With a nod to Father’s Day, Unity Archives turns its focus on three of the most influential men of the Unity movement, with historic snapshots of Charles Sherlock Fillmore, Frank Blenlarry Whitney, and Wilfred Eric Butterworth.
Charles Sherlock Fillmore, born August 22, 1854, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, was 10 when he broke his hip in an ice-skating accident, an injury that gave him physical challenges throughout his life. Charles enjoyed reading William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Russell Lowell, from whom he gained life-aligning insights. These authors strongly influenced his religious thinking, moving Charles into spiritualism, Eastern religions, and metaphysics.
Several seminal events would prompt Charles Fillmore to launch a spiritual movement in 1889, perhaps the most influential of which was meeting and marrying Mary Caroline (Myrtle) Page of Pagetown, Ohio, on March 29, 1881, in Clinton, Missouri. Myrtle also had dealt with health challenges, including chronic tuberculosis. The couple attended New Thought lectures of Dr. E. B. Weeks in Kansas City, Missouri, and experienced physical healing. After sharing their healing stories with others, a religious movement emerged, eventually named Unity School of Christianity.
Charles Fillmore taught about the importance of realizing nature of unity with the God-Mind.
“It means at-one-ment, completion, perfection, wholeness, repose, resting in God,” he wrote in The Revealing Word. “It is the dawning of Truth in the consciousness. When realization takes place, one abides in the light of God-Mind. It is the inner conviction that prayer has been answered, although there is as yet no outer manifestation.”
A couple years after Myrtle Fillmore died in 1931, Charles Fillmore married Unity secretary Cora G. Dedrick, moving from Unity Farm to a house just a short distance away. Cora assisted Charles with his teachings and writing and traveled with him in the years that followed, until his transition July 5, 1948.
Frank Blenlarry Whitney, born in Cherokee, Kansas, on May 23, 1889, attended the St. Louis School of Medicine and graduated in 1911. He practiced dentistry for four years before joining the Silent Unity staff in 1915. The following year, Whitney, who often signed his name “Whitty” on informal notes and photographs, married Silent Unity director Clara May Hoagland, who would become known as one of the Unity matriarchs.
It was early 1924 when Unity directors came up with the idea to republish short inspirational columns from Unity magazine in a format small enough to carry in “a pocket or handbag, and used on the train or the street car, on the desk, or the work bench, at the kitchen table, on the dresser.”
As editor, Whitney followed the directive and in July 1924 produced Unity Daily Word, now known as Daily Word®.
He went on to author four books of inspiration and prosperity: Creed of the Dauntless (1930), Open Doors (1932), Mightier Than Circumstance (1935), and Beginning Again (1938). And two others, Be of Good Courage (1953) and Wings of Song (1984), were published posthumously.
Whitney was stricken with paralysis in February 1938 and spent many of his final months in Lakeside Hospital in Kansas City.
In preparation for his transition, he wrote in Daily Unity in October 1938: “Into the loving hands of Silent Unity I bequeath the spiritual guidance of Daily Word and the happy responsibility of giving you a thought for daily meditation. To me this magazine has been a much-loved child, and throughout the years of its existence I have known all the joy of parenthood as I have seen it grown from a bold and adventurous thought of faith into a messenger well received by five hundred thousand ...”
He transitioned on July 9, 1938, and in an October 1938 Daily Word, Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore wrote, “A meteor flashing against the dark blue of the night; a ship of silver floating in the sunlight for a moment; a brilliant soul shedding his rays in our midst for a day, then hastening away.”
Wilfred Eric Butterworth was born in 1916 to a strong Unity family in Winnipeg, Canada, where his mother received ordination and entered the ministry. He studied music at Fresno State University in California and Capital University in Ohio and began his training for the ministry at Unity Village, Missouri, before World War II began. After serving in the U.S. Army in the Medical Corps and as a chaplain, he returned to Unity Village to complete his ministry preparation in 1948.
“It seems natural to devote my life to the work of helping other people find the influence of Truth in their lives as I have known it in mind,” he wrote in “Unity: A Quest for Truth.”
Referred to by some as the “20th-Century Emerson,” Butterworth gained many devotees through the years, including celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Winfrey praised his 1992 book Discover the Power Within You.
“This book changed my perspective on life and religion,” Winfrey wrote in 0, The Oprah Magazine, in 1985. “Eric Butterworth teaches that God isn’t ‘up there.’ He exists inside each one of us, and it’s up to us to seek the divine within.”
And, Angelou said of Butterworth, “He has been, is now, and shall forever be my teacher.”
A New Age pioneer, Butterworth authored 16 books on metaphysical spirituality. During his ministry, he often lectured to large crowds and in prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Town Hall near Times Square, and in Lincoln Center in New York. His weekly attendance grew to thousands.
“Life is a great and continuous process of growth,” Butterworth wrote in Discover the Power Within You. “We move from classroom to classroom. And in school, we expect to be tested. School need not be an unhappy experience, but it is a happy time only if we are nonresistant to the process of growth and change. If we accept the ‘tests’ as blessing to us, if we are nonresistant to life’s demands upon us, we will forge happily ahead toward that ultimate graduation. And perhaps [no one] has the vision to know what or when that graduation will be …”
Eric Butterworth married Olga Pauline Bacco in 1972, and the couple spent their later years in Greenwich, Connecticut. Eric transitioned on April 17, 2003. His private papers are housed in the Archives at Unity Village, Missouri.