Sunday, August 25, 2019: Wealth and Philanthropy

Pullman crushing the workers

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: … — the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

— from “The Gospel of Wealth”, 1889, by Andrew Carnegie.

Prelude: City of New Orleans — Steve Goodman

Welcome: As We Proclaim Worth — Dan Lambert

You are welcome here no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what your background. You are welcome here to join us as we proclaim worth in our spiritual journeys. You are welcome to join us as we sing songs that uplift our very beings. You are welcome to join us in community as we learn, live, and love together. All are welcome as we worship that which gives us each meaning and value. No matter what you call this building, this hour, or this gathering of people, we worship as one body, illuminated by the light of the chalice.

Let us rise in body or spirit and sing Come, come, whoever you are (there is an introduction)

Song: Come, come, whoever you are
(Singing the Living Tradition #188)

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come

Chalice Lighting: Embrace the Night — Jennifer Leota Gray

Universal mystery,
Guide us away from the desire to
Shine light in all the corners.
Teach us to embrace the night,
For without the darkness,
We never see the stars.

Seven Promises Responsive reading
This morning for our Principles we have a responsive reading based on them

Let us create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths,
for we honor minds that question, hearts that love and hands that serve.
Let us live lightly on the Earth, beginning with our church community,
for we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Let us embrace others both near and far in hope and compassion,
for we lift up the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation,
for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.
Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change,
for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Let us respect individual religious paths, even those we do not understand,
for we aspire to accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.
Let us treat others as we would like to be treated,
for we desire justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Let us listen actively and speak and act respectfully to others,
for we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Story: The Fire on the Mountain

This morning’s story is an Ethiopian tale, as retold in Joanna Cole’s collection Best-Loved Folktales of the World (

Invitation to Offering

We will now receive an offering for the support of this religious community and its work in the world. You are invited to give generously and joyfully as you are willing and able.

Offering and Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Song: From All the Fret and Fever of the Day
Let us rise in body or spirit and sing From All the Fret and Fever of the Day
(Singing the Living Tradition #90)

Reading: from “The Gospel of Wealth”, 1889, by Andrew Carnegie.

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community — the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

Reading: from The Common Good, by Robert Reich

In 1892, social reformer Jane Addams explained that Hull House, her settlement house in a poor precinct of Chicago, was not a charity. Hull House’s purpose — and, for Addams, a central obligation of American citizenship — was to help America’s less fortunate make the most of themselves. “To call this effort philanthropy is to use the word unfairly and to underestimate the duties of good citizenship,” she said. Giving others an equal opportunity was an essential aspect of the common good. Martin Luther King, Jr., enunciated the same ideal when he spoke on the National Mall in 1963 about a vision of equal rights “deeply rooted in the American Dream.”

Lesson: Wealth and Philanthropy — Robert Helfer

Each week the person who has volunteered to give the service is guided by a broad topic that we have selected in advance. This week that topic is Unitarian Universalist history. Frequently when we speak on this topic we focus on some individual of merit, an exemplar of Unitarian Universalist beliefs and principles. But I think it’s important for us sometimes to recognize those of our predecessors whose lives show at least some ambiguity, since I’m sure that some of us are — well, I know I am — ambiguous in devotion to Unitarian Universalist principles. As today’s chalice lighting said,

Teach us to embrace the night,
For without the darkness,
We never see the stars.

We all know that philanthropy is good, that we should all share our wealth and good fortune to help our fellow humans. But what if the good turns out to be not so good? What if it serves the philanthropist more than the supposed beneficiaries? And what on earth does this have to do with Unitarian Universalist history?

Well, I’m going to tie this little talk to the career of a noted industrialist and “robber baron” of late 19th-Century United States, the life-long Universalist George Mortimer Pullman.

Pullman was born near Buffalo, New York, in 1831, the third of ten children of Lewis and Emily Pullman. The Pullmans, having left the Baptists and the Presbyterians respectively when they were married, had been drawn to the “God is love” message of Universalism. The family remained Universalist from that point on, and two of George’s brothers, Henry and James, became prominent Universalist ministers.

In 1845, Pullman’s family moved to Albion, New York, on the Erie Canal, where his father worked as a cabinet maker, and (and this is significant for George’s later career) moved buildings along the Canal – widening the Canal required objects in the way to be moved: houses, warehouses, and other buildings – and this became an important part of the Pullmans’ work. When Lewis Pullman died in 1853, George took over his father’s businesses.

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles to the west, the City of Chicago was growing, not just in area, but also vertically. Chicago had grown up in the mud and swamp near Lake Michigan, and the City government and its residents were aware that this couldn’t continue. The City needed to rise from the mud. In 1855 and again in 1857 City ordinances called for the streets bordering the Lake and the Chicago River to be raised by four to seven feet, and work was begun to drain the swamp. The owners of businesses along those streets realized that their front doors and display windows would soon be below street level, and so wanted to have have their buildings raised to prevent their becoming invisible. Pullman saw this as an opportunity to benefit from his skill in moving buildings – lifting them up instead of moving them to a new location – and so in 1859 he moved to Chicago.

