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From the Vault: Caroline Bartlett Crane: Suffragist, Social Reformer, Unitarian Minister

By Ann Zaske ‘14

November 11, 2013

As a women’s suffragist, progressive reformer, and Unitarian minister, Caroline Bartlett Crane stands out as a woman who challenged the conventions of her time. Caroline was born on Au. 17, 1858 in Hudson, Wis. Her father raised her to prize education and she far exceeded his expectations when she was admitted to Carthage College before even graduating from high school.

While at Carthage, Caroline created her own path, receiving approval to major in classical studies, an unusual course of study for women at that time. She was committed to learning Greek in order to pursue a life of ministry, although she later reminisced in the 1917 Crimson Rambler, “I think I laid the foundation of a lifelong super-sensitiveness of the eyes in lamplight studies of the difficult Greek texts, the study of which has never been of the slightest use to me so far as I have been able to discern.”

After completing her degree in three years and graduating as valedictorian, Caroline Bartlett Crane was initially not allowed to follow her dream of going to seminary. Instead, she took multiple odd jobs which ranged from working for a year as a principal in Montrose, Iowa to being a reporter for the Chicago Telegraph. She even worked for a short time at the Minneapolis Tribune where she carried a gun on her at all times because the town was rough for young women. In 1886, Caroline was finally admitted as a candidate for ministry in the Iowa State Unitarian Conference, realizing her passion for social advocacy through religious means. She later transferred to the Chicago Theological Seminary and heard that a congregation in Kalamazoo, Mich., was in need of a minister. For six years, Caroline served as the head pastor at the People’s Church in Kalamazoo, formerly known as the First Unitarian Church.

Caroline stepped down from her ministerial position in 1898 after speaking to Susan B. Anthony at the National Woman Suffrage Association convention and realizing that stepping away from her career meant more opportunities at home and in the social reform network. Throwing herself into social reform, she brought prominent citizens of Kalamazoo to a local slaughterhouse, thereby gaining support to help pass meat inspection laws, creating a rigorous sanitary system that was not present at the time. Caroline was also known around the country for her surveys of public health in drinking water, garbage disposals, sewer systems, and all general public sanitation measures. She was responsible for the creating of the “Everyman’s House,” for which she won the Better Homes Movement award, receiving accolades from President Herbert Hoover and President Calvin Coolidge. Through all these experiences, Caroline Bartlett Crane was the epitome of a strong leader and woman, someone who was able to bridge the gender gap and excel as a minister and most importantly as a social reformer.

Caroline Bartlett Crane and other Carthage alumni from 1879 are the subject of a book in progress. To explore the world of Caroline and her classmates, visit http://floraandwill.com.

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Do you have a question about Carthage history? Is there a part of the College’s history you’d like to know more about? Send your question to Abigail Nye, archives and records coordinator at Hedberg Library, at anye@carthage.edu.

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