“The orator who saved the nation”
December 17, 1824 - March 4, 1864
Thomas Starr King, “the orator who saved the nation”, was born December 17, 1824, in New York City. The sole support of his family at age 15, he was forced to leave school. Inspired by men like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Ward Beecher, King embarked on a program of self-study for the ministry. At the age of 20 he took over his father’s former pulpit at the First Unitarian Church of Charlestown, Massachusetts.
In 1848 he was appointed pastor of the Hollis Street Unitarian Church in Boston, where he became one of the most famous preachers in New England. He vacationed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in 1859 published a book about the area entitled The White Hills; their Legends, Landscapes, & Poetry. In 1860 he accepted a call from the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, California. During the Civil War, he spoke zealously in favor of the Union and was credited by Abraham Lincoln with preventing California from becoming a separate republic. In addition, he organized the Pacific Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, which cared for wounded soldiers and was the predecessor to the American Red Cross.
A fiery orator, he raised over $1.5 million for the Sanitary Commission headquarters in New York, one-fifth of the total contributions from all the states in the Union. The relentless lecture circuit exhausted him, and he died in San Francisco on March 4, 1864, of diphtheria.
In 1913 he was voted one of California’s two greatest heroes and funds were appropriated for a statue. In 1931 the state of California donated a bronze statue of King to the National Statuary Hall Collection. In 1941 the Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian Universalist), in Berkeley, California, was also renamed in his honor. King’s church and tomb in San Francisco are designated historical monuments, and two streets in the city (Starr King Way, on which the church is located, and King Street in the Mission Bay neighborhood) are named for him. There is also a statue of him in Golden Gate Park, facing JFK Drive, quite close to the De Young Museum. In Los Angeles there is also a middle school located in Silverlake/Hollywood that is named and dedicated to him. Mountain peaks in the White Mountains (Mount Starr King, elevation 1,191 m (3,907 ft)) and in Yosemite National Park (Mount Starr King) are named in his honor.