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Seth Curtis Beach

1875 - 1888


Seth Curtis Beach was born on August 8, 1837 in Marion, New York, the son of Luther Markham and Angelina Elizabeth (Curtis) Beach. He, his parents and two sisters lived in a log cabin on a fifty-acre farm where young Seth spent his early days. Years later, of his chores Beach recounted that “I had two cows to milk and a horse to take care of, went to school when there was school, and played at work when I did not go. It was more to my taste to read a newspaper when I could get hold of one than to pull, pick stones, or hoe corn, especially alone.” His mother and older sister Julia tutored him until he was eight at which age he started regularly attending Marion’s district school. After his father’s death in 1846, Beach ultimately moved to nearby Palmyra to enroll in Palmyra Academy where he qualified himself by 1855 to teach for several years in one-room district schools in the Marion environs. From 1859 to 1862 Beach attended Antioch College. At Antioch, he recounted. “I became much interested in ideas, i.e. in the enthusiasms of the place which were the legacy of (President) Horace Mann, and I easily absorbed the Unitarianism diffused in the college atmosphere.” After most of his junior year classmates enlisted in the Union Army, Beach transferred to Union College where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1863 and afterwards, received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School in 1866.


Upon graduation from Divinity School, Beach was an itinerant visiting preacher at several regional churches until he received a 1867 call from All Souls Unitarian Church in Augusta, Maine. While in Augusta, Beach became acquainted with his future wife, Frances Hall Judd, the daughter of the Rev. Sylvester Judd, the church’s former minister, but unfortunately illness caused Beach to resign and retire to a friend’s farm temporarily in order to recuperate. Beach stayed in touch with Frances and married her in 1869. Ultimately, they had two sons, one of whom, Ruell, became a noted Unitarian clergyman.  But since Frances found farm life disagreeable, the couple returned to Boston in 1873, whereupon the First Parish in Norton, Massachusetts called Beach as its minister. Beach stayed in Norton until December 1875 when he became the settled minister at Dedham’s First Church.


Beach got off to a rocky start at First Church. One of his initial sermons whose text was “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” critiqued the perceived extremism of the temperance movement, to the displeasure of several teetotaling parishioners. However, in Dedham Beach earned the reputation as “a preacher of exceptional grace and strength” and soon won over his congregants. Among his accomplishments was the writing of a 120-page new Covenant for First Church in 1878, the first updating of the congregation’s Unitarian beliefs and commitments in almost a century. Beach also was instrumental in adopting the Book of Services and Hymns then just issued by the Unitarian Association, incorporating responsive readings into Sunday services. In addition, Beach enriched congregational life by founding the Young People’s Religious Society which would conduct youth educational and community service programs well into the next century and by supporting the adult lay-led weekly lecture series of the Dedham Union. And Frances Beach performed the momentous feat of founding and leading the Dedham Women’s Alliance in 1881. While he was Dedham’s minister, Beach was elected secretary of the national Unitarian Ministerial Union. In addition, he was the first person in Dedham to join the Civil Service Reform Association. Lastly, he campaigned in Massachusetts for a “working conference of churches in the State under an able well-paid leader” and once the American Unitarian Association was established, resigned from First Church in 1888 to take on the responsibility of directing its missionary outreach to northern New England.


Seth Beach continued to do important work after leaving Dedham. He spent several years supporting struggling Unitarian parishes solve congregational problems, recruit ministers, and develop “sense of denominational fellowship and missionary responsibility.”  Then in 1891 he answered the call of the Independent Congregational Church in Bangor, Maine where he ministered till 1901. In addition to his many published sermons and pamphlets, Beach also composed numerous hymns, including the classic “Mysterious Presence, Source of All” which appears in 29 hymnals, including First Church’s current hymnal Singing The Living Tradition. After his retirement Beach continued his literary endeavors by writing numerous memoirs and non-fiction narratives, including a collection of biographies of notable Unitarian women, Daughters of the Puritans, that was first published in 1904 and has been reprinted for over a century with the most recent edition appearing in 2015. Likewise, Beach collected all the poems he had written into one volume, Verses, which was published in 1923. When Seth Curtis Beach passed away at the age of 95 in 1932, his obituary in the 1932 Unitarian Yearbook memorialized him as “the dean of our Unitarian ministers.”



Seth Curtis Beach (1875-1888)

Seth Curtis Beach (

A brief history of the last three pastorates of the First parish in Dedham, 1860-1888 : a sermon preached November 11, 1888 : Beach, Seth Curtis, 1837-1932 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Daughters of the Puritans, by Seth Curtis Beach. 
Seth Curtis Beach (born August 8, 1837), American clergyman | World Biographical Encyclopedia (
(1) Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society - Posts | Facebook
Seth Curtis Beach (1837-1932) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree
Covenant of the First Church in Dedham : with some facts of history and illustrations of doctrine; for the use of the church : First Church (Dedham, Mass.) : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Autobiography. A Family History. : Seth Curtis Beach : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive$122i

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