in the history of our work and movement in this section was the holding of what is known as a Farmers Institute, which was held on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17 and 18. It was part of a campaign for social, domestic, farming and rural betterment, which for several years had been carried on by the North Carolina State Agricultural Department in conjunction with the Federal Agricultural Department in Washington, D. C., these Institutes being held at stated periods all through the year.   For this particular occasion no less than seven speakers were sent to us, and each speaker was an expert in his or her respective department of the movement. The lecturers included four gentlemen and four ladies, and the topics they discussed covered a very wide field, and included “The Improvement of Soil by Preparation of Land,” “Home Mixing of Fertilizers,” “Improvement of Soil by Rotation of Crops,” <Live Stock,” “The Value of Legumes and Cotton-seed Meal,” “Breadmaking,” “Canning Clubs,” “Child Training,” “Household Conveniences,” “Women’s Clubs,” “Care of Babies,” “Food for the Young,” “Sanitation and Hygiene,” “The Rural Credits Bill Now Before Congress.”

The meetings had to be held concurrently for men and women in the new school auditorium and class-rooms, so large was the attendance, and so eager were all to hear and learn. The addresses were illustrated and simplified by the use of diagrammatic charts, while practical demonstration lessons were given the women and girls by the lady speakers.

On Tuesday evening a stereopticon lecture was given, descriptive and illustrative of farm life in North Carolina. Many beautifully colored slides were also shown of the mountain scenery in the western part of the State, to-gether with a series of pictures of views of the Panama Canal. On both days a sumptuous picnic dinner was served on the church grounds, friends from a distance bringing well-filled baskets. The entire corps of lecturers were entertained at Dix House for the two days, and on taking their leave were unanimous in their praise of the delightful visit they had had, and expressed their readiness to hold a similar Institute in the near future. It was by far the best Institute that had been held for a long time past anywhere throughout Eastern North Carolina, and great good cannot fail to result among all those who had the good fortune to be present.

The school’s farm was the scene for testing innovative agricultural techniques and products and became a respected center not only for experimentation but for the dissemination of information. The school introduced “up to date intensive methods of gardening” in its early years and, according to Key, “from year to year new varieties of fruits and vegetables were introduced and successful experiments in acclimatizing and hybridizing have been carried on to such an extent that it was no uncommon thing to see from twenty to thirty varieties of fruits and vegetables growing and flourishing.” Shelter Neck tested roots, bulbs and plants and seeds from other regions of the country as well as Europe and South America, “in order that the soil and climatic conditions in the Southern States might be tested in the germination, growth and maturity of plants indigenous to Northern and Western sections of the United States.” Key points with particular pride to the experimentation with strawberries, which were grown in great quantity in the area, and to a new strain which the Shelter Neck school “developed to a fine state of perfection” and named the “Peterson Strawberry.”

The connection the school made with federal and state agricultural officials was apparently important and successful for all. Key makes particular mention of the role the school played in campaigns to eliminate such public health problems as hook-worm, cattle tick and hog cholera, illuminating for his unenlightened readers the “incalculable injury to our country” such diseases caused in those years. The school “at an early date began to co-operate with the Government experts” to eliminate these diseases, he writes, and “the school and its auxiliary institutions [became] the recognized headquarters for campaign work. On the School premises there were kept for free daily use by the entire community the scientific appliances, chemical ingredients for making the various remedies. Not only so, but members of the school faculty travelled hundreds of miles administering these remedies.”

The school trained its older pupils by involving them with these projects, affording them, in Key’s words, “practical instruction while actually assisting” in the various experiments, testings, and vaccinations. In the same vein, the school’s male students and faculty developed skills especially helpful in their low-lying and frequently flooded area of coastal North Carolina:

The school was early recognized as the source of various projects for improving existing roads or the laying out and constructing of new lines of travel; the building of bridges over brooks and Branches [sic] which too often were all but impassable during the rainy season, or the repairing of bridges which would otherwise have soon become dangerous, if not entirely unusable. Whenever these undertakings became necessary, and that was often, gangs of men and boys were organized by the school authorities and equipped with the necessary tools before entering upon their work which always ended in the doing of really good work in the benefits of which not only the residents of the immediate vicinity shared, but also the travelling public.

The disastrous flood in the summer of 1908, which submerged the entire district for miles around for nearly two weeks, and destroyed not only the people’s cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry, but in some instances their homes too, would have wrought utter ruin to many, but for the prompt assistance rendered by the school and its managers who were generously aided in the work of restoration by the Agricultural and War Department of the Federal Government in Washington.

Key reports that the male students also participated when new wells and an improved plumbing and sewer system were put in after the 1908 flood. He cites these experiences as well as the exposure to “more comfortable vehicles for work and travel . . .[and] up to date tools and implements” which, he writes, “aroused the ambitions of the people and prompted them to follow suit” and “contributed to the growing usefulness of the Carolina Industrial School.”

In 1974 Norma Rowe Sawyer, a former student of the school, wrote an article for the Burgaw, North Carolina, Pender Post , in which she reminisced about the school. Her memories contribute to the picture of daily life at the Shelter Neck school at the zenith of its success:

In the fall of 1913, I enrolled in school and was in school there until the spring of my 16th birthday, 1923. . .

From the first through the seventh grades we traveled three miles from our house to school by various modes of transportation. When just a little boy, my brother [Roy Rowe] used to ride the distance in his goat cart, tieing the goat by the barn pump on the place and feeding him at lunch time. Sometimes, we along with other neighborhood children drove the mule and cart or mule and buggy to school. Later we rode our bicycles or when the weather was pretty we walked. . .

Outstanding teachers I remember at the Unitarian School were Miss Brooks, Mrs. Pratt, and Miss von Lavner. I remember we had commencement programs at which time recitations were given, songs sung, and demonstration of various subject areas. . . An exile from her native Austria, [Miss von Lavner] escaped from that country to Paris, France [,] during World War I. A member of the nobility, a student at the leading conservatories in Europe, she was like manna sent from heaven for me. . .   She was a perfectionist and would not accept sloppy work from her students. I admired and respected her and worked diligently to become proficient, both in French and music. . . . Mrs. Pratt, a handsome aristocrat and relative of the Calvin Coolidge family[,] taught history. . . . [I]t was not unusual for us to put on skits from Shakespearean plays. Often with the old moss covered trees used as a backdrop for our performances.

When my sister Gladys and I were in our teens, our parents decided to board us at the girls’ dormitory which housed twelve girls and three teachers. . . Boys roomed on the second and third floors at Dix House which also housed the housekeeper, minister, and other teachers. Incidentally, I think our parents had us live there because they felt we would gain from the cultural environment, discipline and organization.

Let me give you a resume of a typical school day as I remember it. Rising at 6 o’clock in the morning, one girl would build a fire in the long wood stove, another would make up the six cots, while another would fill and trim the kerosene lamps, and one would bring in wood from the wood pile at the back of the house. Two girls from each room would hurry to Dix House to set the tables for breakfast and later washed the dishes. All work, of course, to be done of a rotating basis. Boys had similar chores along with the feeding the cows and chopping the wood.

We had three tables in the dining room at Dix House. Always there were linen tablecloths and napkins changed daily. French students sat at one table with Miss von Lavner and all conversation was in French. We sang the blessing and table manners were taught.

I remember especially Boston Baked beans, hashed brown potatoes, creamed chipped beef, rolls and butter, leg of lamb, cold milk and apple pie. . .

In school students began the day with singing and a devotional in the auditorium. All boarding students went to Dix House for a hot meal in the middle of the day. Day students ate under the old oak trees, fed their team, and played. We had a quiet hour after school when everyone went to their rooms to rest or sleep. Those who took piano had lessons twice a week and practiced one hour each day. 7-9 p.m. study hour was rigidly enforced. Teachers were in their rooms or living rooms and were ready to help with any problems we had. . .

Each school night at 9 o’clock all of the boarding students would come to the living room where joined by the teachers we would be asked to contribute to a round table discussion of anything of interest we had experienced that day. Always we would have read to us a great poem or an inspiring bit of philosophy from a great poet or thinker. Those who had French had some conversation with Miss von Lavner before we went to bed.

The highlight of the week was the Saturday night party. Here we were taught numerous folk dances and always would end up the party with the Virginia Reel. Young folks from nearby communities came and joined in the fun.

Sunday morning we had church, often after the sermon those of us who were interested had something like a seminar where we asked questions and expressed our views on religion. Sunday school was in the afternoon. Afterwards, when the weather was pretty, young folks always accompanied by a teacher would take a leisurely walk down to the river admiring ever changing sounds and beauty of the countryside. The Sunday night sing was when all of us went over to the school auditorium and sang songs for an hour. . . Particularly beautiful was the candlelight service at Christmas time. We would light our candles at the schoolhouse and march over to the chapel singing Christmas carols. . . .

For us it was the only life we knew and we exalted in it.

On December 6, 1918, fire destroyed the Kimball House. It was the beginning of a series of disastrous blows for the Shelter Neck school. Mrs. Peterson wrote to the Alliance board that the staff was “grateful that no one was injured, but the clothing of the boarding pupils was completely destroyed and the loss is keenly felt.” Mrs. Peterson, seemingly undaunted, determined to rebuild Kimball House.

The following April, however, a more profound tragedy occurred: Mrs. Peterson was taken ill and died only a few days later, on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, in the Wilmington hospital. The shock was felt at Shelter Neck and around the Unitarian world. The Alliance minutes in May 1919 note, “The President spoke of our great loss in the death of Mrs. Peterson. . . and read a touching letter signed by eight members of the Shelter Neck branch.” In The Christian Register Henry Wilder Foote wrote a May 1, 1919, article about her, noting that her death “brought a keen sense of grievous loss to many people in our fellowship for Mrs. Peterson had become widely known and much beloved in our churches.” Foote added that “During the weeks before her death she was engrossed in plans for rebuilding Kimball House at Shelter Neck. . . To have the work go on would be her dearest wish.”

That Mrs. Peterson’s death precipitated a gentle decline in the undergirding of the school is unquestionable. Norma Rowe Sawyer’s memory is revealing of the feeling in the Shelter Neck community:

It was a sad day for all of us when Mrs. Peterson had to be taken to the hospital. . . We watched Mr. Key, along with others, carry her gently and put her in the surrey to drive all the way to a hospital in Wilmington. Roads for the most part were unpaved, there were no rural telephones.

Mr. Key was never quite the same without her. She stood erect and was sure of herself–a fine lady from Boston who was a leader and one everyone looked up to. Not too long afterwards Mr. Key went back to Boston and others from Boston took over the school. . . .


About thirty years ago, in several remote and isolated spots on the southeast coast of North Carolina, Unitarians started churches and schools, where none existed….These churches and schools were maintained as long as there was need for them, but the object was to inspire and assist, not to rival or duplicate; so when the State began to progress and establish its own schools and build roads which made them accessible, the activities were gradually withdrawn.          The Christian Register – 1930

In the months immediately following Mrs. Peterson’s death the Alliance and the denomination moved quickly to maintain the school. “Miss Mary Nichols of Danvers, Mass., has consented to superintend the . . .schools for a year, and Kimball House will probably be rebuilt this summer,” the June 1919 minutes recorded. A story in The Christian Register that same month announced “Plans for Shelter Neck:”

We all know, of course, that no one can really fill Mrs. Peterson’s place, but the friends of the School will be very glad to hear that the trustees have secured the services for the coming year of Miss Mary E. Nichols of Danvers, Mass., to go to Shelter Neck as superintendent . . . Miss Nichols has been at Shelter Neck. . . serving as a teacher . . .for a year in the earlier days of the School. She is therefore familiar with the neighborhood, and is held in affectionate remembrance by the children who were then her pupils and who are now among the young married people of the community. . . The trustees of the School. . . also elected Rev. Abbot Peterson of Brookline, Mass., a son of Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, to membership on the board of trustees, and voted to proceed with the rebuilding of Kimball House, and to install the proposed water supply should funds permit.

Not only had the school lost Mrs. Peterson, but, by the winter of 1919-20, Mr. Key, too, would depart. Whether it was mainly Mrs. Peterson’s absence, as Norma Rowe Sawyer suggests, or a wider combination of factors, Mr. Key would leave Shelter Neck in the winter of 1919-20. His departure was at least partially his choosing and partially because available funds were “inadequate for his support.” Indeed that fall saw both the long-time ministers in the Shelter Neck area in some consternation. In October Mr. Cowan wrote a letter to the Alliance board “in which after referring to the mental confusion in which he finds the world, his section [eastern North Carolina] included, he says <I have decided that now is the opportune time to set forth our affirmations to take a decided stand for God and Humanity.’“ Although Mr. Cowan had been only peripherally involved with the school, he would continue to preach in nearby communities, being supplied that winter with “a tent and organ for which he has more than once expressed a desire.” Most importantly, however, the loss of Mrs. Peterson and Mr. Key in the same year removed the two most committed leaders from the Shelter Neck school.

In March 1920 the board retained Reverend J. W. Heyes to fill Mr. Key’s post, the new minister’s annual salary of $600 being split between the A.U.A. and the Alliance, which also voted “to pay our share of the expense of moving from Maine to North Carolina. Mr. Heyes goes with his family (and a Ford car).” In April Mr. Heyes wrote “with great enthusiasm of a community sing on Sunday evening at Dix House, Shelter Neck, when all sang heartily and with great enjoyment from Dr. Horton’s Sunday School Hymn Book.”

On April 19, 1920, a year after Mrs. Peterson’s death, the Shelter Neck community held a memorial service for her. “The congregation of the church and the parents of pupils in the school gathered from the neighborhood and filled the church to the doors,” reported an article in The Register, and her son Abbot Peterson unveiled a plaque to her memory .

By the fall of the year Heyes was “busy” at Shelter Neck “where Kimball House, the girls’ dormitory of the school is being rebuilt. Mr. Cowan has held many meetings in his tent loaned by the A.U.A. and writes that <my tent and my organ are surely fulfilling their mission.’“ The Alliance published a suggestion that the denomination’s Sunday School children might make a contribution to the rebuilding of Kimball House. On a grander scale, the denomination conducted its “first continent-wide” fund raising campaign, and the Alliance issued an appeal for $2000 for the Carolina Industrial School. Mrs. Jeanette. B. Damon replaced Miss Nichols as superintendent for the 1920 fall term; she would remain at the post for several years. Mr. Heyes, in contrast, would plan to leave Shelter Neck that December, “ as he proved unequal to the demands of his position.”

In December 1921, the trustees of the Carolina Industrial School, in a move that undoubtedly signaled a loss of faith in the work, asked that the Alliance resume the direct management of the school. The Alliance agreed to accept the responsibility, taking up essentially the same role it had played in the school’s formative years. In her May address to the Alliance’s 1922 Annual Meeting, President Lowell urged the women “to more success”. . . We must keep working with enthusiasm,” she implored. The Alliance reorganized its Committee on Southern Work to accommodate its expanded responsibilities and assessed the situation in North Carolina.

An October 1922 Register article noted that “the reorganized committee on Southern Work reported with great satisfaction that Reverend Margaret Barnard, who has been so successful at Rowe and Bernardston, Mass., is to serve as minister at Swansboro, North Carolina this year. . .The Alliance has now the full responsibility of administering the Carolina Industrial School and asks generous contributions for this work.” The arrival of Margaret Barnard positioned a competent and motivated woman in North Carolina again, but, this time, at Swansboro. While Mrs. Damon, who held the school superintendent’s post, was based at Shelter Neck, the prominence of Miss Barnard’s voice in correspondence and articles attests to her dominant personality. A lengthy article by her, “Going South by Motor” appeared in The Register the October she arrived in North Carolina, and her exchanges with the Alliance board reveal her strong influence. Her first report to the board “tells of the religious services held at Swansboro and White Oak. . . with good attendance, two-thirds being men. Both Schools have made a good start and never seemed more prosperous.”

