The story of the Woman’s Centenary Association must always hold a brilliant place in the annals of the Universalist Church. Its significant name marks the grand uprising of the women of our church when its first hundred years of life on this continent was just closing. Until then, they had done their noble work in the most quiet way, living out the doctrines they professed; ministering faithfully to the wants of the parish to which they were attached; giving of their means, more or less, to the Educational and Ecclesiastical institutions then in existence; attending as mute spectators the Associations and Conventions; subscribing to the denominational journals, and some of them also contributing to their columns; buying our denominational books, and not infrequently writing them; suffering martyrdom, many of them, in the early history of the Church; suffering martyrdom, some of them, even in later years. They were women to be proud of, those early Universalist wives and mothers; and though only a few of their names have been rescued from oblivion, they are all written; we believe, in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Towards the close of our first century though there was growing in the hearts of some of the daughters of these faithful elder members a feeling that there were opportunities open for woman’s work that had never come before; that the times demanded something more than individual help; that a sisterhood of workers was needed. The result of this feeling was a determination to unite under some significant name, and celebrate in some suitable way the centenary year of the Church, whose doctrines had done so much for them and theirs.
In September, 1869, the General Convention met in the city of Buffalo, N.Y., and a part of its programme was to plan the raising of a large sum of money known as the Murray Fund, the interest of which should be always at the service of the Universalist Church. While the members of the council deliberated in the auditorium above, the women, who had come up from many different States, assembled in the Sunday-school room below, conscious of a desire to do something, but with no very distinct idea of what that something was. Unaccustomed to associated work, knowing very little of one another, uncertain each of her own capacity, it was with a curious mixture of desire and doubt that they came together. One thing though was clear, and it was plainly indicated by the fire in every eye, and the resolution written on every countenance, that something grand was going to be attempted; something new was going to be proposed.
Mrs. D.C. Tomlinson was elected Chairman, Mrs. F.J.M. Whitcomb Secretary. Mrs. Eliza Bailey offered prayer. Mrs. Carolina A. Soule, for the first time in her life, ‘spoke in meeting.’ She explained the motives that had called them together, the opportunities that opened, and the work that could be done. Others came forward and addressed the meeting, that strange meeting, made up of women who never before had ventured to utter aloud their thoughts, save in the home and social circle. The council above, learning of the meeting below, delegated the Rev. D.C. Tomlinson to go down and learn what it all meant. He came and encouraged the women in an earnest and eloquent speech. As the result of two hours’ conference then and there, the Woman’s Centenary Aid Association was organized, its purpose being to assist the General Convention in raising the Murray Fund. The secretary hastily prepared a report. Mrs. Soule, with the mere scrap of paper in her hand, was led by the Rev. Mr. Tomlinson into the council and to the platform, and read the report to the crowds of members and guests that filled the church. Mr. Tomlinson and the president of the council, Rev. J.G. Bartholomew, entered into further explanations. The people seemed electrified with the novel idea—the women of the church rising en masse, as willing workers, hopeful helpers! A call was made for memberships. As the result of a few moments effort, the sum of $273 was collected, and then and there was started the Murray Fund.”
—Centenary Voices: Or, A Part of the Work of the Women of the Universalist Church, From Its Centenary Year to the Present Time. Philadelphia: Women’s Centenary Association, 1886: xxiii-xxiiv