Joseph May, the son of the Rev. Samuel Joseph May and Lucretia Flagg Coffin May, was born in Boston on January 21, 1836. He received an AB from Harvard in 1857. After several years in Europe, he entered Harvard Divinity School and graduated in 1865. He was ordained by the First Unitarian Church in Yonkers, N.Y., on September 14, 1865, and served this church until September 1867. From July 1868 to December 1875, he served the First Religious Society of Newburyport, Massachusetts. In January 1876, he became minister of the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, which he served for 25 years. After his retirement, he became pastor emeritus until his death on January 19, 1918. In 1886 he helped establish a community center for boys in Philadelphia known as the Evening Home and Library Association. He was a strong supporter of education for African Americans throughout his life. Jefferson Medical College honored him with an LLD degree in 1887, and he received the DD degree from Meadville Theological School in 1914.
For more information, see Heralds of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Samuel A. Eliot. Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1910. Vol. 4, p. 186-189. [Cabinet card photo (credit: F. Gutekunst Co., Philadelphia): bMS 1446/134]