Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sculpted to Inspire: Arthur Buckminster Fuller

Arthur Buckminster Fuller (August 10, 1822 - December 11, 1862) was a Unitarian Clergyman who believed in liberal reforms. He was born in Boston, the child of Congressman Timothy Fuller, Jr. and Margaret Crane.

At the age of twelve, he spent one year at Leicester Academy and then studied with Mrs. Ripley, the wife of Rev. Samuel Ripley, of Waltham. His older sister Margaret helped raise him after his father died of cholera in 1835. She made certain Arthur received a proper education in Greek, Latin, literature, science and mathematics. In August, 1839 he entered Harvard College at the age of seventeen and graduated in 1843.

Fuller traveled to Illinois to run an academy but closed it 18 months later due to ill health. Between 1845 and 1847 he attended Harvard College of Divinity where he received his degree. Fuller preached in various churches including the Unitarian Church of Watertown, the New North Church of Boston, and the Unitarian Society of Manchester, New Hampshire.

He was selected by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1854 to serve as their chaplain and in 1858 by the Massachusetts Senate to act as theirs. In 1857 he was nominated by the Republicans of Suffolk District No. 2 for the Massachusetts Senate but did not win the election since there were other candidates from his party in that district.

Fuller worked to advance a number of issues. He was active in the temperance and abolitionist movements and endorsed women pursuing a professional career. His belief in a free public education was shown by his serving on the Boston school board.

At the onset of the Civil War, Fuller resigned as a pastor in Watertown, MA to join the Sixteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. When the Sixteenth Regiment went into battle in June, 1862, he participated on the battlefield as a chaplain with prayers and encouragement. After this he became so weak and ill that he returned to Massachusetts. He came back in October, 1862 but was soon declared unfit for service.

Fuller returned once again to give his farewell address on December 7, 1862 and was honorably discharged on December 10, 1862. The next morning as his own regiment was preparing to attack Fredericksburg, VA, he volunteered to go with the Nineteenth Regiment. Wearing the uniform of a staff officer, he was a special mark for the sharpshooters. Fuller crossed the river in a boat to join the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment on the other side. A few minutes later, he was shot dead after having only fired a few shots. It was speculated that Fuller risked his life to accompany the Nineteenth Massachusetts, because he believed the men deserved to have a chaplain by their side as they fought. The Nineteenth's chaplain had fled some time ago.

The Governor of Massachusetts attended his funeral where ministers of several faiths eulogized him. Among them was James Freemen Clarke who declared that "Arthur Fuller was, like most of us, a lover of peace, but he saw, as we have had to see, that sometimes true peace can only come through war…. Fuller served ordinary folk and related far better to farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, laborers and soldiers than he did to the intellectuals who preserved his sister's memory.”* He is buried in Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

His grandson is R. Buckminster Fuller, a philosopher, mathematician and the inventor who invented the geodesic dome composed of triangular shaped spheres and coined the phrase “Spaceship Earth.”

His statue was given to the state in 1863 and is on view in the State Library's main reading room (Room 341) through February 18.

* Unitarian Universalist Association. “Arthur Buckminster Fuller” (accessed December 30, 2010)