Historic Leadership

History of The Alliance

The Ladies Sewing Society was formed in December 1865 for the express purpose of supporting the establishment of a Unitarian Church in Portland Oregon.  Further purposes were to provide companionship, education and support for the “Unitarian and Other Liberal Christians” in the city.
These have continued to be the purposes of the organization, ‘though at times somewhat differently expressed.  Indeed, many current members might be surprised to learn that the financial support of the church has been a major focus of the Alliance for most of the ensuing 150 years.
(The Ladies Sewing Society became the Women’s Auxiliary, the Women’s Alliance and the Alliance over the years.  For convenience the group is referred to herein as the Alliance.)

Following are highlights of the organization’s activities and financial support of the church since 1865.  Members took advantage of their home maker skills of sewing and cooking and entertaining to raise money for the church and church activities and social justice activities.

Initially, in 1866, The Ladies took in sewing and mending to raise funds (there were not many women in Portland CommSvc2at that time, and clothing repair was in great demand.) With their first $30 they sent to San Francisco for a silver communion service which is still in use once a year on Maundy Thursday. See at right.

By the end of the 1866, their $900 contribution was instrumental in allowing for the construction of a chapel at the corner of 7th and Taylor, and the hiring of our first minister.  The ladies provided most of the furnishings of the chapel and a member gave money for the organ.  In 1879 the ladies contributed $2,000, or about 11% of the total cost, to the completion of the new, larger church building.  Again, they provided much of the furnishings including, in time, a telephone located in the Parlor.

The Alliance continued to raise funds and promote the social life of the congregation through presenting “entertainments” – lunches, dinners, picnics, teas.  These often accompanied a lecture or book report presented by the minister or local academic.  The book reports were particularly popular, in some years bringing in more money than the December Bazaar.  The Bazaar has taken many forms over the years, with emphasis on hand-made items and food.  Committees of the Alliance, named for prominent members, e.g., Atwood and Burrell, met weekly to make items for the December Sales.   At one time, there were two clubs making table linens, one making rugs and another making decorative craft items. The last of these clubs, the Greenleaf Club, continued into the 1990’s as a social club before re-allying with the Alliance.

By the end of the 19th century the church had fallen on hard financial times and threatened to close, when the Alliance came to the rescue, paying off a troublesome $500 debt and assuming some operating expenses of the church – the music program, including organist and “organ boy”, janitorial service, church school, telephone and many other costs. In addition to their many fund raising events, the Alliance was favored with several bequests.  For example, in 1893 and 1894 the books record interest income of $50 on the Betty Farmer Fund.  We have not found balance sheets which would detail our assets over time.

EliotFrontThese tireless ladies also contributed their time and talents in support of many community needs.  In one year during the Second World War, one club reported having made 110 boy’s woolen overcoats and were awaiting further shipments of fabric to continue this service project.   New and used clothing was made and gathered by the ton for the war effort, benefiting civilians in the war zones. (In 1942 a member wrote to the War Pricing Board asking if we would have to collect sugar rationing stamps for the jams and jellies we would sell at the bazaar.  They replied that they did not know, but referred us to the Rationing Manual for the tariff on preserves, should we decide to do so.)  

On many occasions over the decades, the Alliance sponsored educational, service and social groups centered on the church.  At one point there was even an Evening Alliance for those not able to attend day-time meetings.

In modern times, since volunteer and staff functions have grown, the music, education, social justice and funding projects have been taken over by others: knitting and quilting groups, social justice committees, the large and well-received music program, religious education for children and adults and the professional fund-raising and management services of the paid staff.  While it is well to remember that the Alliance was, in effect, the primary lay organization of the church for decades, times have changed.

The Greens Sale continues to be successful and profitable, enabling our charitable giving to continue. Fellowship, education and socialization comprise the major portion of our activities now.  That these serve a need is demonstrated by the 50% growth in membership over the last two+ years, bringing enthusiastic, younger people into our fold.

Helen Lee
Jan. 5, 2013

Making History Continues Today

Many Alliance members participate in various programsPGPP_6-16-13_025 at First Unitarian, for example, our social justice work. In June of this year two Alliance members were part of the large, multi-congregational contingent of marchers in Portland's Pride Parade.