Soule, Caroline White (1824–1903)

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Soule, Caroline White (1824–1903)

American author and Universalist minister. Born Caroline White on September 3, 1824, in Albany, New York; died on December 6, 1903, in Glasgow, Scotland; third of six children of Nathaniel White and Elizabeth (Mèrselis) White; graduated from the Albany Female Academy, 1841; married Henry Birdsall Soule (a Unitarian Universalist minister), on August 28, 1843 (died 1852); children: five.

Named first president of the Women's Centenary Association (1871–80); became minister of St. Paul's Universalist Church in Glasgow (1880). Author of Home Life (1855), The Pet of the Settlement (1860), and Wine or Water (1862).

Caroline White Soule was born in Albany, New York, in 1824, the third of six children of Nathaniel and Elizabeth White . She was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church to which her mother belonged, but was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, her father's faith. Soule entered the Albany Female Academy at age 12 and graduated with high honors in 1841. She became principal of the female department of the Universalist-sponsored Clinton Liberal Institute in Clinton, New York, in 1842.

Caroline married Henry Birdsall Soule, a former teacher at the Clinton Liberal Institute and a Unitarian Universalist minister, on August 28, 1843, in Albany. After residing briefly in Utica, New York, where her husband's church was located, the family moved frequently throughout New England for the next several years. During this time, Caroline Soule began to write articles for publication in newspapers as a means of supplementing the family's income. Her husband retired briefly from the ministry in 1850 because of fragile health. Although he recovered sufficiently to accept the position of pastor of the Unitarian Church in Granby, Connecticut, in 1851, he died of smallpox the following January, leaving Caroline on her own with five young children and few possessions.

Soule took a teaching position to support her family and intensified her writing efforts. After publishing a biography of her late husband in 1852, she soon became a popular contributor to a variety of Universalist publications, including Rose of Sharon and Ladies' Repository. Financially burdened, Soule was forced to move her family in 1854 to a log cabin on the Iowa prairie, where she lived for ten years. Soule had achieved sufficient public recognition to have a collection of her moral tales, entitled Home Life, published by Abel Tompkins in 1855, and the following year she was named a regular correspondent for Ladies' Repository. In 1860, she wrote a novel based on prairie life entitled The Pet of the Settlement; however, with periodical writing taking up more of her time, she published her last book, Wine or Water, in 1862, and returned to Albany in 1864.

Soule became the assistant editor of Ladies' Repository in 1865 but relinquished that position in 1867 and relocated to New York City to edit her own Sunday school paper, The Guiding Star, for Unitarian congregations. Deeply involved in church activities, in 1869 Soule assisted with the formation of the Women's Centenary Aid Association (WCAA), a fund-raising organization benefiting the Unitarian Church. An immediate success, the WCAA reorganized in 1871 as the Woman's Centenary Association (WCA)—the first national organization of church women in the United States—and Soule was elected its initial president. Under her leadership, the WCA assisted disabled pastors, fostered home and missionary work, and facilitated educational opportunities for women interested in the ministry. A widely known and popular public speaker, Soule was also a proponent of the temperance movement and an active member of the Association for the Advancement of Women.

Soule's demanding speaking schedule and organizational commitments caused her health to deteriorate, and she took a sabbatical to the north of England and Scotland in 1875. While in the United Kingdom, Soule addressed numerous Unitarian congregations, and organized a Scottish Unitarian Universalist convention before returning to her duties in the United States. She went back to Scotland as a missionary in the employ of the WCAA in 1878, and was named minister of St. Paul's Universalist Church in Glasgow the following year. Soule was officially ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 1880, and retired as president of the WCAA. She returned to the United States to work for the WCAA in 1882, after which she moved to Scotland permanently in 1886. Soule retired from the ministry in 1892 but remained active in social service and charitable activities. She died in Glasgow, Scotland, on December 6, 1903.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan