Thomas Lamb Eliot

Reverend Thomas Lamb Eliot (October 13, 1841 (1841-10-13)April 28, 1936 (1936-04-29)) was an Oregon pioneer, minister of one of the first churches on the west coast of the U.S., president of the Portland Children's Home, president of the Oregon Humane Society, a director of the Art Association, director of the Library Association, and founder of Reed College.[1]

Thomas Lamb Eliot
Born(1841-10-13)October 13, 1841
DiedApril 28, 1936(1936-04-28) (aged 94)
EducationWashington University in St. Louis (1862, 1866)
Harvard Divinity School (1865)
Known forchurch minister, serving the community
Spouse(s)Henrietta Robins Mack
Parent(s)William Greenleaf Eliot, Abigail Adams Cranch

Early life and education

Thomas Lamb Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, as the first son of Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot, D.D., of the Church of the Messiah in St. Louis. An injury to his eyes interrupted his education at Washington University in St. Louis, which his father helped start and run. Hoping to improve his eyes, he sailed around Cape Horn to California in 1860 where Thomas Starr King said to him, "The Pacific Coast claims everyone who has ever seen it—there’s Oregon!"[2] His sight was not remedied by the trip, and upon his return, for several months of Divinity school he had to have his books read aloud to him.[3]:44

Eliot was in the first class to graduate from Washington University in 1862.[1]

Eliot enlisted in the Union Army, but never engaged in battle. He fired his musket once under orders to shoot a deserter, but he missed.[4] After graduation he enlisted in the Home Guard of Missouri, but served only within the state. For two years he ran a mission house for the poor of St. Louis connected to his father's church while studying with his father for the ministry.

He married Henrietta Robins Mack of St. Louis on November 28, 1865.[2]

He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1865, doing two years of study in one, despite eyesight so poor his books were often read to him. In 1866 he earned a Master of Arts from Washington University.


Eliot ministered in Louisville, Kentucky and, for several weeks at a spell, assisted the Church of the Messiah in New Orleans.

Eliot was recruited in 1867 by churches in Portland, Maine; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Portland, Oregon. He accepted the offer from Oregon, from the newly built First Unitarian Church,[4] having wanted to relocate to the Pacific Northwest since his first trip to the west coast.[3]:46 He moved to Portland with Henrietta and their infant son, traveling through New York and Panama.[3]:46 By 1869 when Dorothea Dix visited Portland, Eliot also began holding one outreach service per month at institutions in town including the Insane Asylum of East Portland, the County Jail, and the County Farm.[5] He also occasionally hosted services at the Oro Fino saloon.[5] E. Kimbark MacColl stated "Within a decade of his arrival in Portland... he became the city's most influential religious figure."[5]

Eliot was the only minister to greet women's rights advocate Abigail Scott Duniway to Portland.[5]

Civic legacy

One historian noted Eliot's pervasive role in the civic and cultural life of the city, observing that he "played a central role in creating and shaping the educational, cultural, and civic landscape of Portland. He had a hand in steering virtually every major public institution in the city, crowning his career with an achievement that would have made his father proud: the founding of Reed College."[6] Another wrote that Eliot "founded the First Unitarian Church, the Oregon Humane Society, and the Boys & Girls Aid Society; worked to improve conditions in the county jail; ministered to orphans, the poor, and the mentally ill; championed public schools, the public library, and women's right to vote."[7] He was a board member of the "Portland Art Association and the Library Association of Portland, steering those organizations toward the founding of the Portland Art Museum and the Portland Public Library (now the Multnomah County Library)."[4] Upon Reed College's opening in 1911, Eliot was named chair of the board of trustees, serving there until 1924.[4] In 1935, the arts and sciences building on campus was named for Eliot to "honor his dedication and service to the college."[8]

See also


  1. Henry Wilder Foote. "Thomas Lamb Eliot". Unitarianism in America. Harvard Square Library. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  2. "Thomas Lamb Eliot". Heralds of a Liberal Faith. Harvard Square Library. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  3. Wilbur, Earl Morse (January 1, 1893). A History of the First Unitarian Church, of Portland, Oregon. 1867-1892: Together with a Sketch of the Life of Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot, Its First Pastor. And an Account of the Exercises of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary. First Unitarian church.
  4. "Distant Vision". Reed Magazine. April 2014. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  5. MacColl, E. Kimbark (1979). The Growth of a City: Power and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1915-1950. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press. ISBN 0-9603408-1-5.
  6. Hernandez, Romel (June 2014). "Distant Vision". Reed Magazine. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  7. Katauskas, Ted (March 2011). "Distant Vision". Reed Magazine. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  8. "Reed College | Facilities Services | Eliot Hall". Retrieved March 8, 2016.
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