Jones, Susan Charlotte Barber Lloyd

Susan Lloyd JonesSusan Charlotte Barber Lloyd Jones (May 15, 1832-October 26, 1911) was the first wife of the Unitarian minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones and his “yoke-fellow in the cause of religious freedom.” Together they promoted the growth of the Western Unitarian Conference, wrote widely-adopted Sunday School curricula, created the first, much-imitated Unity Club, helped found organizations for Unitarian women and for Unitarian Sunday Schools, and encouraged women to serve as ministers in midwestern Unitarian churches.

Born in Rome, New York, Susan was the eldest of five children of Susan Cartwright and John Barber, immigrants from England. Her father (born Jean Barbour, and originally from France) briefly clerked for President Martin van Buren. Early in Susan’s life her family moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania to seek a Unitarian community. There, the family ran a small inn, the Farmer’s Tavern, until John Barber died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. His widow afterwards ran a private school, which may have been the first kindergarten in Pennsylvania.

Susan helped her mother teaching in their school and was given the opportunity to study informally at the Meadville Theological School. She was subsequently employed as secretary to the founder of school, Harm Jan Huidekoper, and then to his son, Frederic Huidekoper. She shared passion for art and literature—especially poetry—with Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a Meadville student whom she married in 1870, immediately after his graduation. The Barber family was not at first impressed with their rustic in-law, who was over a decade younger than Susan. She, however, found him “brilliant, full of fun and . . . eager to learn.” They had two children: Mary and Richard. Richard Lloyd Jones became an influential and notorious newspaper publisher and editor in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

After spending a year at the Liberal Christian Church in Winnetka, Illinois, the Joneses moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, where Jenkin served the First Independent Society of Liberal Christians, 1871-80. At Janesville the Jenkin and Susan started a Sunday school. They wrote curricula for it that included lessons on myths and legends, the scientific method, modern theories of the formation of the planet, evolution, the great teachers of the world, and the Bible. In their weekly newsletter, The Sunday School, sent to other Unitarian Sunday Schools, they were known as “Uncle Jenk and Aunt Susan.” They called for frequent teachers’ meetings, less rote-learning, more classroom discussion, “prayer as the wings on which a soul would soar to its ideals,” “the church as the commonwealth of all noble hearts,” and a Bible made up of “all the sweet distillations of literature.” In 1872, at the meeting of the Wisconsin Conference held in Janesville, Susan made a speech on Sunday Schools. In 1877 they published a collection of songs and readings, A Service of Song. Unitarian churches throughout the WUC adopted their curricula.

In 1874 Susan organized the Mutual Improvement Club (later Unity Club) for the young people of the Janesville church. Its purpose was to “establish social fellowship around the lasting and cosmopolitan verities of letters, art and life.” Lectures and discussions were followed by dancing. There were nine committees: current events, literature, biography, classics, art, drama, periodicals, lectures, and poetry. This hugely successful club, which combined education and social entertainment, was copied in many other churches and, as a result, a Unity Club Bureau was formed at the American Unitarian Association.

Susan was an active partner in her husband’s ministry. When Jenkin was on the road, as he was frequently, she led his classes and preached the Sunday sermon. Celia Parker Woolley called her “a keen and capable thinker on the great themes of duty, faith, religion, and life.” She acted as her husband’s secretary and edited his sermons for publication. She served a term as Secretary for the Wisconsin Conference and assisted Jenkin in his executive work for the Western Unitarian Conference (WUC). After he was made Corresponding Secretary of the WUC, as he was on tour so often, she did much of the work of keeping congregations advised of Conference news and business. One contemporary was impressed with “her executive ability and her devotion to the principles for which the Conference stood” and “her willingness to spend and be spent in its service.”

