Thomas Lamb Eliot

The former Eliot school, now the Matt Dishman Center , was named after Thomas Lamb Eliot. Like many Portland neighborhoods, Eliot neighborhood was named after the school.

The following is a history of Thomas Lamb Eliot from the The Harvard Square Library website.

Thomas Lamb Eliot 1841-1936

Courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Library, Reed College
Courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Library, Reed College

Thomas Lamb Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 13 and died in Portland, Oregon, on April 28, at the age of ninety-four and after sixty-eight years “of selfless service for the public weal.” He was the eldest son of Rev. William G. Eliot, D.D., of the Church of the Messiah in St. Louis. Thomas Eliot was a member of the first class (1862) to graduate from Washington University (St. Louis), which his father organized and administered.

After graduation he entered the Harvard Divinity School and graduated in spite of such defective eyesight that it was often necessary to have his books read to him. On November 28, 1865, he married Henrietta Robins Mack of St. Louis. This fortunate and happy union was unbroken for sixty-seven years, and Mrs. Eliot always actively shared her husband’s work.

In 1862, Starr King had preached the first liberal sermon in the Northwest. In the summer of 1867, a little chapel was built in Portland. Finally, through the agency of Rev. Charles Lowe of the American Unitarian Association, an invitation was sent to Thomas Eliot to be their minister. Eliot chose the call to the frontier post.

Portland at that time was a remote, pioneer town of some six thousand inhabitants. The streets were deep in mud or dust, according to the weather, and without lights or sidewalks. But the men and women who had settled Portland were prepared to build one of the most stable and orderly communities on the Coast.

Eliot’s church became and has always remained strong and influential. From 1872 to 1875 he was County Superintendent of Education. He turned into the church treasury the salary which he received for his services.

Eliot was never physically vigorous, and after the injury to his eyes, he could not read or write for more than a quarter of an hour without pain. In 1815 he was worn and weary from his pioneer labors. So he resigned, but the church refused to accept his resignation, granting him a year’s leave of absence to be spent in Europe. He returned much improved in health, and the money needed for the new church building was in hand.

Dr. Eliot continued as active minister of the church until 1893. His activi-ties were always overflowing into numerous other channels of community service. Indeed, for fifty years there was hardly a movement for civic betterment in which he did not take a lead-ing part. He was president of the Children’s Home; of the Oregon Humane Society and of the Portland Associated Charities. He was a director of the Art Associ-ation and the Library Association. His church was a fountain of influence and of money for constructive enterprises, and from two of its members—hus-band and wife—came the endowment of Reed. Eliot was also a member of the board of directors of the American Unitarian Association and a trustee of the Pacific Unitarian School at Berkeley.

Few ministers have had so honorable a career. He was, in truth, “a citizen minister.” He saw the city of his adoption grow from a small frontier town to a handsome, well-ordered city of more than three hundred thousand people, and no other single individual contributed so much as he to the higher life of the community. The Eliot glacier on Mt. Hood is named for him.
In 1889 Harvard gave him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in absentia; in I9I2 Washington University made him an honorary Doctor of Laws; and Reed College conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Henry Wilder Foote, abridged from Heralds of a Liberal Faith, Volume IV, edited by Samuel Atkins Eliot.