Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

Highlights of UUSC History


  • Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp travel to Czechoslovakia under sponsorship of the American Unitarian Association to help refugees escape Nazi persecution.


  • The Unitarian Service Committee is officially established.
  • Martha Sharp arranges for passage of 29 children and 10 adults on a rescue mission from Europe.

War Years

  • The Unitarian Service Committee offices in Lisbon, Marseille, Geneva, and Paris provide refugee assistance, medical care, clothing, and other services.


  • The Universalist Service Committee is established.


  • Medical missions are sent to Poland and Czechoslovakia to update medical practices in countries isolated during the war, and the Universalist Service Committee provides food and clothing relief in the Netherlands.


  • The Texas Migrant Workers Project begins.


  • The Universalist Service Committee runs volunteer service projects in U.S. state hospitals.


  • A medical mission is sent to Israel and Iran.


  • In Gallup, N.M., the Navajo Community Center project offers social services and education.
  • A social-work education program is established in Korea.


  • An innovative teacher education program is developed in Cambodia.
  • The Columbia Heights Boys Club in Washington, D.C., offers integrated classes, social services, and recreational activities.


  • Relief work, lasting through the 1960s, begins in Vienna on behalf of Hungarian refugees.


  • A health and community development project under Dr. Ben Nzeribe is established in Awo Omamma, Nigeria.


  • Aid is given to Hospital Amazonica “Albert Schweitzer” in Peru.
  • The Universalist Service Committee provides flood relief in the Philippines.
  • Desegregation projects are undertaken in Atlanta, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla.


  • Social-work education programs start in Jamaica.


  • The Unitarian and Universalist Service Committees merge.


  • Advanced nursing training in Turkey begins.


  • UUSC offers maternal and child health as well as family planning services in Haiti.
  • A community development project is begun with the Passamaquoddy Indians in Princeton, Me.


  • A community health program in Togo begins.
  • The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and El Centro Chicano in Houston, Texas, offer legal, educational, and community services.


  • UUSC helps Salvadoran clergy publish Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), a newsletter offering self-help and literacy skills to the low-income communities in El Salvador.


  • The National Moratorium on Prison Construction begins, seeking alternatives to incarceration and other criminal justice reforms.


  • An all-Caribbean conference on family planning and community development is held.


  • UUSC testifies before the House International Relations Committee after conducting its own fact-finding tour to El Salvador.


  • UUSC sponsors a congressional fact-finding mission to El Salvador, a first by a private agency.


  • UUSC organizes the first Central American Encuentro (Encounter) for rural community development workers.


  • The first UUSC local unit is formed in Topeka, Kan. Its campaign against the death penalty later results in a landmark vote against capital punishment.
  • The U.S. program on aging begins. It works to improve the quality of life for older Americans.


  • The famine in Ethiopia spurs UUSC to appeal for emergency funds long before U.S. television crews pick up the story.


  • UUSC publishes the first edition of Journey to Understanding: Central America and the Busy Person’s Guide to Social Action.


  • UUSC begins sponsoring rural health clinics in Jinotega and Matagalpa, Nicaragua.


  • The Olympic Garden Skills Training Center in Jamaica expands its program and opens a medical clinic in the impoverished neighborhood.


  • UUSC launches Promise the Children, a new program addressing the needs of children in the United S.


  • UUSC celebrates its 50th anniversary of “Sharing a Vision of Justice” by building membership and expanding U.S. programs.


  • UUSC project partners from 10 countries on four continents gather in Senegal for a UUSC-sponsored Institute on Leadership Development and Sustainability for Grassroots Organizations.


  • After organizing 20 congressional delegations to El Salvador, UUSC celebrates the signing of peace accords which ends the 10-year civil war.
  • UUSC responds to Los Angeles riots sparked by the first verdict in the Rodney King trial by establishing an Urban Emergency Fund.


  • UUSC staff serve as election monitors for the referendum on independence in Eritrea.
  • UUSC sponsors a citizens’ delegation to Central America to strengthen partners’ self-help projects.
  • The Promise the Children Leadership Institute is held to bring together children’s advocates from across the United States.