Money continued to be an issue as the Alliance resumed the management responsibilities of the school, especially when building repairs at the school plants in both Swansboro and Shelter Neck seemed desperately needed. The Alliance channelled spare monies from various funds to the school operations through 1922 and 1923, and in the spring of the latter year, Miss Barnard was requested to “speak for the cause during the summer with the hope of securing the needed money.” Various scholarships for the Carolina Industrial School were also established, and in December 1923 the Southern Work Committee chair, Mrs. Coolidge, reported that the committee had voted “to reinstate the pledge system of contributions from the branches.” Mrs. Coolidge visited North Carolina in January and reported to the board about “the repairs and improvements needed. The [Southern Work] committee is persuaded that we must put our Southern plant in order before we expand it.” The January 1924 minutes reveal some additional changes:

On the recommendation of the committee it was voted that they be authorized to engage Rev. Stephen Palmer of Dighton, Mass., as minister and teacher at Shelter Neck, N.C., to begin service if possible on April 1, 1924, and to authorize the committee to try to raise at least $10,000. to put in repair both settlements in North Carolina, and to give the workers the comforts of running water, heat and light, and reduce to a minimum the menace of fire. It was voted to send a note of thanks to Miss Ellen F. Kimball, who has given $1200 toward the amount needed for Kimball House.

Clearly, maintaining the school was becoming a heavier burden. The cost of operating the schools was, as Henry Wilder Foote had noted several years before, considerably more than when the schools were smaller and the teachers worked on a volunteer basis. While her expenses had been paid, Mrs. Peterson was apparently never salaried; in contrast, her successor, Mrs. Damon, received $1000 a year as the school’s superintendent. Furthermore–and most significantly–the buildings and equipment had aged enough to need repair and, as the preceding reference from the minutes suggests, contemporary employees in 1924 expected running water, electric light, and heat from sources other than fireplaces. Times had changed in the twenty years since the school’s founding.

The Reverend Palmer was present at the May 1924 Alliance Annual Meeting where it was formally announced that “Rev. and Mrs. Stephen G. Palmer will go to Shelter Neck, N.C. the last of September, he to become principal of the school as well as to serve as minister.” Mrs. Damon would return as superintendent and Miss Margaret Barnard would continue in charge at Swansboro.

January 1925 found Mrs. Damon ill in the north, her position filled by Mrs. Edith C. Norton. Helen Howard, a member of the Southern Work Committee, brought back a “very encouraging report” from a visit at the schools, and “Miss Beard, newly elected chairman of the [Southern Work Committee] urged directors to help the work by talking of it to their branches.”   The committee discussed expansion at Swansboro with enthusiasm.

For the 1925-26 school term, “The Carolina Industrial School BULLETIN,” described the programs and costs at the Shelter Neck school; Mrs. Elizabeth Chadwick Twinning, who boarded as a student that year, kept a copy. The bulletin is one of the few extant documents about the school and contains information found nowhere else. The school’s location is noted as being at “Shelter Neck, post office, Watha, North Carolina, a few miles from the railroad station at Watha. It is ten miles from Burgaw, the county seat of Pender County. The nearest city is Wilmington, to which occasional trips are made by train or automobile.”   The brochure further discusses the facilities on site, noting the dormitories and describing the buildings as being “located in the midst of a grove of large native oaks and other shade trees.” It also states that “This school is the outgrowth of a social settlement and church started at Shelter Neck in 1895. The children of the neighborhood are day pupils, and the social life of the community centers here.”

The BULLETIN announces the leadership at the school: “Superintendent: Edith C. Norton and Principal: Rev. Stephen G. Palmer, who work with the assistance of three teachers.” It also includes an overview its history, its curriculum, and its fees:

The school offers Primary, Intermediate, and High School work. . . It has been in continuous operation for a period of twenty-three years. During that period it is estimated that there has been an average enrollment of forty pupils yearly, many of whom have found in this place their only opportunity for attending school. This institution has afforded an opportunity for educational development which has been maintained during its history, with growing usefulness in school, church and social welfare.

Courses of Study are those usually required in the public schools of the state; and the text books used and the subjects pursued conform to the state’s requirement in schools of like grade. . . [including] three full years of High School work; including a commercial course. During the past year work has been given in the fourth year of High School, and it is hoped that courses in home economics and other industrial training may be offered in 1925-26. Some instruction in music will be given, as well as piano lessons to all who are capable and desirous of taking them.

Industrial Activities: Certain activities in work are required of all boarding pupils, aside from the maintenance of satisfactory grades in their studies. For the girls there are domestic duties under the supervision of the Superintendent and House-keeper. The boys are directed for work about the buildings and farm, and a fixed number of hours of work is required. Text books are provided for all pupils. Pupils may do their own laundry work. The use of tobacco in the buildings is prohibited. Each pupil is expected to bring some household remedies required in minor illness. Otherwise supplies are furnished to pupils, when needed, at nominal charges. The flat rate of sixty dollars is charged each of the boarding pupils to help cover the expense of board, dormitory and incidentals. (This is an increase over the former rate, due to general increase in living expenses.) This amount is payable, one-half at the beginning of the school year, the balance at the opening of school after the holiday recess. There is provision for scholarships or partial scholarships under conditions to be arranged with the Superintendent.   Further inquiries are directed to the Superintendent, Mrs. Edith C. Norton. Contributions should be sent to Miss Louise Brown, 25 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.

As history would have it, the brochure Elizabeth kept would describe the last year of the school at Shelter Neck. In January, 1926, the recommendation of the Southern Work Committee to the Alliance board signaled the end of the school’s operations:

The Committee on Southern Work after careful consideration of all conditions recommends that the Alliance withdraw from Shelter Neck, North Carolina, in order to consolidate for larger work at Swansboro, and asked that power be given the committee to carry out the details of withdrawal. The school enrollment is small. North Carolina is developing a system of good roads and giving free transportation for school children, and at the same time has raised its school standards. The attendance at church and Sunday-school is very small, and it seems to the committee that our church has ceased to be a necessity. The buildings are out of repair, the farm is not being worked, a large sum of money would be required to put the place in order. Therefore the committee recommends withdrawal. In so doing it wishes to make clear that this is not failure, it is rather the completion of a fine service of 23 years.

The Carolina Industrial School’s work was “consolidated” into the Swansboro facility, where Margaret Barnard was in charge.   The Southern Work Committee explained to the Alliance in 1926 that “Swansboro. . . is a fishing station, has a good harbor, there is a great call for vocational training to supplement the public school courses. . . families are interested and loyal to us.” Swansboro, clearly , seemed a more promising place than still-unincorporated Shelter Neck.

The face and pace of life in North Carolina were changing rapidly and, as Miss Barnard had noted on her trip to the state in 1922, “the roads as a whole surprised us by their excellence and there were many stretches with a vitrified brick pavement seven feet wide. North Carolina is spending much money to improve her roads, and in a few years will probably have a fine system of highways.” The Alliance struggled to keep the work going over the next four years and wrestled with the ethics of discontinuing the work to which so many Alliance women and other Unitarians had contributed of their personal and financial resources.

The Southern Work Committee viewed the 1929-30 school year as an experiment.   A January 1930 article, “Challenge of the Forgotten Man and Woman: How the General Alliance of Unitarian Women is Meeting It,” appeared inThe Christian Register. and would be one of the last to make an appeal for financial support for the North Carolina work. It noted that <the expense budget calls for $10,000, $8,000 of which is the Appeal to the branches.”

Between January and March 1930 Mrs. Eva Churchill, a member of the Southern Work Committee, traveled to North Carolina to have a closer look at the situation. She reported to the Southern Work committee on March 10, 1930:

After a ten day’s visit to our school and three churches in North Carolina and a subsequent week of reflection, one’s mind is so filled with conflicting emotions and opinions that it is difficult to know where to begin a report and just what to say . . .

North Carolina has begun to awaken to her own needs and her own responsibility toward those needs. . .

Mrs. Peterson and the early workers established churches and schools where none existed. They were maintained and continued by the next group of workers, until their example together with the example of similar schools and churches of other denominations have proven to the state their necessity. Now it is for our generation to face the fact that our usefulness is passing.

Last year [1929] North Carolina spent huge sums, up into the hundreds of thousands, on her roads and she has nearly as much more ready for this year. That means isolation is becoming a thing of the past. She is building big modern brick schoolhouses at frequent intervals and bringing the children to them in buses. .

North Carolina is considered the most progressive and enterprising of the Southern states. . .

Our first thought should be one of sincere congratulation to the state, and the next joy that we may be released from this service to turn our efforts into other channels. . .

“It will not be easy to relinquish the work. Such changes are never easy either for the benefactor or the beneficiary. . .

. . . I think the schoolhouse at Shelter Neck and enough land around it for an adequate playground should be given to Pender County.

Mrs. Churchill also reported to the Alliance board in late spring 1930 and asked what should be done about the North Carolina work:

At one time there were at least five churches and two schools. They were maintained as long as there seemed to be need for them, but the first trustees and later the General Alliance always followed the policy of keeping pace with existing conditions, and work has always been done because it was needed, never for the sake of working. As conditions changed the work changed, until at the time I came on to the committee, there were only three churches and one school. . . .

Your committee believes the time has come when the best educational service to North Carolina is to withdraw all school activities and encourage her to assume her own responsibilities.

The county has maintained a school at Shelter Neck ever since our school was withdrawn, and has paid us rent for our building.

. . .[T]he need for outside help in North Carolina is passing. . . other denominational school-committees. . . are “fighting for their lives.” Instead of fighting for our life, we rejoice that the need for us is passing and congratulate the state on her progress.

. . . The question I bring to you is shall we or shall we not cease our school activities in North Carolina?

On Monday, March 10, 1930, your committee on Southern Work, with eight members present, unanimously voted “that in view of the fact that the State of North Carolina is building adequate public schools and good roads by which they may be reached, this committee recommends to the Board that we close the school.”

In May 1931 the committee reviewed the year’s events for the Annual Meeting of the Alliance:

The policy of this committee for the year 1930-31 . . .was to continue the three churches [Swansboro, Shelter Neck and White Oak], with regular services in each, and to employ Mr. Sears to preach, to maintain the library, and to develop whatever social activities grew naturally from his relationship with the three communities.

Mr. and Mrs. Sears returned to Swansboro after the summer vacation on Sept 1st . . . On October 8th in the morning the church in Swansboro was set fire and burned to the ground, and three days later the same thing happened to Salem Cottage. Mr. and Mrs. Sears came to Boston to consult with the members of the Southern Work Committee . . . Mr. Churchill and Mrs. Elliott then went South with Mr. Sears to investigate. On their return they recommended that no effort be made to send a minister there and Mr. Sears’ resignation was accepted.

The attempt was then made to cooperate with the Universalists and Dr. Patterson went down from the A.U.A. to look over the field with Dr. Francis B. Bishop, State Superintendent of the Universalist General Convention. Going together they visited the three churches and upon his return Dr. Patterson reported that he had found it impossible to arrange any cooperation with the Universalists and his advice would be to withdraw entirely.

The committee learned that the County Commissioners of Pender County might be able to use the Shelter Neck property for a county institution and at the time of the writing of this report the Committee is awaiting a reply to the offer of this property to them as a gift.

In the fall of 1931 the committee continued its deliberations but acknowledged that it was coming close to resolution; its October 26th meeting voted to “turn all funds over to the General Alliance Treasury” but noted, at the meeting’s end, that “because small details are still unfinished, the committee decided not to dissolve.”

At the November 30, 1931, meeting the treasurer reported that “on October 28th, in following out the vote of the Committee she had sent to the Treasurer of the General alliance the sum of $1954.44.” The minutes of that meeting made a final report:

Mrs. Stebbins reported that immediately after the last meeting she wrote to Rev. Francis B. Bishop, D.D., State Superintendent of the Universalist Convention of North Carolina, Inc., asking him if he would accept the Pender County property for the Universalists, if offered. Mrs. Stebbins read a letter in reply from Dr. Bishop, saying that he would be glad to accept the property.

Mrs. Stebbins reported that at a meeting of the [Alliance] Executive Board on Nov. 13, she made the following statement;

“Your committee tried to give the property at Shelter Neck to the Pender County authorities for community service, to use for a home for the aged, a hospital or a school for defectives. After long delay we finally heard in August that the authorities of the county could not finance any of these schemes. Then your committee tried to sell the property and we had five people interested, but no one of these would buy the property outright–two offered $500 down and $500 on mortgage. Then we wrote to Dr. Bishop, State Superintendent of the Universalist Convention of North Carolina, Inc., who is willing to accept the property for the Universalists.   They have an incorporated organization acting in the State and in our opinion this is the best possible disposition that could be made of it.”

At the same meeting [of the Alliance’s Executive Board] the following vote was passed:

“That the real estate and buildings owned by the General Alliance in Pender County, North Carolina, be transferred without restriction to the Universalist Convention of North Carolina, Inc., and that Miss Louise Brown, Treasurer, be and is hereby authorized in the name and on behalf of the General Alliance to execute and deliver any deeds or other instruments in writing necessary or convenient to accomplish such transfer.”

The members of the Committee understand that this will be the last meeting of the Southern Work Committee.


Mrs. Ellis Peterson is the mind and soul of the thing. She is not only the secretary of the Board, she is also the resident Director. She spends her winters at one of the schools, in general charge of the work, and she comes North in the late spring and spends the summers raising money and securing the necessary equipment. It is her life work. The rest of us who serve on the Board of Trustees try to give her such support as we can.               Samuel A. Eliot – 1915

The Shelter Neck school was, overwhelmingly, the creation and responsibility of the National Alliance of Unitarian Women and, ultimately, the passionate mission of Mrs. Abby A. Peterson. Both at the beginning and at the end of the school’s operation, the executive board of the Alliance, usually acting on the recommendations of its Southern Work Committee, oversaw the work at Shelter Neck. Mrs. Peterson, whose involvement had begun as chair of the Alliance’s Southern Circuit Committee and would continue until her 1919 death, superintended the operations, led the effort to raise funds, and recruited other New England women to staff the North Carolina school. Although the American Unitarian Association was always involved, all records point to the Alliance’s dominant role in the North Carolina work. In 1911 the school incorporated as the Carolina Industrial School and from then until 1921 had its own board of trustees. Yet the Alliance remained interested and supportive and Mrs. Peterson remained the project’s guiding light. In 1921, two years after Mrs. Peterson’s death, the Carolina Industrial School board asked the Alliance to resume the management responsibilities for the school, a task the womens’ organization performed until the school closed.

Almost all the women involved with the school were New England women, most of them from Boston and its suburbs. At the outset the Alliance’s Southern Circuit Committee, headed from the beginning by Mrs. Peterson, of the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, monitored the southern missionary efforts. Before 1902 it seemed that the committee was, almost solely, Mrs. Peterson; in 1899, for example, when the issue of building chapels was at the fore, “the President and Mrs. Peterson were chosen a committee to consider the erection of Mr. Dukes’ chapel.” After 1902 both the work and the committee expanded; by June of that year “it was voted that the Committee on Southern Work should consist of Mrs. Peterson, Miss Low [the President], and Mrs. Smith.” In 1907 the committee was increased to five members: Mrs. Peterson, Mrs. Atherton, Miss Low, Mrs. Strong, and Mrs. Noyes.

In those turn-of-the-century years the leadership of the Alliance was drawn primarily from Unitarian women in Massachusetts and New York. It is not surprising, then, that the turning point for the “southern work” was set in motion by “a meeting of the presidents of the Massachusetts branches of the Women’s National Alliance held in January [1900] to consider means to place the Southern Circuits on a more definite financial basis.” The meeting of the Massachusetts presidents appointed a committee to seek pledges for the southern work. The outcome was a five-year pledge plan which established the “southern fund” which underwrote ministers’ salaries and new church constructions for the “southern circuit work.” The Alliance board received the plan in April 1900:

This committee [appointed to develop a financial plan for the Southern Circuits] now reports to the Board of the National Alliance that, in response to the circular letter sent to all the branches, it has received pledges for five years from the eighty-eight branches amounting to $1218 in sums varying from $1 to $100. Also thirty-eight branches have sent small sums this year, amounting to $208.54, with the hope of continuing another year. The cordial and ready spirit of co-operation shown by the many notes received is an indication of strength in the organization, and a promise of greater effectiveness along general lines which will tend to re-enforce denominational work. The definite sum, therefore, of $1218, with small additional sum, is placed in the hands of the board for five years for southern circuit work.

