“The Life of The Reverend Mila Frances Tupper Maynard”

“In 1927 the Cornell Alumni News printed the obituary of one of their graduates from the class of 1889. When discussing her lifetime achievements, the obituary noted her marriage and mentioned that she had been involved in the political life of her community. Yet, the short obituary left out perhaps the most important aspect of this woman’s life. Namely, the woman was one of the first females to professionally work as a fulltime Unitarian minister, spending much of her life occupying the pulpits in congregations across the American west. This woman was The Reverend Mila Frances Tupper Maynard. In 1870, around the time of Mila’s birth, a mere five women were ordained in either the Unitarian or Universalist traditions as compared to the six-hundred male liberal clergy. Twenty years later Mila would join a cohort of about seventy other female ministers in paid pastorates. These women were often called to the smaller and less stable congregations that the Unitarian Harvard Divinity School male graduates refused to take; many of which were located in the American West. In the liberal religious traditions of Unitarianism and Universalism, women actively lived out the principles of their faith by responding to the needs of the world they lived in. Despite all odds, these women found the means to work towards justice in their communities and in the world. Yet, within their lifetimes, and even after, these trailblazers struggled with inequities in their religious denominations and society at large.
The “forgetting” of Mila’s profession by her alma mater is more than an unacceptable error. It is indicative of the fact that throughout much of religious and social history, scholarship and collective memory have been limited by a focus on the lives of men. While many successful efforts have been undertaken in recent years to right this wrong, there is still much work to be done in order to include women’s stories in American religious history. This paper seeks to respond to this call by reclaiming Mila’s story. Through the collection and analysis of church records, newspaper articles, biographical snippets and writings by Mila and her colleagues I have attempted to provide a window into the life of The Reverend Mila Tupper Maynard. While Mila’s story remains far from complete, by focusing on Mila’s tenure in Reno, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah this paper reveals the life of a woman who, like many of her female colleagues, actively lived out the values of her faith by responding to the justice issues in her world.”