Service Committees

Waitstill and Martha Sharp in Prague (1939)
Waitstill and Martha Sharp in Prague (1939)

In May 1940, the American Unitarian Association announced the formation of the Unitarian Service Committee of the United States and Canada "to investigate opportunities for humanitarian service both in America and abroad and to take action to perform such humanitarian service as may in its judgment seem desirable and to raise funds to carry out its objectives." The initial nature of that service in the 1940s was to assist the many thousands of refugees fleeing the Nazis in war-torn Europe. Some of the earliest pioneers associated with the work of the Unitarian Service Committee were Robert Dexter, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, Charles Joy, Noel and Herta Field, Howard Brooks, and Helen Fogg.

In 1940, the Universalist Board of Trustees appointed an emergency War Relief Committee to organize support for its Universalist War Relief Fund. Out of this effort came the Universalist Service Committee, which was officially formed in 1945. Both Service Committees became involved in other humanitarian efforts in Europe and other parts of the world. (see the UUSC's Highlights of UUSC History). In 1963, the Unitarian Service Committee and the Universalist Service Committee merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The UU Service Committee is currently an associate member of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

For digitized original documents from the UUSC, see Holocaust Rescue and Relief.

Records of the Unitarian Service Committee, the Universalist Service Committee, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee are found in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, as are the papers of Charles Joy (bMS 347).

For a history of the Service Committees, see:

  • Subak, Susan Elisabeth. Rescue & Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010
  • Joukowsky, Artemis A. W., and Burns, Ken. Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.
  • Ghanda DiFiglia, Roots and Visions: The First Fifty Years of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, 1990.
  • Timothy Driscoll, "Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Archives at the Harvard Divinity School: A Brief History and Collection Guide." The Journal of Unitarian Universalist History, v. 25 (1998), pp. 41-57.