In 1900 the work escalated significantly, the expansion made possible by the five-year plan’s “southern fund.” In early 1904 the Southern Circuit Committee reported that “the five year pledges of most of the branches would soon expire. . . .”   A similar system of pledging was reinstated. By the summer of 1906 the Alliance again discussed finances for the southern work, the issue raised this time by the Finance Committee, which voiced a strong concern:

It was noted that the receipts for Southern Circuit work for last year was $1811 while disbursements were $2128.33. About one hundred dollars pledged for this work for last year were not paid. The Finance Committee therefore recommend that the treasurer post a notice in Word and Work reminding branches of their unpaid pledges.

Attention was called to the fact that for the last three years the National Alliance has been living outside its income in Southern Circuit Work. At the end of the financial year in 1904 a balance of $1642 stood to the credit of the southern circuit. In 1905 there was $1140 and on April 30th of the present year the sum had diminished to $82. The committee feel that the board should spend only its income [sic] in this work. The amount paid in salaries, at this time, in the southern circuit work is $71 a month.

Though the Alliance continually felt the financial as well as the managerial responsibility for the Southern missionary work, the A.U.A. did contribute; indeed, particularly in the cases of ministers’ salaries, the A.U.A. and the Alliance shared the expenses. A typical arrangement was the one for the Reverend W. S. Key: “Realizing the importance of a well-equipped man in the southern circuits [the A.U.A.] had proposed that Rev. W. S. Key should be employed as Field Agent with a salary of $1500. That the Alliance should employ him in the south for six months and the American Unitarian Association should employ him in the north during the other six months.”   The two organizations also jointly supported other North Carolina circuit ministers, one being solicited with the understanding that the Alliance would “offer $250 a year for salary provided the American Unitarian Association will do the same.”

Even though it shared the responsibility with the A.U.A.,the Alliance continued to feel the burden of supporting the Southern work. Individual contributions were vital for the school’s financial health, and the job of fund raising was always pivotal to its success. With the expanding activity, the Alliance sought alternatives for undergirding the project. The quest led to the incorporation of the school, with a board of trustees who could broaden its base of its support.

At the Carolina Industrial School’s incorporation in 1911, the denomination proudly staked its claim to the work. A.U.A. President Samuel A. Eliot, the original chairman of the Carolina Industrial School’s board, noted in a 1911 article that “the incorporation of the Carolina Industrial School has provided for the enlargement and continuance of the educational work which has grown up in connection with the group of Unitarian churches which was originated by the Women’s Alliance in Pender and Onslow Counties, North Carolina.” Another article in The Christian Register on September 21, 1911, written by A.U.A. Education Secretary Henry Wilder Foote, also a board member, lists the new trustees:

The work of our schools at Swansboro and Shelter Neck, North Carolina, will open next month, full of promise for the best year the schools have yet had. The schools are now incorporated together under the title of the Carolina Industrial School, with a Board of Trustees of which Dr. S. A. Eliot is chairman, Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, secretary and Mr. Percy A. Atherton, 53 State Street, Boston, treasurer. The other members of the board are Miss Low of Brooklyn, Miss Ellen H. Crehore of Canton, Miss Lucy B. Wilson of Salem, Mrs. R. G. Shaw of Wellesley, Austin S. Garver of Wooster, Lyman Ward of Camp Hill, Alabama, W. S. Key of Watha, North Carolina, and John Rowe of Burgaw, North Carolina and H. W. Foote of Boston. This board was organized last February and now holds title to the property of both schools.

The association between the Alliance and the incorporated Carolina Industrial School was stressed out in a legal document, which claimed the close relationship lasted “during the entire existence” of the Carolina Industrial School, Inc.:

All of the incorporators of [the Carolina Industrial School] were Unitarians, and two of them were Unitarian ministers. Four of the incorporators of [the Carolina Industrial School] were members of [the Alliance’s] local branches, and one [Mrs. Peterson] was one of the incorporators of [the Alliance] in 1902. The schools and churches and work taken over by [the Carolina Industrial School] at the time it was incorporated had been established and had been maintained and conducted by Unitarians, and had received great support, financial and otherwise, from [the Alliance]. Said [Carolina Industrial School] was incorporated to carry on said work through the active assistance of [the Alliance] and of its local branches and members in the belief that the conditions then existing made it desirable to have such work carried on by an independent organization rather than directly by [the Alliance] or one of its committees. All of the persons who carried on the work of [the Carolina Industrial School], except certain male employees, were members of [the Alliance’s] branches. All of the funds received by [the Carolina Industrial School] were received from or in memory of members of [the Alliance’s] branches.

As the document attests, most of the Carolina Industrial School board members already had a connection to the school. Mr. John Rowe, of Burgaw, North Carolina, uniquely, represented the local North Carolina citizenry on the board; Mr. Rowe, whose grandchildren attended the school, was a respected citizen and had already acted as an agent for the school in listing its real estate with local tax officials.

Legal incorporation and the establishment of a board of trustees gave credibility to the school’s operations, and added to its prestige within the denomination. Articles about “The Carolina Industrial School” and “Our Work in North Carolina” abounded in The Christian Register, and Mrs. Peterson, Reverend Key and others frequently made presentations to Northern Unitarian groups. In December 1911, for example, The Register printed “An Invitation,” a brief article which announced that Key would speak in King’s Chapel, Boston, “under the auspices” of that church’s Alliance branch.

For Mrs. Peterson, managing the school operations at Shelter Neck with the corporation treasurer–and keeper of the checkbook–living in Boston was frequently a frustration. She also lamented the distance between the work at Shelter Neck and its supporters in New England, as an excerpt from one of her handwritten letters to the treasurer attests:

“It is rather difficult for me to get an opportunity to write in detail to each one of you–would you therefore read to them or allow them to read my letter? . . .Why can’t you [sic] come down and see us all and judge a bit for yourself–or if Dr. Eliot or Mr. Foote happen to be “coming by” that [sic] might help to solve several questions. . . The more I think of it the more I wish you could take three or four days off and come down–One can leave Boston at 8:15 a.m. one day and reach Watha at 8:40 the next morning. It is much of a trip–Do come!”

By the summer of 1915 two of the school’s most prominent board members felt compelled to resign, both feeling over-committed: Percy A. Atherton resigned as treasurer and Samuel A. Eliot resigned as president. In “one of the hardest letters I ever tried to write,” Eliot wrote to “My dear Mrs. Peterson” that he had reached “the conclusion that the Carolina Industrial School needs for the chairman some man or woman who can develop new resources and give a larger amount of time and interest to the school.”

Eliot’s letter of resignation offered to “do what little I can to raise the present deficit, but I confess that I have not courage enough to justify going on with the work unless larger financial resources can be developed” and apologized for retiring “just when conditions seem to be particularly adverse.” The challenge of attracting contributions continued. A 1917 article in the Register is exemplary of the ongoing effort and reveals something of the state of the school’s finances as well:

“This work in the two schools is most economically maintained. It now, indeed, costs a good deal more than it did in the first years when, with volunteer teachers, the work. . . was maintained for several years with a cost to its supporters of the incredible small sum of $300 a year for travel and living expenses.   The cost of living has gone up in Eastern North Carolina as elsewhere, the schools are larger and are undertaking a much wider range of instruction than formerly, and the teachers are now on regular, if still very modest, salaries, as is essential for the permanent maintenance of the work. Yet the whole budget for the two schools this year comes to only about $4,000. There are few better ways in which Unitarians interested in the advancement of liberal religion among people of old American stock, and in the establishment of high ideals of life and of service, can invest their money. The treasurer of the board of directors is Mr. Hollis T. Gleason, care of Stone & Webster, 147 Milk Street, Boston.

Whatever contributions were made by others, the driving spirit in the work continued to be Mrs. Peterson. A section from a letter by Samuel Eliot to a prospective board member captures the situation:

The enterprise is almost wholly a personal one.   Mrs. Ellis Peterson is the mind and soul of the thing. She is not only the secretary of the Board, she is also the resident Director. She spends her winters at one of the schools, in general charge of the work, and she comes North in the late spring and spends the summers raising money and securing the necessary equipment. It is her life work. The rest of us who serve on the Board of Trustees try to give her such support as we can and her splendid spirit is worthy of every sympathy.

In December 1921, a year and a half after Mrs. Peterson’s unexpected death and almost a year after Mr. Key, too, departed his North Carolina post, the responsibility for the school at Shelter Neck returned to the Alliance. The Alliance president, Miss Lowell, reported the official request:

[T]he trustees of the Carolina Industrial School ask that the Alliance take over the management of the schools as the schools were an outgrowth of Southern Circuit Work and the work is all one. This will mean a yearly budget of $8000. to $9000, a part of which as now individual gifts would be expected to cover. After careful consideration it was voted on motion of Miss Sawyer that the request of the Trustees of the Carolina Industrial School that the Alliance take over the management of the schools be acceded to and the responsibility assumed. It was voted that the matter of carrying out the details be left to the President.

A three-person “committee on reorganization” formed, and, by April 1922 “offered the following motion . . . to accept the gift and conveyance of real estate and personal property upon the terms set forth in a vote of the Corporation of the Carolina Industrial School passed at a meeting held upon the 13th day of April 1922.” An expanded committee–of eight members–now oversaw southern circuit work and the operation of the Carolina Industrial School. The following September Miss Minnie E. Rowe, sister of former board member John Rowe, was added to the committee. It was “voted that the name of the committee should be <Committee on Southern Work,’ and “that the committee . . . be empowered during the summer to engage teachers, fix salaries, and make such other arrangements as may be necessary for carrying on the Carolina Industrial School for the ensuing year.”

For the last years of their operations the schools at Shelter Neck and Swansboro would have neither Mrs. Peterson nor Mr. Key nor the board of trustees. The responsibility for the school and the deed to its real estate remained with the Alliance, and the Alliance women would, in the end, make the decision to cease the work.

A final financial note to the school’s history, is contained in a document filed after the dissolution of the school. The information in this document illuminates the schools’ final financial base–what counted as its endowment–by listing trust funds which had been set up for the schools’ support. The document notes that “ the doners of [the] funds were all Unitarians” and that they were “all interested in the work which [the Alliance] was carrying on at the time.” The document asks that the Alliance be allowed to “hold the eleven trust funds . . . in the manner in which [they]are now being held and to apply the income therefrom for scholarships, or general missionary work, in the south, or elsewhere, for any other purpses which are or may become legal under the corporate charter of [the Alliance], the exact application to be determined by [the Alliance], and upon consideration of the wishes of the doners of [the funds] or their representatives, so far as it is practicable to ascertain such wishes.” The portion of the document listing the funds, together with the Alliance’s statement about their management is quoted here:

These eleven trust funds have been held by [the Alliance] since the dates of their receipt, and they have been kept invested. They have not been kept segregated from the other trust funds held by [the Alliance], amounting to over $250,000.00, which are held in trust for the charitable and missionary purposes authorized by [the Alliance’s] charter, other than the work in North Carolina which [the Alliance] took over from the . . . Carolina Industrial School. Interest had been allocated annually to each individual trust fund.


NAME OF FUND                Principal                      Income on Hand

Harriet Rose Lee                $500.00                         $ 23.99

John S. Wellington             $1000.00                           47.97

Ellen O. Peck                           100.00                             4.80

Lulu S. Kimball                    3000.00                          143.90

Shelter Neck                        1545.00                             58.04

[plus real estate valued at $1000.]

Swansboro                            5500.00                          none

George C. Brackett             1500.00                           71.95

Emma C. Low                      2000.00                         95.94

Annie A. Wheelr                 1500.00                            71.95

Mr. Charles Walker           500.00                              23.99

Lucia Clapp Noyes             500.00                                23.99

$ 17,645.00                                  $ 566.52  


“It’s been a good, a good place—didn’t it’d been arotten down an gone before now. It was built good.”                             A. Taylor Tatum – 1992

In 1994 the buildings which housed the school at Shelter Neck still stand. Almost a hundred years after they were built one can find them in the curve of Crooms Bridge Road in Pender County, North Carolina. They present a neat and somehow timeless appearance, a quadrangle of tin-roofed white wooden structures standing around what, in the heyday of the school’s life, was the schoolyard. The chapel is the oldest of the buildings, but just barely; constructed in the fall of 1900, it was the first Unitarian church building erected in North Carolina.

Although it is not the purpose of this paper to track in detail the transfers of real estate or the construction of buildings at the school site, some notes about the physical properties seem appropriate. The simple fact that the property has been maintained for nearly a century invites comment.

Mr. Acie Taylor Tatum, an alumni of the school whose family property still adjoins the site, remembers being told that community people gave land for the chapel and school. Essentially, Mr. Tatum is right. At the outset and on at least one other occasion, Shelter Neck citizens contributed land and materials for the buildings. Their commitment to the undertaking was the deciding factor in the Alliance’s willingness to go forward with the project originally: “Mrs. Peterson had promises of land, lumber, nails and work which would leave only a comparatively small amount to be raised,” state 1900 Alliance minutes. Frances C. Newton and Charles Sears and wife deeded the first tract of land, for the chapel, “for the love of God and humanity and the sum of one dollar” to Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, in the summer of 1900, and to Mrs. Edith Dukes, the original minister’s wife. Mrs. Peterson would hold the first deed to the property in trust for the National Alliance; why Mrs. Dukes was a party to the transaction is not clear.

Another parcel of land was contributed to the school in 1907, this time by Mr. and Mrs. M. B. Hanchey, who gave “the parcel of land [connecting] Dix House and the main highway at Shelter Neck.” Mr. and Mrs. Hanchey deeded the “broad open space extending to the highway . . .[to be used by the Alliance] <for the advancement of the Gospel of God as taught by Jesus of Nazareth and for the good of humanity.’“ The Alliance accepted the property “with thanks.”

The Alliance was involved with Mr. Hanchey over several years when he leased acreage for farming, the March 1907 minutes showing that “the land connected with the house has been let, subject to the approval of the board, to Mr. M. B. Hanchey, who will repair the fences, clear the ditches, and plant in cotton from which the Alliance will receive a fourth the value of the crop, this being the usual rate, an amount sufficient to cover the taxes at least.” A similar arrangement was made in 1908, the year the Northeast Cape Fear River flooded much of the area around Shelter Neck, but at the end of that year the minutes note “that in view of his great losses by the autumn floods, the rental agreed upon by Mr. Hanchey . . . who hired the land about Dix House” be returned to him.

Taylor Tatum says that his father was “the head carpenter” for the buildings, and that “Mr. Louis Boney Saunders, he built the chimneys.” Since these two men were known to possess these skills, there is no reason to doubt Mr. Tatum’s assertion, although nowhere in written records have construction documents for the buildings been found. Mr. Tatum further explains that “They [the Unitarians] had the plans, and my daddy built it,” an assertion which, again, seems likely. The Alliance underwrote a number of chapels built in the South in early years of the century, and the few sketches still extant show buildings which almost exactly match the Shelter Neck church. Furthermore, in 1920, when Kimball House was “rebuilt” after the original stsructure burned, the minutes note that a northern architect had drawn the plans. In summary, it seems likely that the buildings were locally built from plans provided through the Alliance.

The chapel was the first Unitarian building in the state. Comins’ history is inaccurate, however, when it states that the chapel was “the first liberal church in that section;” Asheville and Highlands had fledgling Unitarian congregations in the mountains by the 1890s, and, furthermore, liberal Universalist churches had been established in eastern North Carolina before the Civil War.

In 1900 the Alliance voted $250 for the building of the chapel. The 1900 Alliance minutes observed, after the chapel’s dedication: “Everything appears to have been managed in a most business-like way. The deeds, policy of insurance, contracts, and receipted bills have been put into the hands of the Alliance, and Mrs. Peterson has been appointed one of the three trustees holding the property.” The arrangements for the chapel’s furnishings were also noted, in a report by Mrs. Peterson: “A reading desk, Bible, and small organ will be sent from Boston, and friends in the South will supply some other necessary furnishings.”