He was very successful, raising many buildings and also relocating other buildings away from the business district. He apparently made a lot of money in the process, and built an impressive reputation. But all along he had another project in mind.

The discomfort of train travel in the 1850s was well known to all, and as early as 1859 Pullman had converted two standard coaches belonging to the Alton and St. Lewis Railroad to sleeping cars. By 1867 he had accumulated enough wealth and contacts that he could incorporate the Pullman Palace Car Company.

The Pullman family became known for their philanthropic activities. They were, for example, active in the relief committee after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. And he was concerned particularly about the moral and physical improvement of young men. He was greatly concerned about ways to improve the “taste, health, cheapness of living and comfort among the artisan class,” and as a result he supported schooling and training at the Chicago Athenaeum and the Chicago Manual Training School.

And, significantly, because he retained control of his sleeper cars, he could decide who was hired to work on them. All Pullman porters were Black men, many of them former slaves, and while their wages remained below those of White workers in general, they benefited from having good jobs at a time when Blacks could not easily find work outside the fields. They could support their families, traveled throughout the US at a time when Blacks could not easily travel, and ultimately formed an important part of the Black middle class.

His concern extended to his factory workers, too. He wanted to protect them from exposure to alcohol, vice, disease, and labor unrest, problems of the Chicago slums. And so, in 1880 Pullman purchased 4,000 acres of swamp land on Lake Calumet, about 18 miles south of the City. And on this land he built factories to build his sleeper cars, and houses for some 10,000 workers – a new town. And it was a model town, in some ways a reformer’s dream. As the Unitarian Universalist Biographical Dictionary tells it: “Every home had indoor plumbing and gas lighting. There were paved streets, parks, an ice house, kilns for converting dredged lake clay into bricks, a sewage system, and communal stables. Workers easily walked from their homes to work in the adjacent factories. And he donated 4,000 books to initiate the Pullman library.”

He named this new town Pullman. Pullman’s Palace Car Company owned the town and thus Pullman himself controlled every aspect of life within it. Every worker, business, and organization paid rent. The Hotel Florence had the only bar in town, which was open to visitors only, not to residents. And he allowed only a single church, the Greenstone Church, to be built. He thought that all religious denominations would be happy to band together and share the building. Unfortunately, no denominations wanted to share, and so Pullman’s church remained empty.

To be fair, Pullman’s motivation was admittedly not charity but capitalist practicality, to the benefit of the Pullman Palace Car Company and to Pullman himself. Employees, he reasoned, who live in a beautiful neighborhood, will work harder and better. Rent on workers’ residences served two purposes: the rent would return 6% per year to the Company, and the workers would appreciate these pleasant surroundings more than if he simply provided them for free. He thus offered his employees, not a gift, but an opportunity to buy into an aesthetic and utopian dream. “I have faith,” he said, “in the educational and refining influences of beauty, and beautiful and harmonious surroundings.”

The town became famous. Thousands visited: reporters, authors, reformers, other capitalists. And most praised the town and it’s founder. During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair 10,000 foreigners reportedly visited the town.

But there was some dissent. Economist Richard T. Ely, writing for Harper’s, praised the town’s beauty and efficiency, but described its design as one of “benevolent, well-wishing feudalism, which desires the happiness of the people, but in such a way as shall please the authorities.” With no sense of ownership or any stake in the community, most residents stayed only briefly. One person told Ely, “We call it camping out.” Other towns — in which workers could own land and build houses and which had a variety of churches, bars, and businesses — soon sprang up around Pullman.

But all seemed well until the stock market crash of 1893 and its subsequent depression.

Amid all the other problems one would expect of a depression, 150 railroads closed, cutting Pullman’s market drastically. Trying to save corporate dividends, Pullman cut factory workers’ wages by at least 25%, and refused to reduce rent on workers’ houses in Pullman. He refused to discuss workers’ grievances.

And the workers were not happy. On May 11, 1894, some 4,000 Pullman workers, members of Eugene V. Debs’ American Railway Union went out on strike. It was a wildcat strike, not authorized by the union, but the union went along with it. The ARU told their members to refuse to handle Pullman railroad cars. By the end of June, at least 125,000 railroad workers across the United States were on strike – ultimately, some 250,000 workers were said to be involved.

Now obviously, this affected Pullman and his Palace Car Company, but since it involved the railroads, there were wider implications. Interstate commerce is a big deal, but perhaps the most direct effect was that the US mail was stopped, and that made the Federal Government very unhappy.