Susan and Jenkin coauthored tracts that were circulated throughout the Midwest; founded the Western Women’s Unitarian Conference (WWUC) and the Western Unitarian Sunday School Society, both in 1873; and campaigned for temperance and women’s suffrage. As its first president, Susan led the WWUC into partnership with other women’s rights organizations. They encouraged women, such as Mary SaffordOlympia BrownAugusta ChapinFlorence BuckEleanor Elizabeth Gordon, and Marion E. Murdock, to become ministers in the new churches and helped numerous lay women to become church trustees and delegates to conferences.

When the Joneses were honored by the WUC in 1880, Jenkin made a speech thanking his wife for her great share in his work. After he resigned his position with the WUC, his successor, Jabez T. Sunderland, wrote that “the Conference desires to recognize with heartiness and gratitude its obligations to the unofficial services of Mrs. Jones.”

“Mrs. Jones was quite devoid of mere femininities,” wrote Woolley. ” What fashion dictated or worldly prudence counseled, was of no interest to her.” Granddaughter Florence Lloyd Jones Barnett took friendly issue with this: “I couldn’t help but wonder if a lot of that lack of interest was the result of lack of money. I can’t think of a time in her life when she had any money to spare.”

In 1881 the Joneses moved Chicago, where, beginning the following year, Jenkin began to serve All Souls church. There, where her husband had a church staff, Susan spent less time in the church office. In their home, however, she hosted church socials, Sunday school teachers’ meetings, Bible classes, and the Reading Club, often taking the role of leader. As a parishioner remembered, “her door was always open to any and every committee.” When, in 1886, the congregation needed a new church building, she helped design it.

In 1893, at the World’s Congress of Representative Women, Susan made an address on the subject of the Post Office Mission. She belonged to the Chicago Woman’s Club, for which she wrote several papers.

In addition to partnering her husband in his pastoral and denominational work, Susan performed household tasks, including not only the expected needlework, but carpentry as well. That she was endowed with many traditionally feminine talents, combining “a Madonna and a Minerva,” may make understandable her husband’s statement—nowadays a rather tentative feminism—”I believe in woman’s equality; but she will never reach her equality until she recognizes that the state begins in the household, and that political economy has its starting-point in the kitchen.”

Susan’s church activity greatly declined during the last fifteen years of her life. During this period she suffered from hearing loss and severe headaches, which often confined her to a darkened room. She died of appendicitis in 1911.

At her funeral, Frank A. Gilmore, the Unitarian minister in Madison, Wisconsin, described Susan as “most loving, most warm, most devoted. She could also be stern, even repellent; she could speak softly at times, and again her voice would vibrate with indignation.” On the same occasion Celia Parker Woolley said that “[Susan] held to a few leading principles and ideas and found her reward in an undisturbed conscience and a self-dependence that was not vanity, but found its springs in a knowledge of her own nature and the laws creating and sustaining it. Her convictions were strong and absolute, and all forms of compromise were hateful to her.” In the impression she made on the Unitarian cause, Woolley ranked her as the equal of the most celebrated women ministers of her day.

In addition to material that can be gathered in archives and sources relation to her husband, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, there is some biographical detail on Susan Lloyd Jones in a typescript by Florence Lloyd Jones Barnett. Jones’s numerous articles in Unity include “Historic Unitarianism in the West” (July-September 1886) and “The Co-education of Husband and Wife” (April 24, 1886). There are funeral tributes in Unity (November 14, 1911) and an obituary in the Chicago Daily Journal (October 27, 1911). She has an entry in American National Biography (1999). See also Richard D. Jones, “Jenkin Lloyd Jones,” in Samuel A. Eliot, Heralds of a Liberal Faith, volume 4; Charles H. Lyttle, Freedom Moves West (1952, reprinted 2006); Thomas E. Graham, “The Making of a Secretary: Jenkin Lloyd Jones at Thirty-one,” Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (1982-83); Thomas E. Graham, “Jenkin Lloyd Jones and the Western Unitarian Conference, 1880-1884,” Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (1989); and Cynthia Grant Tucker, Prophetic Sisterhood (1990).

Article by Cathy Tauscher and Peter Hughes