In the flurry of activity in the fall of 1900, a “house for Rev. Dukes. . . in the vicinity of the new chapel” was proposed, the board voting Mrs. Dix the “authority to expend one hundred dollars of the sum especially given to her for the use of Mr. Dukes and his work.” Exactly how the money was raised is not clear, but, most probably, an appeal for the “Dukes House Fund” was issued because the January 1901 minutes report $823.25 in such a fund. Two months later Mrs. Peterson reported that “Mr. Dukes’s house will be finished by May first and will cost $1150.”

The Alliance named the parsonage “Dix House” in honor of its pioneer president, Mrs. B. Ward Dix. The November 1902 minutes include a discussion about “that part [of the house] known as <Dix House’“ and Mrs. Dix’s wish that it “receive the name <Parish House’ or <Shelter Neck Parish House.’“ The Alliance board decided its name would be “Dix Parish House,” but the Shelter Neck community always called it, simply, “ the Dix House.”

The original idea for a schoolhouse seems to have been the Reverend Dukes’ notion, because the June 1901 minutes read, “[Mr. Dukes] has proposed to raise $10 to clear ground for the house or schoolhouse” and Norton’s 1924 article points to him as the instigator of the plan. In any event, it was this schoolroom in which Miss Ellen Crehore first taught in spring 1902 and which, the following November, the Alliance board rented to the state of North Carolina for school use. Key begins his historical sketch with the observation that Dukes’ schoolroom was the seed for the later work:

When Dix House was built at Shelter Neck, No. Carolina, for the use of Rev. Joseph Dukes, who was the first Minister, an annex was added on the northeast side of the house. This included a room measuring about 16×18 ft., with a wide entrance hall and door in front. It also contained a closet. The whole well-lighted with five windows. There was also a door for entrance from a piazza at the back, and a third door leading into a smaller room built between the large room and the front hall of Dix House; so that in all there were three entrances in the annex. The object in view, when the buildings were erected, was the providing of a rural school for the benefit of the children whose homes were in the immediate neighborhood, the nearest schoolhouse being over two miles distant. . . Mr. Dukes and his family took possession of Dix House on its completion and resided there until the spring of 1905. It was not, however, until the fall of 1902 that the educational work actually commenced when Miss Ellen Crehore of Canton, Mass. went to No. Carolina and opened the school. . . the small room referred to above was planned as a teacher’s living and sleeping room and it was so used by Miss Crehore during her stay.

Just whose money financed the first schoolroom and who held title to it is an unresolved aspect of the Shelter Neck story, but it seems likely, from discussions which ensued and the confusion which reigned when Dukes departed, that he built the schoolroom and considered it his. The Alliance must have been involved in its finances, however, and must have expected Mr. Dukes to reimburse the organization, because a discussion in February of the following year states: “Mrs. Peterson brought up the matter of Mr. Dukes helping to pay for the new house he had built and the difficulties met with in retaining a part of his salary for the purpose. In view of the fact that a sufficient sum had been raised to pay for the house . . . it was voted by those present that Mr. Dukes’ salary should be paid him in full from the present time.”

Dukes’ 1904 resignation forced some decisions about the Dix House’s schoolroom and its ownership, and, while one section of the records note a discussion about separating the schoolroom from the house, today the main house and annex, connected, still stand, and there are no other indications of their having been moved.   In January 1905, Mrs. Peterson’s report to the board “presented three propositions concerning the Ell of Mr. Dukes’ house, known as Dix house and belonging to the Alliance. It [this must mean the schoolhouse] can be given up, or moved away or the Alliance can buy the whole property.” The matter was referred to the Southern and Finances committees for resolution, but later minutes note that “Mr. Key has bought the Dukes House for $700 of which $400 is in hand and $300 to be raised” and, later, that “a letter of appreciation be sent to Mr. Key for his services in the settlement of Dix House” and “the insurance on Dix House should be carried by the Alliance.” Key must have negotiated the purchase of the schoolhouse “ell” for the Alliance and thus resolved the ownership issue with Dukes. At the January 1906 board meeting Mrs. Peterson “handed over the deed of the house at Shelter Neck which was formally accepted under the name of Dix House.”

Over the years the Alliance learned that it was valuable to have a trusted local citizen available to act on its behalf in North Carolina. In January 1907, having discovered that January 7th was the last day for declaration of real estate in North Carolina and that such declaration was required by the “owner or accredited representation who must appear before the accessors and make an affidavit,” Mrs. Everett, one of the teachers, was dispatched to list the property for the Alliance. Later that year an arrangement was made to authorize “Mr. John W. Rowe of Burgaw, North Carolina, . . . to act as agent to attend to the listing of the Alliance property.” Later Mr. Rowe was made a trustee of the Carolina Industrial School, and, in the last years of the school his sister, Minnie E. Rowe, was involved.

The Alliance minutes provide some information about the cost of furnishings and property maintenance. In 1906 the Southern committee asked for $25 from the “southern circuit fund” for furnishings for the Dix House, but, by March 1907, “$100 received from the Washington branch and a member of the Arlington St. branch . . . made the expenditure of the $25 appropriated for furnishings at Shelter Neck unnecessary.” By 1907 the Alliance minutes note that “the church has been painted this spring through the efforts of the [Shelter Neck] Alliance branch and the congregation” and that “repairs and painting of Dix House are nearly completed at a cost of eighty dollars, fifty of it paid as a special gift.”

Upon the incorporation of the school in 1911, a description of the school property shows up in an article written by Henry Wilder Foote for The Register:: “Dix House, and four acres of land adjoining the church property, belong to the National Alliance, the house having been intended as a parsonage. Another twenty-five acres is being held by Mrs. Peterson as trustee.” It seems probable that the twenty-five acres was acquired as farm land and for the Kimball House. Foote had made a trip to the area in the fall of 1910, when an article lamented that “an unfortunate phase of Mr. Foote’s visit to this district was the fact that at Shelter Neck he was unable to see to the full extent the work that is being done by reason of the planter, from whom a large new house and farm has been purchased, not having yet got another house completed into which he will remove his family . . .”

The larger school building and Kimball House were built in 1912, the year following incorporation, the latter having been underwritten by Miss Ellen Kimball. The new buildings completed the school “campus” and were the base from which the superintendent of the Carolina Industrial School would operate intil 1926.

On December 6, 1918, the Kimball House burned and would not be rebuilt until the fall of 1920, a year after Mrs. Peterson’s death and almost two years after the fire.

In September 1922 the Alliance, now responsible for the administration of the school and its plant, finally replaced Mrs. Peterson and the long-departed Mrs. Dukes, who had been listed as trustees since August 1900: Mrs. Helen J. Dinsmoor, recently elected chair of the Southern Work Committee and Mrs. J. B. Damon, superintendent of the school, were appointed trustees along with Miss Minnie E. Rowe, all of whom were “to hold in the name of this corporation [the National Alliance] land in Pender County, North Carolina.”   The Alliance also contemplated an additional land purchase; the minutes note that the Southern Work Committee was empowered “to buy two hundred acres of land near the school at Shelter Neck, needed for farming purposes, for the cutting of wood for fuel, and to give the boys opportunity to work. The price being $1500. . . .” The committee felt that the price was more than they could afford, however, and there is no indication that the two hundred acres was ever purchased. Indeed, a 1930 legal document filed by the Alliance pointed to the condition of the property as a primary reason for the discontinuance of the work at Shelter Neck: “In 1926 the buildings were getting into bad condition and a large sum of money would be needed to put them into proper condition or even to repair them sufficiently . . . This money was not available.”

The disposition of the school property after the Alliance’s decision to cease school operations took several years, although as early as March, 1926, the board voted “to dispose of the property at Shelter Neck, North Carolina.” A 1930 Alliance report noted that “the county has maintained a school at Shelter Neck ever since our school was withdrawn, and has paid us rent for our building.” In the course of 1930-31 the committee explored a variety of options for transferring the property, evaluating a recommendation of Mrs. Churchill’s that “the schoolhouse at Shelter Neck and enough land around it for an adequate playground should be given to Pender County” and even writing to the Governor of North Carolina to seek his advice. By the winter of that year they had talked with Pender County and with the Universalists of the state, with whom they had hoped to be able to share religious services at their North Carolina chapels.

In the end, however, neither selling the property nor sharing it proved successful solutions, and the final report which the Southern Work Committee made to the Alliance board explained the final transfer of the Shelter Neck real estate:

“Your committee tried to give the property at Shelter Neck to the Pender County authorities for community service, to use for a home for the aged, a hospital or a school for defectives. After long delay we finally heard in August that the authorities of the county could not finance any of these schemes. Then your committee tried to sell the property and we had five people interested, but no one of these would buy the property outright–two offered $500 down and $500 on mortgage. Then we wrote to Dr. Bishop, State Superintendent of the Universalist Convention of North Carolina, Inc., who is willing to accept the property for the Universalists.   They have an incorporated organization acting in the State and in our opinion this is the best possible disposition that could be made of it.”

At the same meeting [of the Alliance’s Executive Board] the following vote was passed:

“That the real estate and buildings owned by the General Alliance in Pender County, North Carolina, be transferred without restriction to the Universalist Convention of North Carolina, Inc., and that Miss Louise Brown, Treasurer, be and is hereby authorized in the name and on behalf of the General Alliance to execute and deliver any deeds or other instruments in writing necessary or convenient to accomplish such transfer.”

The school property, deeded to the Universalist Convention of North Carolina in 1932, would be used by the Universalists and tended by them–and by Acie Taylor Tatum.   Mr. Tatum, whose family property, now his, still adjoined the school site, remained watchful of the place that had been so significant to him. In 1990 the Universalist Convention presented Mr. Tatum with a $1000 check for his volunteer caretaking. Mr. Tatum used the money to re-install a flagpole and an American flag in the spot where one had always been when the “Dix House School” was in session.

Chapter III


“Well, what they catch from Dix House cannot harm them.”   The Christian Register, 1922

In the relative isolation of the Shelter Neck school people who had spent most of their lives in New England interacted with folk who had never left backwoods North Carolina. At Shelter Neck North met South, urban Boston met backwater Pender County, and educated Unitarian met illiterate Primitive Baptist. At the “Dix House School” the diversity of experiences, belief systems and world views in residence kindled cultural interaction in and out of the classroom. What were the motives of the Unitarians who established and backed the school? How did the Shelter Neck community perceive these people and their mission? In what ways did these two disparate groups of people accept and appreciate each other? Where did they clash? How did the experience of the Shelter Neck school affect the lives of those who were there?

Shelter Neck, North Carolina, is only rarely noted on maps; even those well acquainted with rural North Carolina are frequently unfamiliar with it. It experienced its own heyday in the years the Unitarian school was there, and, to interpret its presentation–or the lack thereof–in historical documents, is to see that the community and the school were so closely identified that mention of one usually means mention of the other. In the 1940 History of Pender County, for example, the Shelter Neck community’s description is tied to the school: “It was in this vicinity of Croom’s Bridge, a short distance also from Smith’s Bridge, that . . . a school was established by the Unitarians from Boston, Massachusetts, who came to North Carolina for the purpose of extending that wing of the Liberal or Unitarian Church in the South.”[1]

In 1994 only one signpost marks the school site and, thus, the community: two green street signs reading “SHELTER NECK” are mounted on it back to back. The site and its sign face Crooms Bridge Road, just three miles north of that county road’s intersection with state highway 53. Crooms Bridge Road takes its name from the bridge near the school site which crosses the Northeast Cape Fear River at “Catfish Bend.” Southeast from Shelter Neck about nine miles, the county seat of Burgaw sits roughly in the center of Pender County, which at 869 square miles (12 of these are water), is the seventh largest in the state. The youngest county in eastern North Carolina, having been carved out of the northern corner of New Hanover County in 1875, the entire area of Pender County lies within the basin of the Cape Fear River.

Shelter Neck undoubtedly acquired its name because it encompasses the “neck” of land between the Northeast Cape Fear River and Holly Shelter Creek. “Neck” is found in other place names in eastern North Carolina–Porter’s Neck, Scotland Neck, and The Neck Plantation, to note a few–and generally refers to a dry area which juts between wet areas, although the circumstances of a “neck” are distinguished from those of a “peninsula,” where the area is surrounded by water. In Shelter Neck’s case, the wetness has frequently risen to cover its only slightly higher ground; floods in the area have been common in its history, and, indeed, one of the major reasons the Unitarians cited for the community’s “backwardness” was the isolation created by frequently flooded roads. The point of land at Croom’s Bridge, just a half mile from the Shelter Neck school site, is only sixteen feet above sea level, one of the lowest points in the county.[2] The Shelter Neck community stretches in an arc between Smith’s Bridge and Croom’s Bridge, bounded on the north by the Northeast Cape Fear River and extending to the south almost to Holly Shelter Creek.[3] The community is just barely outside the southern boundary of Angola Bay Wetlands, a state preserve through which go, even in the 1990s, few roads or trails.[4]

At the turn of the century Shelter Neck was a farming community and its roads were unpaved. Taylor Tatum points to the now reforested fields around his property and recalls that in his boyhood “this was clar’d land.” He describes what is now Crooms Bridge Road as having been “nothing but a lil’ ol’ bitty cart road.” The road runs north to the little town of Watha, the railhead where visitors from the North frequently arrived and which was the post office address for the school. In 1910 the population of Watha was 169. Shelter Neck, according to Taylor Tatum’s memory, had “about twenty-six families, and they had from about nine to twelve children in a family.”[5]

The people of Shelter Neck, in the years the school operated, made what money they had primarily from “chippin’ turpentine.” “These people, they didn’t have no money,” recalls Tatum. “But they could grow bout everything they needed. So they didn’t need much money.>[6]

Former student Roy Rowe’s description of his home community, reported in a Register article a few years after his graduation, painted a realistic picture:

The typical houses when the school opened at Shelter Neck were very poor. Everything was primitive, and often the kitchen was entirely apart from the house. There were usually two large rooms, and everyone slept in one of them. There was no glass in the windows, but just wooden shutters. The houses were of logs chinked with clay, and with clay chimneys. Most of these have been replaced now by modern houses. Because of the influence of the school, the houses in that community were modernized before the others. . .

The houses were built along the streams because there were no highways. . . The land was fertile, and they could raise practically everything they needed. It was easy to make a living, and they worked only three months a year. They raised their own hog and hominy’ and fished and hunted. Until Rev. William S. Key and Mrs. Peterson came, they were satisfied to live as they did.

They made their own clothing, both for the men and women, spinning and weaving the cotton. Except in the severest of weather, most of the people went barefooted. I remember that there was usually only one shoemaker to a neighborhood.

Tilling the ground was done with oxen. Mules and horses did not come until after the school was opened. Getting turpentine used to be one of the chief occupations. It was put in barrels, which were rafted together with rope and wooden pins, and floated down the river to Wilmington, fifty miles away. Lumber is so valuable now that this does not pay. They used to have the choicest of fuel, and wasted quantities of pine tar in burning wood. The main reason they did not cut the lumber earlier is because they did not have saws until about twenty years ago.[7]

The environment which greeted the first workers at the school was undoubtedly startling to the more educated urban New Englanders. When Mrs. Peterson first visited Shelter Neck, “she found people, pure Americans, many claiming colonial descent, living under most primitive conditions, more primitive than we can imagine, and with no schools, or very few,”[8] noted one report. Articles about the North Carolina schools published in The Christian Register contained phrases like “it is difficult for Northern friends to imagine . . .” and “often this [southern work] has been . . .a vague though commendable . . .activity.”