I’m tempted, but I won’t go on and on about the strike. There are plenty of places that you can read the details and the historical significance. The short story is that the U.S. Attorney General asked for, and got, the first ever federal injunction to block a strike. And, naturally, the strikers ignored the injunction. So President Grover Cleveland sent 2,000 troops to Illinois to enforce the injunction. The strike was broken. Debs and other union officials were arrested, and Debs hired a former railroad lawyer, Clarence Darrow, to represent him. The ensuing legal battles eventually resulted in the Supreme Court’s decision supporting the injunction. The ruling In re Debs held “In the exercise of those powers [i.e., regulating interstate commerce and protecting the general welfare of the people], the United States may remove everything put upon highways, natural or artificial, to obstruct the passage of interstate commerce, or the carrying of the mails”.

Darrow, by the way, is my favorite old-timey lawyer. Among other things, his father was a Unitarian minister who decided it was better to be agnostic – “gave up his creed and lapsed into agnosticism” is how one US history site puts it.

All of this affected Pullman, himself, and his company. His reputation was badly tarnished by the strike, both personally and professionally. A Presidential commission that was convened after the strike censured him for paternalism and for his “un-American” town, and many of his peers in business and industry criticised him for refusing to negotiate with his workers. In short, he plummeted from revered philanthropist to reviled exploiter of the workers, as depicted in the cartoon accompanying this talk. Rather than responding in any way, Pullman and his family busied themselves with building a Universalist Church in Albion, New York, the Pullman Memorial, as a memorial to his parents. In 1897, Pullman died of a heart attack.

So, what resulted, ultimately, from Pullman’s philanthropy?

The town of Pullman with its workers’ houses, hotel, and church still exists as one of the 77 defined community areas of Chicago. The Town of Pullman was designated an Illinois Historic District in 1969, a National Historic Landmark District in 1970 and in 1972, and the southern part of the District was designated as one of the first landmark districts by the City of Chicago. The historic site attracts many visitors.

The Pullman porters are still considered to have had a dramatic effect on the development of a Black middle class in the United States. They were important in the Great Migration of southern Blacks to northern cities, and in some cases were instrumental in launching the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s. Pullman himself would have been surprised. He specifically chose Black porters for reasons that seem pretty suspicious today. As described by “He reasoned that former slaves would know best how to cater to his customers’ every whim, and they would work long hours for cheap wages. He also thought that black porters (especially those with darker skin) would be more invisible to his white upper- and middle-class passengers, making it easier for them to feel comfortable during their journey.”

Historian Larry Tye elaborated: “He was looking for people who had been trained to be the perfect servant. He knew they would come cheap, and he paid them next to nothing. And he knew there was never a question off the train that you would be embarrassed by running into one of these Pullman porters.”

In his will, Pullman bequeathed $1.2 million to establish the Pullman Free School of Manual Training for the children of employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company and the residents of the neighboring Roseland community. In 1950, the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation succeeded the Pullman Free School of Manual Training, also known as Pullman Tech, after it closed its doors in 1949. The George M. Pulllman Educational Foundation continues and, in their words, “supports the dreams and aspirations of outstanding high school seniors with merit-based, need-based scholarships and continuing educational support, as they pursue their bachelor’s degree at the college or university of their choice.”

Well, I guess this rather long story doesn’t show our religious history in a very good light. Pullman may have been a life-long Universalist, but he seems to have missed something of the “God is love” message of Universalism. I note here that in this he’s similar to another famous Universalist from the same era, P. T. Barnum. Maybe I should talk about him again some time.

Over the years I’ve become suspicious of philanthropy that comes from huge wealth. Pullman — and Carnegie, too, for that matter — gave much, but without actually harming, or even endangering, their great wealth and power, and rarely without fanfare it seems. And their gifts, if examined closely, were not entirely without attention to self-interest.

I think I like Jane Addams’ motives better, so I’ll close by repeating her words. Speaking of Hull House, she said, “to call this effort philanthropy is to use the word unfairly and to underestimate the duties of good citizenship.” I’ll keep trying to live up to that standard.

[See sources at the bottom of this page]

Music: Stand By Me — Playing for Change

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;
or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Let us rise in body or spirit and sing Go now in peace (there is no accompanyment)
Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing: Taking the Light With Us — Heather Christensen

Each week as we gather
we light a common chalice.

We sing and celebrate,
we pray and think.

Then we each gather strength from the flame
and go out from here,
taking the light with us.

The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.


Some Sources on Pullman, the Pullman Palace Car Company, and the Pullman strike:

“George Pullman”, Jim Nugent, Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography,
“George Pullman”, Wikipedia,
“Labor History of the 19th Century”, Robert McNamara,
“Clarence Darrow”, United States History,
“Pullman Porters”, Editors,
“On this day, the Pullman Strike changes labor law”, NCC Staff,
“George M. Pullman Educational Foundation”,
“Historic Pullman Foundation”,
“Moving Buildings with George Pullman”, Megan McKinney, Classic Chicago Magazine,

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