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Chaney, Caroline Isabel Carter
Correspondence of Caroline Isabel Carter Chaney, of Leominster, Massachusetts, written to her husband, Unitarian Minister George Leonard Chaney, at Atlanta, Georgia, 1887-1891

24 letters, 41 manuscript pp., dated 15 February 1887 to 21 December 1891, written on U.S. Letter Sheet Envelopes (self envelopes). Of the 24 letters in the collection, 13 were written in 1887; in 1888; 1 in 1889; 3 in 1890; and 1 in 1891. The earliest letter of 15 February 1887 is written in pencil, the rest are written in ink. The letters are written in a legible hand. Mrs. Chaney writes to her husband in Atlanta, while she was in Leominster, Boston, or Roxbury, Massachusetts. All but one of the letters is written by Caroline Isabel Carter Chaney.

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Caroline Isabel Carter Chaney (1845-1925) and Rev. George Leonard Chaney (1836-1922)

Caroline Carter was born on 11 January 1845 in Leominster, Worcester Co., Massachusetts. She was the daughter of William Sawyer Carter (1811-1849) and his wife, Ann Sophia Warren (1825-1860). Caroline's parents died when she was rather young, her father when she was only 4, her mother when she was 15. Caroline married George Leonard Chaney on 3 January 1871. Together they had at least one son, George Carter Chaney, who was born in Boston, 5 November 1871. George Carter Chaney, an attorney, married Evadne Hubbard Jewett, at Cambridge Massachusetts in 1901, and lived in Salem. The couple had two children, Constance Jewett and Oliver Carter

Caroline's husband was a well known and active Unitarian minister. George Leonard Chaney was the son of James and Harriet (Webb) Chaney, and was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on December 24, 1836. He was the descendant of long settled Essex County families. He was educated at the Salem High (1852) and Latin Schools and at Harvard College, from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1859. He belonged to a number of college societies, including the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity.

After graduation he went to Meadville, Pennsylvania, as a tutor in the family of Mr. Edward Huidekoper and, a little later, he entered Meadville Theological School, from which he graduated in 1862. On October 5 of the same year he was settled as minister of the Hollis Street Church in Boston, the successor of Starr King, who had resigned nearly two years before to go to San Francisco.

The position was a difficult one for a young and inexperienced minister. Starr King had been a notable preacher and man of letters, and it was no easy task to stand in his place. The church had an honorable history covering nearly a century and a half, but it was in a part of Boston where the population was changing rapidly and from which a large proportion of the parishioners had already removed.

While the Civil War lasted, Mr. Chaney preached frequently upon national and political issues, and after the Battle of Fredericksburg he served for a while in the army hospitals there. After the War he took a keen interest in the Freedman's Aid Society; was one of the earliest supporters of Hampton Institute; and visited and spoke on behalf of other educational enterprises in the South. Under his leadership his own church was active in various social service activities in Boston. He helped to establish the Associated Charities. He was for twelve years a member of the Boston School Committee, and was instrumental in introducing manual training into the public schools, for that sort of training in Boston was the outgrowth of work started by Mr. Chaney in the "Hollis Street Whittling School" connected with his church.

In 1877 he resigned the Hollis Street pastorate, spent a year in Hawaii and California, traveled widely, and wrote two popular books for boys. During the decades of the 1880s and 1890s Chaney continued to preach the Gospel and aid education in a number of ways.

In 1881, Chaney established the first Unitarian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Mrs. Chaney worked also, alongside her husband, to form a branch of the Women's Alliance. Through Chaney's long partnership with Edward Everett Hale and James Freeman Clarke, he formed the Southern Conference of Unitarian and Other Christian Churches.

Chaney helped establish in 1882 the Southern Unitarian, a monthly religious paper, which he edited for several years. While he was in Atlanta Chaney applied the same educational methods that he had used in Boston, and founded the "Artisans' Institute" in connection with his church. This was the seed from which sprang the Georgia School of Technology in Atlanta.

Chaney became the director and for a time, president, of the Young Men's Library, which was later, merged into the Carnegie Library. He was a trustee of Atlanta University, and for about twenty years a trustee of Tuskegee Institute, serving for some time as president of the board. He dedicated the first building of the Institute, and was an adviser in the development of Booker T. Washington's plans for that school. Chaney worked to create educational opportunities for African Americans in the city by opening the first free lending library for blacks.

In 1889 he accepted an appointment as Southern Superintendent of the American Unitarian Association. As superintendent, he organized and preached to Unitarian churches in New Orleans, Chattanooga, Dallas, Richmond, and other southern cities. While in the south, he aided the Hampton Institute and schools for blacks in Richmond and Charleston.

In 1890 he became Southern Superintendent for the American Unitarian Association, residing in Richmond, Virginia, from 1893 to 1896. He traveled widely in the southern states, gathering societies at Chattanooga, Richmond, Memphis, and other centers, and inaugurating circuit preaching in northern Florida and eastern North Carolina. Two books containing his sermon-essays were published, and from 1893 to 1895 he edited the Southern Unitarian. He resigned from active service in 1896 upon reaching the age of sixty. His work, and that of his wife, is commemorated in the Founders' Window in the present building of the Unitarian Church in Atlanta.