If the 1900 living conditions in Shelter Neck were vastly different from those in Boston, Northern and Southern attitudes, reflecting their regional distinctions, further underlined their contrasting perspectives. Edith Norton’s story observed the regional loyalty in North Carolina: “In the North and West we do not appreciate the strength of sectional feeling in the South. We who hail from Oregon or Massachusetts are, first of all, Americans, but most Carolinians do not look far beyond their own borders–they take little interest in the world outside and would like to keep in the same ruts their fathers kept.” On the other hand, a Northern writer for the Register honestly admitted that the South was not only an unfamiliar region but also one about which many Northerners had biased views: “We, whose childhood or early manhood was coincident with the Civil War, breathing the atmosphere of civil strife, naturally come to paint Southerners in our minds as hoofed and horned.”[10]

Behind the endeavor which planted the Shelter Neck school was, undoubtedly, the influence of what David Whistnant has called the “self-congratulatory resistance” found in “northeastern intellectual and cultural centers” to the notion that the South had any capacity for intellectual or progressive accomplishments. Whatever the good intentions of the school’s founders and workers and no matter how those who valued the school talk about it, an element of “Yankee imperialism” was at work here–a measure of Northern elitism and paternalism (and, perhaps, in all fairness, maternalism as well) rode down to North Carolina with these Boston Unitarians. But “they had come by it honestly,” a forgiving Southerner mignt say. They were preaching to folks at Shelter Neck what was being preached in Boston. Points out Mina Carson, “the early centers of liberalism were urban pulpils in the East and some of the northeastern seminaries, notably Harvard (Unitarian), [and] Andover (Congregational). . .”[11]

Unitarian-trained ministers found the brand of religion practiced in the South irrational, bordering on downright uncivilized. John Sears, one of the ministers in Swansboro, observed that while “most of the people are at least nominal members of some orthodox Christian church,” the “prevailing type of religion is primarily emotional in character.” Sears further elaborated: “No attempt is made to be reasonable in religion. The emotions are frankly used to win the allegiance of the individual to religious doctrines that are avowedly unreasonable. Religious revivals, which are common occurrences, usually take the form of emotional orgies.”[12]

Roy Rowe’s Register article included some observations about the church life of the Shelter Neck area, noting that Baptists and Methodists were strongest in the community, “although Presbyterian and Episcopalian groups are present as well.” He described a Primitive Baptist Church service :

Three-fourths of the men are out doors whittling and talking, and the other fourth are inside. They have tin pans indoors, where the members wash their feet. The leader talks for about three hours. When one is tired, another begins. Then they come back after dinner for another meeting. They do not believe in any musical instrument, and someone pitches the tune with the voice and lines out a hymn. They do not believe in Sunday school for young people. The building is large, and without paint or plaster. The seats are long, rough, wooden benches. The platform is rough, and the pulpit is a carpenter’s bench. They do not have any flowers in church. The lives of these people are primitive in every way. No primitive Baptist is educated.[13]

Whereas the school’s Unitarian leaders knew Boston, home to Harvard University and two centuries of historic American landmarks, the inhabitants of Pender County had no such cultural heritage. In education alone, the northern Unitarians and Pender County folk were generations apart. Only recently had efforts been renewed to improve the educational system in North Carolina (beginnings made before the Civil War had dissipated). The 1910 census revealed that fifteen percent of adult whites in the state could neither read nor write. In 1994 an eighty-nine year-old Roy Rowe recalled a comment of Samuel A. Eliot’s about the latter’s visit to Shelter Neck and his difficulty in making a connection to Shelter Neck’s citizens. Rowe recalls that Eliot lamented, “I just could not reach them. They did not have enough education.”[14] The disparity in education, along with the social, cultural and regional differences between the Northern Unitarians and the Shelter Neck natives sharply distinguished the two groups of people who met in Pender County.

Clearly the Northern Unitarian backers hoped the school would be an influence for change in the South. Carson has observed that “the American counterpart of English Christian Socialism was commonly called social Christianity,’ applied Christianity,’ or later, the Social Gospel[15] One can hear this “practical Christian” philosophy ringing through the articles which championed the Carolina Industrial School, especially in the voice of Henry Wilder Foote. In 1911 Foote declared that, indeed, the North Carolina work was doing good work, although perhaps more by deed than word:

The hold which our churches have obtained on the people of this region is due to the practical Christianity shown in the lives of our representatives there, rather than to the theological difference between our own and the evangelical churches. Until the Unitarian workers came to this region religion had been interpreted as meaning little more than the preaching of hell-fire by men who, only too often, were ill-fitted by character or training to be really leaders of the people. Our men and women have made manifest a religion which consists in going about doing good. This, rather than any theological distinctions, has been the cause of our success. It has been a case of a living and practical faith against a dead theology, which lacked all contact with the daily needs of men and women.[16]

Conflict between the Unitarians and the local southern evangelical leaders was surely inevitable. No Unitarian churches existed in eastern North Carolina. The entrenched evangelical denominations of the area perceived “Unitarian” as threatening and even sinful. One piece in a Unitarian journal noted that “Evangelists and revivalists who frequent these [North Carolina] parts try to prevent the people from coming to them [the Unitarian churches and schools].”[17]   Another story reported, more humorously: “Some of the Baptist and Methodist families are afraid their children will catch Unitarianism.”[18]

Though the work had begun as denominational extension intended to promote the “Unitarian and liberal Christian” message in the South, the success of that objective at Shelter Neck would be limited. Although the National Alliance established a local branch and a few of the school’s students might be Unitarian in their later lives, few adult citizens of those early years actually converted to the liberal faith. In her 1924 article Edith Norton would observe: “We scarcely hope to make our little church a real Unitarian Church. . . but we would like to make it a Community Church.”[19]   Furthermore, a 1930 report by an A.U.A. official who paid an investigative visit to the school site noted that one woman, “the mother of a large family, all of whom had been educated in the school. . . said, We sure do appreciate all that these folks did for us, but we think they’ve got a rotten religion.’[20]

Nevertheless, advocates for the school celebrated its mission of furthering the liberal cause when they promoted the school to those who might contribute to it. Northern periodicals boldly praised the school and its success in influencing the character of the area: “It is pleasant from time to time, as one visits these [North Carolina] communities to note the change of sentiment–how intolerance is slowly giving way and a kindlier spirit is showing itself among those of differing beliefs. Not the least of the causes of this change of attitude is the influence which goes out from the two schools which some of our good Northern friends are supporting. . .”[21] Although the work of the school might not have included a Unitarian catechism, the school’s backers clearly believed they were having a positive influence on the future of the South and the world by reaching children: “In both day school and Sunday-school the workers realize that it is education that is needed pre-eminently to induce and establish right thinking and right living. The hope of the South, as of all countries, is the children.”[22]

If the original intent of the “southern circuit work” had been to spread “our liberal message,” the school’s ultimate focus became educational and social. Whatever other expectations its supporters had of it, the central and never-debated mission of the school was to teach children, to train them so that they could be more enlightened than their southern backwoods parents. Obviously the school’s backers hoped to modify those cultural traits of the South’s which Northerners viewed as degenerate and offensive. In 1910 Sara Johnson, one of the teachers, wrote:

It is endeavored, by precept and example, day by day, to impress strongly upon their minds that to be good, law-abiding citizens is necessary for any religious life by what-ever name it is called.

They are taught to be clean in person and in conduct, to respect themselves and others, to drop those false sentiments that cause the deplorable feuds and lawlessness that are the curse of the South, and to be honest, friendly, temperate, and ambitious to get the best possible education, that they may place themselves in line with the progress in other parts of our land and in all lands.[23]

The statements of many of the school’s leaders and teachers reflect the values of the upper class New England women Whisnant discusses in his thorough study of Applachian settlement work of this same period. Referencing Jacqueline Jones’ study of Northern women–”soldiers of light and love”–who came South to teach in the Freedmen’s Schools, Whistnant notes that these daughters of the northeast upper middle classes, “‘shared . . . the vision of a truly unified American society in which competing interests would be cemented together in a national purpose by the tenets of Protestantism and capitalism.’. . .Not surprisingly, the primary mechanism of both personal and group advancement’ and broader social change were conceived to be education and moral suasion.[24]

The Shelter Neck school’s teachers and Northern Unitarian backers unquestionably hoped to pass on to this corner of the South their northeast establishment liberal Christian values. Edith Norton, the last superintendent at the Shelter Neck school, would reiterate the school’s mission in 1924: “On the whole . . . the children are the hope of their isolated communities in the South. . . Our little school may be a drop in the bucket, but we are working to make good citizens, good Americans, enlightened and progressive men and women, of these children.”[25]

If its unquestioned purpose was to reach children, the Carolina Industrial School’s frequently-state mission was, more specifically, to teach white children. Backers of the school never any equivocated nor did they seem to perceive any reason for apology about their goal of educating whites but not blacks. Not only were they straightforward about the school’s objective, but they declared it widely, both in the North and the South. These “liberal Christians” from the North, who, historian Cooke declares, “never defended slavery from the pulpit or by means of the press,” had a record of concern for African Americans in the South. Cooke asserts that “in proportion to its numbers no religious body in the country did so much to promote the anti-slavery reform as the Unitarians.”[26] Unitarians were also at the forefront of support for Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes, and numbers of them had forayed into the South to help foster better education for recently enfranchised African Americans after the Civil War. But at the turn of the century they justified aiding education for underprivileged southern white children and, even, for accepting the South’s segregated pattern of living.

A clear example of Unitarians’ sympathy with the Southern situation and their rationale for educating white children is a 1911 Christian Register article by Henry Wilder Foote, the A.U.A.’s Education Secretary, who was also a board member of the Carolina Industrial School:

It is not easy to many Northerners to imagine the need of schools for white boys and girls, which still exists in the South. They forget that it is far easier to provide schools for an urban than for a predominantly rural population; that the South labors under the necessity of maintaining a double school system for whites and blacks; that, though now prosperous as never before, the South lost practically all its accumulated wealth in the war, and is still relatively poor. Sometimes Northerners also say, “Let the South educate the white, and let us give for negro education.” They do not realize the need of some of the white boys and girls; nor that the generous donations coming from the North solely for negro education breed a certain resentment in the hearts of Southern whites; nor, above all, that the promotion of education and of high ideals among the white is one of the surest ways of helping the negro. It is the ignorant, low-minded, brutal white man who is the worst enemy of the negro. If you fill the hearts of white boys and girls with understanding and generosity, the black race will benefit accordingly. The fact stands that the South does need such schools as these and that, though they will, as time passes, be increasingly supported by local contributions, at present their success largely depends upon whether liberals the country over have the vision to see that here is an opportunity to advance our nation’s welfare by making an investment in patriotism.[27]

As antithethical as it may seem to the behavior of later liberals–many of whom were committed to the Civil Rights Movement–Northern liberals at the turn of the century wrestled with “the negro problem.” And, if another Register article is any indication, they found themselves confounded about solutions for it. “Impressions of a Southern Journey” appeared on August 16, 1900:

. . . [T]he law of Alabama requires that whites and persons of negro blood shall ride in separate cars. . . . And yet there is more excuse for such a law than one would at first imagine in southern States, where there is a very large negro population of a low class, whose presence at times in close proximity to whites of refinement is certainly objectionable. . . .

This Southern question has taken a very strong hold on my own mind. Most of us, who are not wholly absorbed in schemes of Oriental conquest and Christianization, will admit that it is one of the great questions which will tarry for a solution. We must, at least, begin to understand and to solve it now and in the immediate future. It cannot be solved by indifference, ignorance, idleness, or, I am strongly inclined to think, by taking a purely Northern conventional view of the question any more than by taking a purely Southern conventional view of it. We ­need knowledge; and, to get it, we had better study the facts and all the facts with a open mind.[28]

If dealing with the integration of Anglo and African Americans in the South seems to late twentieth-century observers something to which the founders of the Carolina Industrial School should have been more sensitive, it is important to remember that the politics of those years gave less priority to racial matters. Too, bringing the racial issue to the fore might have seemed to the local populace a contrivance, since the area immediately around Shelter Neck apparently–from such information as it is possible to know a century later–had only a small black population. Edith Norton observed: “In the immediate neighborhood there are so few negroes that no school is provided for them. But in a town nine miles distant, according to all appearances, more than half the population is colored.”[29]   Roy Rowe, writing about his home community, noted that “the Shelter Neck school is in the midst of an old slave plantation.” But, he claimed, “The racial question gives little trouble. The Negroes are peaceful, and the blacks and the whites get on well together. There are nine normal schools for the Negroes in the state.”[30] Asked about her memories of whites and blacks living in the area, Norma Hanchey Westmoreland remembers that “There were some [blacks] around. They were left over from slavery.” Did they attend school?   “They didn’t come to school,” Norma recalls, “but they weren’t forgotten.” She remembers that blacks as well as some whites from the area, helped with the house and farm work, and in such ways they received training and education.[31] More honestly, it is clear that the Carolina Industrial School accepted and followed the established local pattern of the time, which provided separate but not necessarily equal education for African Americans.

The Unitarian founders of the school not only determined to teach white children of the area but underscored the point that the school was educating “people of good stock.” Again, the values of the leadership were rooted in the northeast: “They . . . shared the general Protestant unease about the “dangerous classes” and about the stresses in the moral fabric of society arising out of rapid social change,” observes Whisnant. A major objective of northeastern reformers “was to effect moral character mentation based on class, political, religious and racial tensions,’” his book continues[32] Roy Rowe’s article claimed that descendants of original American settlers populated Shelter Neck: “The people are chiefly of Scotch and English descent, and there are few foreigners. . . . My grandfather, John W. Rowe, now eighty-seven years old, held most his land under grants from King George III. . . . The old grants did not always connect, and many people now hold vacant land, left between the boundaries, for which they paid nothing.”[33]   Edith Norton’s piece was one of the last examples of publicity for the school to champion “pure Americans:” “. . .[L]ike the mountaineers, they are of good stock. Most of the colonists came from New England and Virginia; most of the names are English or Scotch; an ancestor of one of the families in our neighborhood lies in Westminster Abbey. There are absolutely no recent immigrants from Europe or Asia.”[34] For turn-of-the-century Northerners, a philanthropy which supported “pure Americans” in an area where there were no suspicious foreigners had considerable appeal.

Shelter Neck folk were, early on, reticent to allow their children to attend the Unitarian school.   Key’s history notes forthrightly that “at first there was some hesitation shown by the parents . . . about the school which was owned and was to be carried on by Northerners.[35] But ultimately the school won the confidence and even the loyalty of the local citizens. Former student Norma Hanchey Westmoreland remembers that her mother stood up for the Unitarian school when the minister of the family’s church attacked it: “When that preacher said that they were teaching Unitarianism over there and that Mama ought not to send us, Mama stood right up in church and pointed her finger at the preacher and said You are a liar!’” A 1922 article told the story of a local evangelist who asked the mother of one of the school’s students “if her religion satisfied her.” “That little church over there,” the mother was said to have replied, pointing to the Unitarian chapel, “has the best religion there is.” The same report added that another parent had said, “Well, what they catch from Dix House cannot harm them,” while another put in, “‘Make them like you-uns, and I don’t care what you call them.’” Perhaps the observation most complimentary to the liberal denomination, however, quoted an elderly woman in the Shelter Neck community saying that “Dix House has taught them to love God instead of fearing Him.”[36]

Most local people associated with it came to see the school as non-sectarian, and it is that view that most residents and students reflect in their recollections.[37] Taylor Tatum, who attended the school along with all his siblings declares: “They didn’t teach religion. It didn’t make no difference which church you went to. All denominations were welcome. They didn’t go by religion.”[38] Mattie Bloodworth’s observations in her local History are especially significant since they reflect the view of a Pender County native daughter: “There was so much done in the way of social and educational work that little or no attention was directed to the talk of spreading Unitarianism. Unlike most Missionary enterprises the Unitarians found that common necessities of life, better living conditions, and general work for higher standards of education, came before the spreading of religious dogmas.”[39]

The school at Shelter Neck became more than a school: it was the center of community life for this remote and sparsely settled place which had no other site or buildings to call its own. The recollections of former students tell of an institution that was central to life in this rural area: it was school for children, recreation for whole families, work for some of the adults who helped maintain the farm and property, and a social life for young and old–the likes of which they had not previously known. By the middle years of the school’s existence Shelter Neck’s citizens had not only come to accept the Unitarian teachers and ministers but thought of them as part of their lives and eagerly anticipated the opening of school each fall. Shelter Neck revered Mrs. Peterson and Mr. Key as respected personages the community had been fortunate to attract, and the school’s activities became valued rituals in the community’s life.   A 1924 article told of life around the settlement: “Our schoolhouse. . .is the center of attraction for the neighborhood. I wish you could see our boys and girls. . . At our Saturday parties they dance and play quality ring games. . .   They love to take part in plays and pageants. . .”[40] Former students never fail to mention the weekend events on the school site; Taylor Tatum, in an interview in 1988, told a reporter for the Wilmington, North Carolina, Star News that “Every Saturday night, we’d have a big square dance. . . and every Sunday night we had a sing.”[41] No one who attended the school fails to mention the Saturday night dances which attracted people from miles around and which always concluded with the dancing of the Virginia Reel.

