Collection Description


Samuel J. May, Engraving

Samuel J. May Biography

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Samuel J. May graduated from Harvard in 1817 and subsequently became a teacher. After studying theology under Norton and Ware in Cambridge, he was ordained in 1822. He served as a pastor in churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts before coming to Syracuse in 1845. His congregation, now named May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, still exists there.

May was first and foremost a humanitarian and he worked tirelessly for a variety of causes. As a pacifist, he organized the Windham County Peace Society. As an early champion of equal rights for women, he invited Angelina Grimké to address his congregation on abolitionism, and in 1846 wrote a sermon "the Rights and Condition of Women". As an educational reformer, he worked to improve teaching practices in schools. As an abolitionist, he served as a general agent and secretary of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and his house was a station on the Underground Railroad between Boston, Syracuse and Canada. May was also involved in the temperance movement, the penal reform movement, and he was an advocate for better treatment of Native Americans.

In 1870, Samuel J. May, a mentor and close friend of Cornell's first president Andrew Dickson White, donated his substantial collection of pamphlets, books, newspapers, and manuscripts to the new university. Now part of Cornell's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, The Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Collection comprises over 10,000 pamphlets and leaflets collected by May, complimenting Cornell Library's vast holdings documenting ante-bellum and Civil War America.

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