Monday, December 17, 2018

Charles Wendte (1844-1931): Unitarian Minister & Author

Charles Wendte
Rev. Dr. Charles William Wendte (June 11, 1844–September 9, 1931) was a Unitarian minister and responsible for much of the early growth of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland.

Wendte was born in 1844 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father died when he was young, and Charles developed tuberculosis at age 14. Doctors urged him to go west for his health, so he moved to California, and there met Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian and Universalist minister. Charles' health improved, and during the Civil War he served as a drill sergeant. After the war, he returned east and studied at a divinity schools, graduating from the Harvard Divinity School in 1869. After various assignments, he came to Oakland in the 1880s.

In 1886, Rev. Wendte reorganized the Rev. Laurentine Hamilton's break-off congregation into the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. For his work at the church, the main meeting hall was named Wendte Hall in his honor. Rev. Wendte helped raise much of the money required for the new Unitarian church building. During his time in Oakland, he presided over the funerals of several people of note, including Josiah Stanford and pioneer educator Emma Marwedel (both of whom are buried at Mountain View Cemetery).

Although it was thought he was to be a life-long bachelor, in 1896 he surprised his friends and married Abbie Louise Grant (December 22, 1857–October 25, 1936), the daughter of George E. Grant (1823–1904) and Ellen Louisa Daggett (Grant) (1833–1910), a wealthy merchant family in East Oakland. Charles and Abbie had no children. Wendte is buried in the Grant family plot.

First Unitarian Church of Oakland (California Historical Landmark 896)
 Rev. Wendte was an early supporter of women's suffrage. In the 1896 "Twenty opinions on woman suffrage by prominent Californians," Wendte wrote: 
"The same enlightened confidence in human nature which led the fathers to found the Republic on manhood suffrage, and its saviors to confer the ballot on millions of emancipated slaves, should animate us, their successors, in bestowing equal political rights on that half of our population which is confessedly the most virtuous, order-loving and trustworthy. Until this is done there can be no true democracy among us, and our Republic is such only in name."  
After some disagreements about the church's debt (they extended the mortgage on the new building, and were behind on paying his salary), Wendte left Oakland and accepted a call in 1897 to a Unitarian church in Los Angeles.

Rev. Wendte's name appears frequently in the California newspapers of the 1880s and 1890s, generally for typical news of the day: traveling here; lecturing there; presiding over a funeral. But it also seems he was no stranger to controversy. Most infamous seems to be a comment he made about the state of reform schools in California and responsibility of then-governor Budd. John P. Irish (editor and principal owner of the Oakland Times newspaper) seized on this, and soon articles and opinions were flying, with one of the school's trustees referring to Wendte as a "yellow" preacher.

Some people took exception to his sermons ("The Catholic Clergyman's Caustic Words to the Oakland Divine"), ("Thou Shalt Not Kill" - after a sermon on euthanasia being OK in some cases) but sometimes it was over trivial things ("Rev. Dr. Wendt's Magic Lantern Slides Enter the Controversy" - whether Lutherans should use his images from Europe ). There was even a small but vocal group at the church in Los Angeles opposing him becoming their next pastor.

Bio by Oakland Wiki

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