Christmas is remembered with special fondness by former students. Taylor Tatum recalls: “Some of the boys would always go out and get one of them great big pretty holly trees–and we had a lot of them great big hollies back then–for the Christmas tree. And the teachers and the Alliance, they would go to Wilmington to get the presents. . . Everybody got a present! Boy, everybody looked forward to Christmas!” Nora Hanchey Westmoreland remembers that Mr. Key always dressed up as Santa: “He was my Santa Claus,” she says. “When he came through that door with all the presents I knew it was Christmas!”[42]

Shelter Neck folk also looked forward to the “barrels of clothes” which were sent by northern Alliance branches for area families. Even today former students remember the arrival of these things with appreciation and no sense of discomfort. “Nobody around here didn’t have any money, and, with all these children coming along all the time, they were glad to get the clothes,” notes one now elderly member of the community.[43]

What did it feel like to be a student at the school? “Well, we was having fun,” remembers Hattie Ward Hanchey, “and we wasn’t used to that–we wasn’t used to all that luxury!” Alumni of the school, interviewed in the latter years of their lives, recall with fondness and appreciation–and sometimes downright glee–their school years. Mrs. Peterson, particularly, is remembered with admiration and affection. “She was a living doll!” says Norma Hanchey Westmoreland.[44] Roy Rowe remembers that the community, and especially his family, respected Mrs. Peterson and wanted to do things for her. “I remember my father had a particularly healthy scuppernong vine,” he recalls; “and Daddy said we were not to pick from that vine because he was saving it for Mrs. Peterson when she came back in the fall. It was Mrs. Peterson’s grapevine!”[45]

That the school was essentially free is almost always mentioned by alumni.[46] “Everything was furnished and it didn’t cost anybody anything but some firewood–and we had plenty of that,” Taylor Tatum explains. “If you didn’t have no paper and pencil, they furnished that, too,” he adds.[47] Roy Rowe recalls that Mrs. Peterson expected the children to be thrifty, however: “I remember one time she called me in and said, Roy, do you use up a pencil every week?’ Well, I told her I probably did. Now, I want you to see if you can make one last two weeks,’ she told me.”[48]

A 1906 article in the Wilmington Star News focused on the Shelter Neck school and its “tuition:”

Pender County school children at an institution near Watha have an [odd] currency. They pay their tuition in firewood. Two loads a term, valued at 50 cents a load, sees them safely through the scholastic year. The school, the Carolina Industrial School, maintained by voluntary contributions mostly from the North is turning out a lot of progressive youngsters to battle for their dues in this selfish old world.

The superintendent, W. S. Key, came to the school from Boston, but his policy is to settle his graduates in the country around the school. He is not a New Englander; he was an Englishman, but he is a “North Carolinian and proud of it.” Occasionally, though, some Bostonian comes down and carries off a “charming little girl” or a “bright young fellow, “ and a number of them are making good in business ways in the North.

The Northern friends of the institution keep it supplied with everything but fuel. The neighboring farmers are glad to furnish that. There are about 60 pupils in the Watha school . . . At the Pender County institution there is a little farm, about 12 acres of which is cultivated in vegetables, and on the miniature plantation there are a large number of blooded cattle and hogs. The curriculum is very high.[49]

The everyday school schedule varied for the students, depending on whether they lived close enough to be day students or were boarding pupils, but some elements were common experiences for all: “Every morning they’d ring two bells–with the church bell, because it was the bell for church and for school,” recollects Taylor Tatum. “The first bell meant you were supposed to be here and to line up around the flagpole. The second bell meant to start: they’d pledge allegiance to the flag, then they’d march in [to the schoolhouse], then they’d probably sing a song, then you’re dismissed to the rooms. And that’s how they taken in school here every morning.”[50]

Did it make any difference that Shelter Neck’s children were growing up under a Unitarian–a non-evangelical and non-Southern–religious influence? “Well, we could play cards and lots of others couldn’t,” remembers Nora Hanchey Westmoreland, comparing her life with those of cousins and friends she knew. “I remember we played rook over and over–and with the same deck of cards! I don’t know where we got that deck of cards, but I don’t think we ever had but one and just took care of it,” she notes.[51]

In the end, the community of Shelter Neck resented the closing of the school and felt some bitterness that the Alliance and the Unitarians had cut off the contributions they had for so many years poured into the community. After Mrs. Peterson’s death “others who came from Boston and took over the school” were never as devoted to the work as she and Reverend Key had been; many who arrived after 1920 had no prior acquaintance with the school and could not grasp the meaning it had for the community. In a letter to the Alliance’s 1930 Southern Work Committee–the group which would make, finally, the recommendation which would terminate the work of the schools–A.U.A. Vice-President Charles Patterson observed the Shelter Neck people’s resentment:

. . . we drove to Shelter Neck,–some forty miles as I recall. There is the church, the school building and one of the houses,–all rapidly going to pieces. It is a disheartening community. The children are now carried by bus to a sizeable town [Burgaw]           7 miles away where a fine new public school building has been erected. The people appear to be grateful for the more than twenty years of unselfish service rendered by the faithful and untiring workers of the Alliance, but they also seem to be somewhat peeved because, regardless of what the state has finally done, the work is no longer carried on. They have come to think of it as their right. For years it furnished not only education but also a community center whose influence was helpful, hopeful, friendly, and these qualities in their dull, drab and rather narrow lives were very precious.[52]

A document memorializing Mrs. Peterson reflects the Shelter Neck community’s passionate feeling about the school and their frustration at its abandonment by the Unitarians. The text of the document included: “. . .and now that the entire movement has been abandoned, the splendid school building, the new, handsome and commodious girls dormitory known as the Kimball House, dismantled and closed, the fine library destroyed, indeed the entire estate wrecked, we feel impelled to carry on the work to the best of our ability, as it was conducted for over 20 years.”[53] While it is unlikely that a local citizen wrote it and while there is no evidence that it resulted in any action, thirty-six Shelter Neck citizens, whose names had been associated with the school’s operations for over twenty years, signed the piece proclaiming the “Abby A. Peterson Memorial Society.”[54]

For the Alliance women who found themselves, in the late 1920’s, in charge of a project none of them had had a hand in starting and in a distant Southern state now significantly more modernized, a decision to discontinue the operations was probably inevitable. To their credit, however, they honored the efforts of their predecessors with a thorough investigation of the conditions and circumstances in North Carolina. Recognizing that the Shelter Neck community still wanted church services, the women made a genuine effort to come to an arrangement with the North Carolina Universalists, noting, “This would give us a share and a responsibility in the continuance of the work so nobly started over thiry years ago, while eliminating our greatest weakness, supervision at a range of one thousand miles.”[55]

The 1930 Alliance leaders explored several ideas for continuing the church work, but the sectional and social distances between the Northern Alliance women and the Southern backwoods families proved too great to overcome this time: “Shelter Neck very earnestly desires a church with a resident pastor,” wrote Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Elliott in November, 1930, “but not earnestly enough to promise any support. . . and we tried to make it clear that support’ did not necessarily mean money. . . .This state of mind is difficult for an independent New Englander to understand.”[56]

The 1930 reports of Mrs. Churchill, Mrs. Elliot and Mrs. Stebbins expressed their mixed emotions, torn consciences and feelings of inadequacy about the North Carolina situation. Mrs. Stebbins said it forthrightly:

I remember saying at one of our meetings that we of this committee are a group of amateurs trying to direct another group of amateurs a thousand miles away from us in a very serious piece of social and educational and religious work. If we were employing experts perhaps we might not be doing any harm or if we were experts ourselves and were right there on the spot al the time we might venture to employ amateurs without making any very serious mistakes, but the present situation is an impossible one and the sooner it is ended the better it will be. I mean no criticism on the past. A great person could go down there now and live and do good, but there are many new influences at work.[57]

To the school’s late leadership in the 1920s the school was a more distant educational and social effort than before. The later leaders did not experience the affair of the heart which had occurred at Shelter Neck.

Had the North Carolina work–all those years of effort–been successful in the eyes of the Northern Unitarian women whose venture it had been? Had they accomplished what they set out to do? Had they influenced the area significantly?

In his historical sketch Mr. Key, surely on of the school’s most invested employees, declared that graduates of the school included “expert” carpenters, dressmakers, milliners, and saleswomen, “many prosperously married,” and concluded that the school’s presence was worthwhile in “improving the health, elevating the tastes, arousing the ambitions of the people at large, and bearing undeniable testimony to the value of the Carolina Industrial School.”

Asked to write a summary of his experiences as the “last lieutenant in charge” in the North Carolina circuit, Swansboro minister John Sears had some very different opinions about the success of the Alliance’s work there:

Frankly, it is my feeling that the Alliance, in its thirty years of work,. . . has not succeeded in even scratching the surface of the fundamental social problems involved . . .

This is not to say at all that the work has been a complete failure, or that all efforts were wasted. A number of individuals, I do not know how many, have been helped to better themselves. This, in itself, is probably justification enough for all that has been done. The children who have gone through our schools and remained in the community now must have higher ideals than they otherwise would have had, but if so it is an individual matter, for collectively they have well disguised any cultural advances. It is my belief that love can not be thrown away and that the influence of such consecrated men and women as Mrs. Abby A. Peterson, Mr. Key, Mr. Robinson, Miss Barnard, Miss Hawes, and the many others, still exists, a beneficent undercurrent in the life of the community.[58]

As they faced the 1931 situation, the leaders of the Southern Work Committee expressed frustration and confusion. As they reflected on the original reasons for the work and the questionable need for its continuation thirty years later, they wrestled with the issue of its value. Mrs. Eva B. T. Churchill, the 1930 chair of the committee, broached the inevitable question:

Now comes the question, have we been a success? I admit that may be debatable, but, to me, it is entirely a side issue. We may have been or we may not have been. Mistakes have undoubtedly been made. Every committee has been composed of human beings. Always the attempt and the aim have been to help. I thoroughly believe the net sum accomplished by our predecessors will balance up on the right side. I could argue it, but arguments do not change results. They speak for themselves and I am content to rest it there.[59]

And what about Shelter Neck? What effect, if any, had the school had on the community and the area? And what of the school’s alumni? How had their experience at the school affected their lives? Had the school, in their eyes, been successful?

In the document creating the Peterson Memorial Association, Shelter Neck citizens claimed that the school was extremely valuable: “the estate and establishment had come to be known as the garden spot of the Coastal Region,’ and was recognized by the educational authorities of the State as the best equipped, the highest grade, and the most successful rural industrial institution in the State.” This work, which some community citizens still value, also asserts: “the school had achieved phenomenal success during the entire period of its existence, as is proven by the long list of graduates, all of whom are today occupying responsible and lucrative positions in various parts of the country.”[60]

Were the religious affiliations of any of the former students influenced? In a few cases–Roy Rowe and Norma Hanchey Westmoreland, for example–the now adult alumni are members of Unitarian Universalist churches. But most alumni followed the path closest to their cultural roots and are members of Southern Protestant churches.

If individual comments of alumni nearly seventy years later are any indication, the “Dix House School” was a valued part of their lives. Clara Deal Watkins, who boarded at the school along with her brother, cherishes the memories of the “elegant” times at the school during her years there. She relishes her memories and appreciates the opportunities the school offered her: “We had a French teacher who taught us French, and we had sumptuous dinners and we danced the Virginia Reel every Saturday night.   It was a lovely place and we just had a lovely time and I’m just happy I could be a part of it.” Hattie Ward Hanchey remembers that, when she moved on to higher education after attending the Shelter Neck school, she found her preparation superior to those around her: “The school was highly rated,” she says, noting also that it offered many courses local schools did not. Taylor Tatum, one of the youngest of his many siblings, all of whom attended the school, would maintain the strongest connection to the place; still living on his family’s property adjacent to the school site, at nearly eighty years of age, he tells stories with relish. “I reckon we had about the best school there was anywhere around,” he declared in 1993.[61]

Roy Rowe, the former student whose successes have probably been the most visible, remembers the attention Key and other school staff members paid the students. “When I was at Chapel Hill, some years after I left the Shelter Neck area and was attending the university up there, I remember that Mr. Key came to see me one day–just dropped by,” recalls Roy Rowe, now in his eighties. “That sort of thing impresses a young man, you know.”[62] Rowe would consider becoming a Unitarian minister and, along with his sisters, Gladys and Norma, would visit a number of New England sites under the sponsorship of Unitarians. In the late 1920s an article about him, his interest in the Unitarian ministry, and his prior experience at the Carolina Industrial School would appear in The Christian Register.   Roy would not become a minister, but would later, as a citizen and businessman from Burgaw, be elected to several terms in the North Carolina legislature, serve on the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina, and be noted by Mattie Bloodworth in her History of Pender County as one of “Pender’s Sons Who Have Achieved Success.” He and his family would continue to count Pender County and the Shelter Neck community their home and would help sustain the memory and appreciation of the school.

In her 1974 article, Norma Rowe Sawyer concluded: “For many of us who were eager to learn, this school contributed greatly to our education, instilling in us a desire to continue to broaden our horizons; encouraging us always to question and to observe–always seeking for deeper insight, a fulfillment of our destiny.”[63]

The school at Shelter Neck, the inspiration of the now obscure Joseph G. Dukes and the passionate mission and “life’s work” of Abby A. Peterson, had offered education and exposure to the values of New England Unitariansm to a generation of the community’s children–but just one generation. No marker was left behind to inform the outside world that the chapel was the first Unitarian edifice in the state or that this place was founded by Northern liberals and run by Yankee women teachers or that these were the buildings a community called home. The primary legacy of the Dix House School’s presence would be found in the lives of those who had been its students.

In 1974 alumni of the school began a pattern of an annual reunion on the old school grounds. From the first it has been held the first weekend in October, the time school always opened. Over forty alumni attended in 1974, the local paper noting that “there were folk there for this special occasion from as far away as California, Michigan, Mass., Florida, Virginia, South Carolina, as well as throughout the state of North Carolina.”[64] The Universalist Convention of North Carolina, which had inherited the buildings that once housed the school, helped sponsor the first event.

In October, 1994, the twentieth “Dix House School” reunion was celebrated. Eddie Rivenbark, whose family has lived in the area for generations and whose parents attended the school, led the program and called the crowd to “gather round the flagpole to sing Bless Be the Tie That Binds,’” as they had done at each previous reunion. He also announced that the annual event would continue “as long as anybody wants to come.” Loyal friends and family members brought the total attendance to over forty, but only six of those were still-living former students


Personal Sketches

Abby A. Peterson

No account of the Shelter Neck School or the Unitarians’ North Carolina work is complete without an understanding of the central and vital role Abby Peterson played. Samuel A. Eliot said it succintly when he wrote in 1915, “Mrs. Ellis Peterson is the mind and soul of the thing. . . It is her life work.”

Joining the Alliance Executive Board in 1895, Abby Peterson was at the heart of that organization’s work during its formative turn-of-the-century years. She represented the Alliance’s Suffolk County Branch, the organization’s largest, and her name was among the list of directors at the Alliance’s 1902 incorporation, making her, in a sense, a charter member. Her home was the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plain, her address listed as 305 Chestnut Avenue.

From the very outset she was an exceptionally active participant in the Alliance leadership, her name frequently mentioned as organizer of the anniversary meetings and chair for the southern circuit work. During her years of involvement in North Carolina she also represented the Alliance at gatherings in the South, one 1910 Register report noting that, at the Southern Conference held in Jacksonville, Florida, “Mrs. Abbie [sic] A. Peterson brought greeting of the National Alliance, and her presence and words were continually helpful.”

What drew Mrs. Peterson to the work in the South is not completely clear, but she made the first investigative trip to North Carolina in the summer of 1900 as well as the original arrangements for the properties at Shelter Neck. She may have been “hooked” by the needs of the area! At any rate, in the first years of the century, widowed and with mature sons, she perhaps viewed immersion in the North Carolina work as a satisfying response to the changes in her life. She was fifty years old in 1905, when she settled in to the work at Shelter Neck.