After his retirement from active service he lived for the most part in Salem, although he commonly spent a part of each winter in Florida or Jamaica, and his summers at Leominster, Massachusetts, on the farm which belonged to his wife, the former Caroline Isabel Carter, of Leominster. Rev. Chaney died in Salem in his eighty-sixth year, on April 19, 1922, in the house in which he had been brought up. His wife Caroline Isabel Carter Chaney outlived him, dying on 26 December 1925 at the family home in Leominster, Massachusetts.

Description and Sample Quotes from Letters:

All 24 letters are addressed to Rev. Chaney at Atlanta. All but one of the letters is written by Rev. Chaney's wife Caroline. When Caroline wrote these letters she appears to have been making trips back home to Massachusetts, as she writes from Leominster, Roxbury, and Boston. The one letter that was not written by Caroline was written by a woman named Ellen A. Merrill. This letter was written while she was visiting Tampa, Florida in 1887. Caroline's letters contain family news from back home, friends and family, her family's farm, the troubles with hired hands, church meetings, or conventions, the state or prospects of some churches, their son's schooling, and activities, etc.

"Thursday Night [30 Sept 1887]

My dearest,

...I am going to Boston Monday...I shall see Mrs. Folsom and make arraignments for Carter, if satisfactory. I have been sewing all day. Mr. Lindsay, the colored minister from Wardsworth, N.C., twelve miles from Greensboro called. I gave him a dollar. I was picking over a bushel of grapes as he arrived, which would just about pay for the contribution. I told him that I should think it would take all he could collect to pay his traveling expenses...Yours ever C"

"[Leominster, 29 Oct 1887]

"Dear George,

...John is very uppish. In case we find it necessary to discharge him, to what do you think of Charles Wheeler if he is to be had? He may be engaged to Mr. Burrage. If it comes suddenly, we may have to engage C.W. say until April, with option of renewing contract at specified terms if satisfactory to both.

Uncle could board with them if we wished to be away and he to remain here. We might do worse. Tho' I am not enthusiastic for Charlie looks rather pale and dyspeptic.

I will explain the John matter later. He is doing his work unsatisfactorily and as if unwillingly, but we have not complained - have tried in every way to keep him out. Uncle has husked corn and I have headed apples. He did not want to clean the closets & cesspool. I supposed nor does he want to husk corn, which he must do for there is nothing else for him to do. Fuses because the cows can not roam over all the mornings &c. and is unreasonable and insolent. There will be a limit to what we will stand, tho' I will eat as much humble pie as any one. This hurried scrawl is from your loving wife"

"A.M.A. Rooms, Wed. am 14th [Dec 1887]


I have just seen Mr. Reynolds. He has only just returned from his trip and is evidently rather tired and not just steady and settled mentally. He looks sort of bewildered. He said he had just looked over your letter and concluded that you wanted to leave about April. He asked house rent &c. and said it was important to send some one who would not have to draw much on the A.M.A.

I told him in answer to his question that they raised about a thousand dollars for running expenses and minister s salary and interest on debt.

He said of course we would not think of offering Mr. Chaney any less but a new man going there should depend a little more on the people. I told him you thought so too and had always considered the question on that basis. He said there were many eligible ports waiting for the men. Seattle was ready to raise 500 the first year for a minister, had nearly enough to buy their lot, and would build a church at once. He said Mr. Whitman wanted 1600 a year. I said Chattanooga was a growing place with even better prospects that Atlanta.

He says they have so little money, so few men and so much to do. I said you would not leave the church unprovided for and were thinking of an exchange in Jan or Feb with an idea of choosing an eligible person for the exchange. I did not mention anybody in particular.

The regular meeting is next Monday, postponed from last Monday. He said in conclusion that the matter would come up next Monday, and he thought they should go into it - meaning Asheville & Chattanooga.

That was after I said that I thought Mr. Tilden would agree with me that there was nothing better worth doing than making the attempt in Chattanooga and Asheville. The Atlanta people you see would have to raise a good deal more than they have - you see - to insure their pastor a living salary without the AMA aid which they may not continue to have. Still, we never asked for any 30,000 like New Orleans - and are stronger than they, or the Charleston Church. Your own loving wife"

"Monday evening [3 July 1890]


Carter has arrived. He looks thin and has dyspepsia. His food distresses and nauseates him, but I have got some peptonic tablets, and he will soon be well. He thinks he did not do very well in his examinations. He got rattled in Latin on simple things he says.

He had been taking old Harvard exam papers with his teacher in the regulation time and doing splendidly. But there is no telling or foretelling the result. It will be known Wednesday morning. If I knew your address I would telegraph you and I don't know but I will wish sending it to the care of Mrs. St. Amand on Wednesday.

She will go to the afternoon service and can give it to you. His number is 140. He spent last night with Jenks in Roxbury. His cousin David Clarke is in the same house and has just finished his freshman year. C. called on the Beeks, who sent much love. It has been a really hot day and a very busy one with me. Your "packed up" letter just received. Mr. Harding has 50 applications for next year and is building a new dormitory, very large and fine, Carter says. Sharp took the final exams with Carter and Morse, Howland, Russell & Pope, the preliminaries, Good night dearest, Yours C'”