An outline of her life and her key role in the North Carolina work–the best so far located–appeared in an obituary Register article about her by Henry Wilder Foote:

The sudden death of Mrs. Abby A. Peterson on Easter Day, April 20, in a hospital at Wilmington, North Carolina, following an operation, has brought a sense of grievous loss to many people in our fellowship for Mrs. Peterson had become widely known and much beloved in our churches by reason of her work at Swansboro and Shelter Neck, North Carolina. She was born sixty-three years ago at Rutland, Mass. She married the late Ellis Peterson, who, after service as principal of high schools at Bangor and Worcester and as assistant professor at Harvard, became a member of the board of supervisors of the Boston public schools, a position which he filled with honor for twenty-seven years until his death, more than fifteen years ago. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson had long been attached to the Unitarian church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and so, finding herself a widow while still in middle life, with her sons starting their own professional careers, she turned her attention to the work which had recently been inaugurated by the National Alliance in Eastern North Carolina. She went thither in September, 1904, and thenceforward threw herself with unceasing devotion into the religious and educational work which chiefly centered at Shelter Neck and at Swansboro. she made her headquarters at the former point for seven or eight months each year, served as superintendent for the two schools, engaged the teachers when she came North each summer, and became secretary of the board of trustees when the schools were incorporated in 1911. She was at Shelter Neck, active in the work so dear to her heart, up to the Thursday preceding her death, so that she died in the full swing of her busy life.

This bare record, however, conveys but little idea of what her life had come to mean in the community. For in these fifteen years she had become an untold influence for good through her unwavering devotion to the people among whom she had made her home. She was the soul of domestic life at Dix House; an unfailing reliance in strength to the weak; a guide to the perplexed; a helper to all about her who needed help. Seldom cast down by difficulties, she habitually put on a cheerful courage, matched with a wise understanding of human nature alike in its excellences and its defects, and an untiring faith in the efficacy of righteousness and love. Possessed of no extraordinary gifts of intellect or personality, she was a noble example of the power of intelligent goodness. Through these years she has given to the schools and to the community, without money and without price, that which no money could buy.

During the weeks before her death she was engrossed in plans for rebuilding Kimball House at Shelter Neck, which was burned last December, and with other developments which she had at heart. What can be done to carry out these plans,–or, indeed, to carry on the owrk at at all now that she is gone,–is as yet uncertain. But to have the work go on without slackening would be her dearest wish, and all who have known her will desire to lend their help to its maintenance. Somehow or other it must be sustained. However that be done, the influence of her life will long abide in the hearts of the men and women and little children among whom she moved, blessing and blessed.”

In her history of the Alliance, Comins, in discussing “Southern Work,” writes another tribute to her: “Among many names associated with the southern work that of Mrs. Peterson must stand pre-eminent. No one unacquainted with the local conditions can picture the range of her activities. She officiated as a midwife, attended the sick, and took charge when death came. Sanitary conditions were deplorable and traveling necesitated fording streams and having cars drawn out of the mire by yokes of oxen. By the refinements of her own life, simple and primitive as it was by necessity, she held up a pattern for better living which was seized upon by the people, who were keen to know “what people do away from here.”

Perhaps her sensitivity to the South was one of the major reasons for Mrs. Peterson’s success at Shelter Neck. Many references in the Alliance minutes and other records make clear her strong feeling for her North Carolina work. In 1915 Samuel Eliot worried that she was concerned for everyone but herself and admonished her to give some priority to extra help at Dix House “to take care of your large family.” While no record indicates that she was ever paid a salary, she was reimbursed for her travel expenses on several occasions, an exchange in the 1908 minutes revealing this and something of her relationship to her work in the South:

“Mrs. Peterson was warmly welcomed after her long sojourn in the south and for the southern committee gave an account of the work as it had progressed in North Carolina, adding some details to the reports sent in each month, and telling of the new places where preaching stations might be developed. . . While thanking the board for the confidence shown in her work, Mrs. Peterson asked that the vote taken at the last meeting should be rescinded. Especially did she dislike the term used “as a missionary,” explaining that the word was most distasteful in the south. On motion of Mrs. Noyes the vote sending Mrs. Peterson south as passed at the last meeting was reconsidered. After much discussion and the offering of several amendments the following was unanimously voted:   “That Mrs. Peterson be sent to North Carolina, with travelling expenses paid, to carry on our work during March, April and May, with an additional appropriation of $50 a month for travelling expenses within the circuit.

Appreciation for Mrs. Peterson can be found in many reports and articles, especially after her unexpected death. In the Shelter Neck chapel hangs a large plaque to her, put there at a memorial service a year after her death. Within months of her death, Mr. Key also left Shelter Neck to return to Massachusetts; from there a tribute to Mrs. Peterson by him would be published in an October 1920 Register article. Perhaps it is fitting to let Mr. Key, who, in the experience of this researcher was immensely loyal to her (and also given to effusive prose!), have the last word on Mrs. Peterson:

Mr. Key declared that for the measure of success which had attended his efforts, chief credit was due to Mrs. Peterson, who had been the soul of the entire movement from its inception, nearly twenty years ago, when he entered the field, up to the time of her death and even to the present time. During that long period of time Mrs. Peterson had been untiring in her efforts to aid the people at large all through Eastern North Carolina. Of a most optimistic disposition, and possessed of most versatile capacities, she succeeded in initiating many movements covering a wide tereitory which are to-day being carried on successfully.

Everywhere she went, Mrs. Peterson was received with the utmost cordiality. It is not to be wondered at, as one recalls how promptly she responded to any demand made upon her, where it was the organizaing of a county fair, a cleanup week, a social service conference, a historical pageant a fruit and vegetable exhibition, a musical festival or a county school Commencement demonstration. In the home life of the people she was a great factor. Many times she assumed the roles of hospital nurse, physician, housekeeper, and even clergyman.

Mr. Key said he had been inspired by Mrs. Peterson’s example, and heartened by her courage in carrying on the work. Only one who has been on the ground cane adequate conceive the nature of the work and appreciate the grip which work gets upon any one who enters that field of usefulness in a right spirit.

Reverend William S. Key

Along with Mrs. Peterson, the Reverend W. S. Key was an anchor figure at Shelter Neck. Hired as a circuit minister, Key served in the area, based at Dix House, for most of the years the school operated. Although he was not a regular in the classroom, he was much a part of the community and former students frequently and fondly mention him. Pershaps even more than Mrs. Peterson, he was widely known and appreciated in North Carolina, the 1906 Wilmington Star article and the Pender County History reflecting the perspective of the region about him.

Unitarian records contain very little information about the Reverend Key. That he was an Englishman is clear. Where his training for the ministry, if any, was had is unknown. Roy Rowe remembers that his wife, whom he referred to as “Mother Key,” often stayed in the North while Key was working in North Carolina. A 1911 article implies that both Mr. and Mrs. Key were there that year, however, and a 1912 letter suggests the possibility of Mrs. Key’s taking a housekeeping position at Dix House so that both she and he could be at Shelter Neck. []   But more information about his life and education is still unfound.

Key first came to the North Carolina circuit as a minister in 1904, but, because his salary requirements were high, the Alliance decided after a year and a half that they could not afford him. In 1908, however, Key returned to the circuit, although the records do not mention his salary or contract terms, and there he remained until after Mrs. Peterson’s death. Indeed, finding the funds to keep him at Shelter Neck may have been a year-by-year struggle, because a 1912 letter from Mrs. Peterson to Samuel A. Eliot, then the Carolina Industrial School board president, noted that his contract was about to end. Mrs. Peterson’s letter then sets out several possible ways to compensate him, the insistent tone of her writing implying that she was intent on retaining him. His employment was, obviously, not “tenured” either by the Alliance or the A.U.A. Within months of Mrs. Peterson’s death Key returned North, the minutes noting that there were not “funds adequate for his support.” (His pay scale may have been higher because he was not a Southerner, as this researcher suspects the less-salaried Dukes and Cowan were.)

Key was unquestionably a valued member of the Shelter Neck family, however. Roy Rowe, Taylor Tatum and others speak of him fondly with respect, and Nora Hanchey Westmoreland gleefully recalls that at the Christmas celebrations, “he was my Santa Claus.” Articles about services and programs at other churches in the North Carolina circuit mention him, one noting that “always a hearty welcome awaits Mr. Key wherever he goes.” []

Key is sometimes credited with founding and being the head of the school in North Carolina writings, (a perception which must reflect the typical assumption of the times that the male figure in an organization was its leader.) The History of Pender County, for example, is complimentary of him and assumes he organized the school: “The Reverend W. S. Key, an Englishman by birth, was sent to the school as minister, educator and special worker. . . Mr. Key was accepted in the County as a man with a great heart for all the people. He exerted a stimulus to fight harder for schools, colleges, and particularly the practical arts, such as domestic science, manual training for the school boys, etc.” An article in the Pender Post at the 1974 school reunion also, inaccurately, states: “Shelter Neck was established in 1902 through the efforts of a Community Unitarian Minister from Boston, Mass., W. S. Key.”.       Yet, in the clearly attributable writings and speeches of his, Key always gave Mrs. Peterson the credit for being the school’s leader; the document which he (must have!) written at the request of the Carolina Industrial School board and a piece in the Register in October, 1920, are illustrative: “Referring to the work in which he was himself most actively interested, Mr. Key declared that for the measure of success which had attended his efforts, chief credit was due to Mrs. Peterson, who had been the soul of the entire movement from its inception.”

Key was frequently a spokesman for the school, both in the South and in Boston. Further, many articles about the school focus on him and his work. Foote’s 1911 article in The Christian Register, for example, devotes a long paragraph to Key, describing his circuit work as both conscientious and strenuous:

Mr. Key has had his headquarters at Shelter Neck for the past half-dozen years, but is there only about ten days each month, spending the rest of the time going the rounds of the other churches. His parish thus covers a district some seventy miles long by forty wide.

The first Sunday in each month he visits the Middle Sound region; the second Sunday he is at Shelter Neck; the third Sunday he goes to Swansboro and the neighborhood; the fourth Sunday he goes to Pink Hill. Each journey means several appointments and many miles of travel by train, boat, horse or on foot. The total distance thus travelled each month comes to 586 miles,–more when there is a fifth Sunday in the month. This is itinerating with a vengence! In this far-flung field Mr. Key has labored with great devotion, giving his time and strength without stint. His tireless energy and varied accomplishments, in addition to his self-sacrificing spirit, make him an invaluable counsellor for the people, not only on spiritual themes, but also in practical affairs, as on matters of thrift and economy, of health, of improved methods of farming. The drain upon his scanty resources, and upon his strength, is heavy, but he is doing a work which few of our ministers would be competent or devoted enough to undertake.

Upon his return North in the winter of 1920-21, the trustees of the Carolina Industrial School wrote to him requesting that he write a brief history of the school. The typewritten document, titled “The Carolina Industrial School,” kept among the Southern Work Committee papers in the Andover Harvard Theological Library, is, this researcher believes, the result of this request . The letter is an unsigned copy. It reads:

60 State Street, Boston, Mass., September 27, 1921
Rev. William S. Key
Winthrop, Mass.

My dear Mr. Key: –

At the meeting of the Board of Trustees of Carolina Industrial School held last Saturday, September 24, 1921, the Board discussed the desirability of obtaining and filing with the valuable papers of the School a brief typewritten report describing the founding and development of the School from year to year both at Shelter Neck and Swansboro, together with as complete information as possible as to the teachers who had served from time to time, their length of service, and so forth, and any other information which would asisist in making an accurate and interesting brief historical sketch.

It was the unanimous opinion of the members of the Board that you are undoubtedly the person best fitted to prepare such a sketch, as you must have more complete information and recollection of the subject than any other person now living. The Board did not intend to use such a sketch for publication, but simply to file it with other valuable papers, so that an accurate record might always be on hand and could be used for whatever purpose future occasion might require. It was the feeling of the Board that the report should not be longer than fiteen typewritten pages. Unless some such effort is made to preserve the desired information it may some day be a matter of great regret to those interested in the past history of the School.

The Board has accordingly requested me to ask you if you will be good enough to prepare a report of this kind. If you can do so and will forward it to me I will present it at the next meeting of the Trustees, and I am sure they will be most grateful to you for the work which it may involve.

I trust you are well and happy and that I may hear favorably from you at your early convenience.

[The copy of the letter is signed “secretary,” with no name.]

If this writer is correct, the Reverend Key is the author of the first historical sketch about the Shelter Neck school–and the only one prior to this 1994 account.

Abby A. Peterson Memorial Association

We, the undersigned residents of Shelter Neck, and district of Watha, N.C.,patrons and friends of the Carolina Industrial School, are organizing the Abby A. Peterson Memorial Association for the purpose of perpetuating the memory of that estimable woman who gave her life in our service, and to continue the work of helping to build up the character and enlighten the lives of the present and rising generation, a task to which the devoted efforts of Abby A. Peterson and her many splendid co-workers were consecrated in the past.

That work, as is only too well known, was very dear to the heart of Mrs. Peterson, and now that the entire movement has been abandoned, the splendid school building, the new, handsome and commodious girls dormitory known as the Kimball House, dismantled and closed, the fine library destroyed, indeed the entire estate wrecked, we feel impelled to carry on the work to the best of our ability, as it was conducted for over 20 years.

And we feel inspired to undertake this task by the fact that the school had achieved phenomenal success dring the entire period of its existence, as is proven by the long list of graduates, all of whom are today occupying responsible and lucrative positions in various parts of the country; and the additonal fact that there is at the present time as urgent need for such an institution right here as at the time the movement was first begun.

To be a little more precise, there is quite as large if not even a larger number of children clamoring for education than ever; yet there is no school within several miles, neither is there a church within miles.

At the beginning of the movement the facilities were of the crudest and most primitive type. Today, or until quite recently, before the ruthless work of destruction was carried out, we had a splendidly equipped establishment–church, school-house, fine eleven-room residence, handsome, new and commodious dormitory for girls, large well built work shop, two barns, electric pumping plant recently installed, a four-acre garden and fruit orchard and 30 acres of as fertile and well cultivated land as is to be found anywhere in Eastern North Carolina.

Briefly stated, the estate and establishment had come to be known as “the garden spot of the Coastal Region,” and was recognized by the educational authorities of the State as the best equipped, the highest grade, and the most successful rural industrial institution in the State.

Having these facts in mind, and fully conscious that the benign spirit of Abby A. Peterson still lingers in our midst, we feel constrained to carry forward the upflifing work of that noble-hearted and self-sacrificing woman. In this undertaking we feel confident of achieving, by steady, persistent effort, a full measure of success. With this end in view we ask only the kindly sympathy and goodwishes of Abby A. Peterson’s innumerable friends everywhere.

Mr. S. M. Thratt
Mrs. S. M. Thratt
Mrs. R. H. Thratt
Mr. Walter Sears
Mrs. Mary B. Rowe
Miss Minnie E. Rowe
Mr. L. T. Hanchey
Mrs. L. T. Hanchey
Mr. Charles E. Smith
Mrs. Charles E. Smith
Miss Lena Hanchey
Mr. Bradford Hanchey
Mrs. Abby Tatum
Mr. Julius Tatum
Mrs. Charlotte Hanchey
Mr. Eilot Hanchey
Mr. J. A. Rowe
Mrs. J. A. Rowe
Mr. A. F. King
Mrs. A. F. King
Mrs. J. C. King
Mr. Luther W. Deal
Mrs. Luther W. Deal
Mr. Junius W. Dubois
Mrs. Junius W. Dubois
Mr. John W. Rowe
Mr. Edgar Rivenbark
Mrs. Edgar Rivenbark
Mr. Don Saunders
Mrs. Don Saunders
Mr. Louis B. Saunders
Mrs. Louis B. Saunders
Mrs. J. B Murray
Mr. Albert Murray
Mr. Z.P. Rowe
Mrs. Z.P.Rowe
And Many Others

1893 Map of  Southeastern U. S. from showing Unitarian  churches and preaching stations

1893 Map of Existing Unitarian Churches

1893 Map of Existing Unitarian Churches


Eunice Milton Benton is a Southern Unitarian Universalist. Most of her adult life has been lived in North Carolina where she is a member and past president of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Winston-Salem. She has been active denominational work in the southeast and is a past president of the Thomas Jefferson District Board. Her interest in the story of Shelter Neck was an outgrowth of these associations and her appreciation of this historic site.

She was born in 1944 and grew up in Marianna, Florida, where she was a valedictorian (one of five!) in the Class of 1962 at Marianna High School. Her undergraduate work began at Mississippi State College for Women and continued at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was active in a variety of campus projects and in 1966 received a B. A. degree with a major in history.   She also, later, was a student in the interior design program at U. N. C.- Greensboro, and was a practicing interior designer in North Carolina from 1976-1992. The Southern Studies graduate program at the University of Mississippi was a mid-life work.

Footnotes and References

Chapter I

[1] Cory 81-82
[2] Brooks 5
[3] Both Cory and Brooks as well as other Unitarian records affirm this information.
[4] Cory 52-56
[5] Cory 81-82
[6] Cooke 343
[7] Cooke 338-339
[8] Register , “Journey,” 1914
[9] Cooke 383
[10] Cooke 395
[11] McGiffert
[12] Cashman 135-175
[13] Cooke 159
[14] Cooke 187
[15] Cooke 197
[16] Cooke 187-197
[17] This information is available in the A.U.A. Annual Reports and the National Alliance’s minutes and is noted, as well, by Cooke, Cory, and other historians.
[18] Minutes of the Executive Board of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women, 1891. So many references to these minutes will be made in this writing that, hereinafter, they are simple referred to as “Minutes.”
[19] Minutes, 1891
[20] Donahue 3
[21] Cooke 369-370
[22] Comins 5
[23] Comins 7-9
[24] Minutes, 1895
[25] Comins 7
[26] Minutes 1892
[27] Minutes 1893
[28] Minutes, 1896
[29] Minutes, 1900
[30] The Christian Register , September 30, 1909. Articles from this denominational periodical will hereinafter be referenced as Register.
[31] McGiffert 182
[32] Minutes, 1893
[33] Minutes, 1893
[34] Minutes, 1895
[35] Minutes, 1895
[36] Minutes, 1896
[37] Minutes, 1897
[38] Minutes, 1897

Chapter II

Archivist Note: During the transfer of the original document to the Archive website, the footnote annotation were lost in chapter II.
[1] A number of writings about the results of the Post Office Mission, in Comins, Cooke, the Southern Work Committee Papers and the Alliance board minutes among other places, cite the frequent occurence of conversions of ministers of other faiths to Unitarianism. Since, from what is known of Dukes, he received no training for the Unitarian ministry and since he is only mentioned in the South, this conclusion about him seems the most plausible.
[2] Minutes, 1895
[3] Minutes, 1899
[4] Minutes, 1899
[5] Minutes, 1900
[6] Minutes, 1900
[7] Minutes, 1901
[8] Minutes, 1904
[9] Woods and Kennedy, xiii.
[10] Percy A. Atherton would be the treasurer of the corporation when the Carolina Industrial School incorporated, serving in that capacity from 1911-1915.
[11] The full names of many of the school’s teachers have not been discovered. A chronology of teachers at the school with their names as Key’s historical sketch recorded them, is appended to this paper.
[12] Key, “C. I. S.”
[13] Eliot, “Tributaries” Register. 1911.
[14] Foote, “Southern Schools.” Register., 1911
[15] Register. “From Shelter Neck,” 1914.
[16] Key, “C.I.S.” SWCP, AHDSL
[17] Sawyer. Pender Post. 1974.
[18] Sawyer. Pender Post. 1974.
[19] Minutes, 1919
[20] “Plans. . .” Register . 1919.
[21] “Honoring …”Register. 1920.]
[22] “We Must . . .” Register. 1922.
[23] Minutes, 1924
[24] Minutes, 1924
[25] From personal and 1994 Reunion interviews.
[26] Minutes, 1926
[27] “Churchill Report.” SWC Papers. 1930.
[28] In Swansboro the Unitarians were not as cordially received as they were in Shelter Neck, but whether or not the fires mentioned here–which precipitated the closing of the entire operation–were deliberately or maliciously set was never conclusively determined.
[29] SWC Papers. 1931.
[30] SWC Papers. 1931.
[31] Minutes: 1899, 1902, 1907
[32] Minutes, 1900
[33] Minutes, 1906
[34] “Our Educational. . .” Register . 1911.
[35]“Bill of Complaint.” SWC Papers.
[36] Minutes 1907. Rowe was the grandfather of Roy, Norma, and Gladys Rose, all students at the school. Minnie E. Rowe was his sister.
[37] Register. 1917.
[38] Eliot to _____ 1915. SWC Papers.
[39] Minutes 1921
[40] Bill of Complaint. SWC Papers.
[41] Norman Rowe Sawyer, in her 1974 article, specifically reports some of these deed transactions and their language. The Alliance board minutes also include some information, including the fact that the original deed of land to Mrs. Peterson was executed August 4, 1900.
[42] Minutes, 1907-08.
[43] This assertion is made from interviews with Taylor Tatum in 1993 and from sketches of the chapel built in Faceville, Georgia (in January, 1905) and the few other photos of chapels attached to the Alliance board minutes.
[44] Key, “CIS.” SWC Papers.
[45] Minutes 1907, 1923
[46]The school building is referred to today as Williams Hall, but that name was not given to it until after the property was deeded to the Universalists of North Carolina. The name honors John Williams, a revered leader of the North Carolina Universalists.

Chapter III

[1] Bloodworth 93
[2] Bloodworth 8
[3] According to Bloodworths History of Pender County , soldiers in the Revolutionary period who found shelter under large holly trees along this tributary of the NE Cape Fear named Holly Shelter Creek.
[4] See Appendix for maps of Shelter Neck and Pender County areas. (not included)
[5] A. Taylor Tatum. Interviews. 1993.
[6] A. Taylor Tatum. Interviews. 1993.
[7] Rowe. Register. n.d. This article is found among the SWC Papers.
[8] Churchill Report. SWC Papers. AHDSL.
[9] Norton. Register. 1924.
[10] Impressions. . . Register. 1900.
[11] Carson 205
[12] Swansboro Report, SWC Papers.   Even though this piece acknowledges no author, like the report this writer believes can be attributed to Key, this one must have been written by John Sears, the last minister to serve the North Carolina circuit and who was based in Swansboro in 1930. The references he makes to his and his wifes experiences there could have been made by no other.
[13] Rowe. Register. n.d.
[14] Rowe. Interview, 1994.
[15] Carson 11
[16] Foote. Notes.. Register. 1911.
[17] ——————–
[18] The Carolina Schools. Register. 1922.
[19] Norton. Register. 1924.
[20] Patterson letter. SWC Papers. AHDSL
[21] —————-
[22] Johnson. From North Carolina. Register. 1910.
[23] Johnson. From North Carolina. Register. 1910.
[24] Whisnant, 9-10. He is referencing Jacqueline Jones Soldiers of Light and Love: Norhtern Teachers and Georgia Blacks, 1865-1873. (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press. 1980)
[25] Norton. Register. 1924.
[26] Cooke 353
[27] Foote. Notes… Register. 1911.
[28] Impressions… Register.
[29] Norton. Register. 1924.
[30] Rowe. Register. n.d.
[31] Westmoreland. Interviews. 1993.
[32] Whistnant 9-10. Whistnant is referencing Jones work again in this passage.
[33] Rowe. Register. n.d.
[35] Key. CIS SWC Papers.
[36] The Carolina Schools. Register. 1922.
[37] Cooke points out, as do other writers, that Unitarians preferred to support nonsectarian schools: As a body, Unitarians have not only been opposed to denominational colleges, but they have been leaders in promoting unsectarian education. (Cooke, 389.)
[38] 1993 Reunion Interviews.
[39] Bloodworth 93
[40] Norton. Register. 1994.
[41] Wilmington Starr News. 1988.
[42] 1993 Reunion Interviews.
[43] Tatum. Interviews. 1993.
[44] 1993 Reunion Interv iews.
[45] Rowe. Interviews. 1994.
[46] Apparently only boarding students paid tuition.
[47] Wilmington Starr News. 1988.
[48] Rowe. Interviews. 1994.
[49] Wilmington Star. 1906.
[50] Tatum. Interviews. 1993.
[51] 1993 Reunion Interviews.
[52] Patterson letter. SWC Papers AHDSL
[53] See Appendix for this document in its entirety.
[54] This researcher believes that Mr. Key was the author of this document, the tone and style of the writing being reminiscent of earlier pieces of his work. He was also known to be extremely loyal to Mrs. Peterson.
[55] Chruchill Report. SWC Papers. AHDSL
[56] SWC Papers. It is also interesting to note, in this commentary on social and cultural differences, that these Northern Unitarians could not find a way to work with the Southern Universalists either; although theologically the groups wee kin, socially and culturally they were very different. The different heritages of these two denominations sometimes still created conflict even thirty years after they joined forces.
[57] Stebbins Report. SWC Papers.
[58] Swansboro Report SWC Papers.
[59] Churchill Report. SWC Papers.
[60] See Appendix.
[61] 1993 Reunion Interviews.
[62] Rowe. Interviews. 1994.
[63] Sawyer. Pender Post. 1974
[64] Shelter Neck Reunion. Pender Post. 1974.


List of References

Andover-Harvard Theological Library:

National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women: Minutes 1898-1930 [bMS 11021-1 and 11021-2]

General Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. Southern Work Committee. Records, 1921-1931.

Personal Interviews

1993 “Dix House” Reunion Attendees. (Primary Speakers: Eddie Rivenbark, service leader; Tom Fry; Taylor Tatum; Clara Deal Watkins, Hattie Ward Hanchey, Hazel Hanchley Wells, Nora Hanchey Westmoreland. ) Recorded on videotape. October 1993.

1994 Dix House Reunion Attendees. (Especially Roy Rowe, Elizabeth Chadwick Twining, Taylor Tatum, Hazel Hanchey Wells, Eddie Rivenbark.) Recorded on videotape. October 1994.

Hanchey, Hattie Ward, et al. Personal interview recorded on video. October 1993.

Rowe, Roy. Personal interviews recorded on viedotape. July, August, 1994.

Tatum, A. Taylor. Personal interviews recorded on videotape. March, June, and October 1993.

Twining, Elizabeth Chadwick. Personal interview recorded on videotape. October, 1994.

Wells, Hazel Hanchey, et. al. Personal interview recorded on videotape. October 1993.

Westmoreland, Nora Hanchey, et al. Personal interview recorded on videotape. October 1993

Books and Pamphlets

American Unitarian Association. Annual Reports 1901 – 1935.   Boston: American Unitarian Association.

Bloodworth, Mattie. History of Pender County, North Carolina. Richmond: The Dietz Printing Company. 1947.

Brooks, Arthur A. “The History of Unitarianism in the Southern Churches: Charleston, New Orleans, Louisville, Richmond.” Boston: American Unitarian Association. 1961.

Carson, Mina. Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1990.

Cashman, Diane Cobb. Headstrong: The Bilgraphy of Amy Morris Bradley, 1823-1904, A Life of Noblest Usefulness. Wilimngton, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company. 1990.

Comins, Sara. In Unbroken Line: History of The Alliance 1880-1955.   Boston: The General Alliance of Unitarian and other Liberal Christian Women. 1955.

Cooke, George Willis. Unitarianism in America: A History of its Origin and Development. Boston: American Unitarian Association. 1902.

Cory, Earl Wallace.   The Unitarians and Universalists of the Southeastern United States During the Nineteenth Century.   Ph.D. Dissertation. Athens: University of Georgia. 1970.

Donahue, Jessie E. Candle Power: A Brief History of the General Alliance of Unitarian and other Liberal Christian Women. Boston: The General Alliance of Unitarian and other Liberal Christian Women. 1937.

Federal Writers’ Project. North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State. American Guide Series. Sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1939.

Garner, Leslie H. , Jr. and Arthur Mann Kaye. The Coastal Plains: Writings on the Cultures of Eastern North Carolina. Rocky Mount: North Carolina Wesleyan College Press. 1989.

Hill, Samuel S. Religion in the Southern States.   Macon: Mercer University Press: 1983.

Hobbs, Samuel Huntington, Jr. North Carolina, Economic and Social.   Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina press. 1930.

Leonard, Steven W., and Richard J Davis. Natural Area Inventory of Pender County, North Carolina. CEIP Report No. 11. Raleigh: Coastal Energy Impact Program, Office of Coastal Management, North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development. 1981.

McGiffert, Arthur Chusman, Jr. Pilot of a Liberal Faith: Samuel Atkins Eliot, 1862-1950. Boston: Skinner House Books by Beacon Press. 1976.

National Educational Association. “Industrial Education in Schools for Rural Communities.” Report of the Committee to the National Council of Education, July 1905. N.p.: National Educational Association. 1905.

Whisnant, David E. All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1983.

Williams, John E. and others. A History of Universalism in North Carolina. N.p.: The Universalist Convention of North Carolina. 1968.

Articles from Periodicals

“From North Carolina.” The Christian Register.   February 10, 1910.

“The Dix Memorial Service.” The Christian Register.   February 17, 1910.

“Meetings: The Southern Conference.” The Christian Register.   April 7, 1910.

“From North Carolina.” The Christian Register.   November 17, 1910.

“The Carolina Industrial School.” The Christian Register.   December 26, 1912.

“Notes on Some Southern Schools,” by Rev. Henry Wilder Foote The Christian Register.   January 5, 1911

“Personals.”The Christian Register.  April 13, 1911.

“From North Carolina.” The Christian Register. May 25, 1911.

“From North Carolina.” The Christian Register. June 8, 1911.

“Some Tributaries and Overflows,” by Samuel A. Eliot. The Christian Register. June 22, 1911.

“Our Educational Work in North Carolina.” The Christian Register. September 22, 1911.

“An Invitation.” The Christian Register.   December 21, 1911.

“From Shelter Neck, N.C.” The Christian Register.   March 26, 1914

“The Work at Swansboro and Shelter Neck.” The Christian Register.   February 8, 1917.

“Mrs. Abby A. Peterson,” by Henry Wilder Foote. The Christian Register.   May 1, 1919.

“Plans for Shelter Neck, by Henry Wilder Foote. The Christian Register.   June 5, 1919 .

“Announcements.”The Christian Register.   October 30, 1919.

“The Alliance: January Meeting.” The Christian Register. January 22, 1920.

“Honoring the Name of Abby A. Peterson.”The Christian Register.   May 6, 1920.

“The Alliance: October Meeting.” The Christian Register.   October 28, 1920.

“Unitarian Work in North Carolina.” The Christian Register. October 28, 1920.

“The Alliance: November Meeting.” The Christian Register.   December 16, 1920.

“The Alliance: December Meeting.” The Christian Register.   December 21, 1921.

“The Carolina Schools.” The Christian Register.   March 30, 1922.

“The Alliance: April Meeting.”The Christian Register. April 20, 1920

“We Must Keep Working With Enthusiasm: What We Have Done, says Miss Lowell, Urges to More Success.” The Christian Register.   June 8, 1922.

“The Alliance: September Meeting.” The Christian Register.  October 12, 1922.

“Going South By Motor,” by Margaret B. Barnard.The Christian Register.  October 19, 1922.

“Life in a North Carolina School: Backward Conditions and People of Good Stock–An Opportunity.” by Edith C. Norton. The Christian Register.   September 25, 1924.

“To Discontinue North Carolina School: Are Considering Churches and Library: A Statement From the General Alliance.”The Christian Register. April 17, 1930.

“Roy H. Rowe of North Carolina Will Become Liberal Minister: Education Betgun at Shelter Neck to be Completed at Northern Divinity School. Young Carolinian Sees Duty in Southern Field.” Unitarian New Letter. nd. [The only copy of this found is a clipping from which the date is torn. The article must have been published about 1928-29.]

“What I Rember [sic] About the Unitarian School at Shelter Neck,” by Norma Rowe Sawyer. The Pender Post. Burgaw, North Carolina. Wednesday, October 16, 1974.

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