  • UUSC sends emergency medical equipment to Rwanda and begins a long-term relationship with grassroots groups working to bring peace to the region.
  • Addressing social and economic injustice in the United States, UUSC begins JustWorks, matching UUSC constituents with social justice organizations and providing technical support and training.


  • UUSC supports indigenous groups in Chiapas, Mexico, seeking civil and political justice. In December, UUSC sends a delegation of opinion leaders there to investigate the human rights situation.
  • A three-week fact-finding mission to Central Africa results in UUSC’s funding grassroots reconciliation initiatives in Rwanda and Burundi.
  • UUSC brings a progressive voice to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women — and related NGO Forum — in China.


  • UUSC sponsors 10-city advocacy tour by two members of Burmese democracy groups.
  • UUSC helps to rebuild firebombed black churches in the South, with UU volunteers, as part of its ongoing service-learning program.
  • UUSC produces Gender Justice, a 370-page study and action guide, to engage U.S. residents in the international women’s rights movement.
  • UUSC brings UUs from around the country to Washington, D.C., to support Stand for Children.


  • Advocacy on behalf of human rights groups in Mexico helps to make the U.S. government aware of persecution of these groups.
  • UUSC expands its Welfare and Human Rights Monitoring Project, begun in Massachusetts in 1996, to the states of California, Washington, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The program documents and addresses human rights violations resulting from welfare reform.


  • UUSC releases a national Welfare and Human Rights Monitoring Project report, plus one for each state included in the project, and expands the program to Alabama.
  • The Cuba program adds partners working on women’s rights.
  • UUSC expands its service-learning program to forge a direct link between the volunteer experience and policy advocacy.
  • Working in worldwide coalition, UUSC plays a leading role in convincing the multinational telecommunications giant, Ericsson, to pull out of Burma.


  • In response to the crisis in Kosovo, UUSC distributes nearly $400,000 to partners in the region for relief efforts and programs specifically targeted to aid women and children refugees. One project provides education services for refugee children.
  • Other contributions help with Turkish earthquake relief.
  • More than 100 congregations join UUSC’s yearlong Human Rights Campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • UUSC partners in South Asia work to organize a meeting to finalize the draft of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Combating Traffic in Women and Children, prepared by the Bangladeshi government with input from nongovernmental organizations.
  • In Yakima, Wash., youth volunteers complete a 20-page report on their findings on migrant farm worker conditions, and arrange to present the information to Washington Governor Gary Locke in September.


  • In Yakima, Wash., youth volunteers complete the second year of a UUSC service-learning trip intended to improve the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers. The experience produced tangible results when in March, Washington Governor Gary Locke announced plans for improved housing in farm worker communities throughout the state.
  • UUSC launches a campaign to mobilize members and supporters to advocate for an end to the ban by the U.S. government on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. The first law aimed at easing the embargo in 40 years is passed.
  • UUSC is one of a handful of social justice organizations involved as the first law to stem sex trafficking is passed by Congress.
  • The first UUSC General Assembly Youth Workcamp is held. Youth learn about recycling and renewable energy as part of UUSC’s environmental justice focus.


  • UUSC releases Phase III of the Welfare and Human Rights Monitoring Project report series, providing testimony from low-income families on the effects that welfare reform has had on their economic well-being. The report follows a national conference to plan for the reauthorization of welfare policies in 2001.
  • UUSC launches an e-mail bulletin, which provides advocates with the latest human rights information and action alerts.


  • UUSC brings a partner from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States to tell UU congregations about the situation facing the Congolese people and ways that UUs can support peace.


  • The What’s Your Profile? project is launched. It brings together youth from UU congregations, non-UU churches, and community-based groups to explore the roots of racism and to develop ways to combat discrimination in their communities.


  • UUSC leads a delegation of members, activists, and policymakers to Guatemala to monitor national elections. They witnessed the defeat of former dictator-turned-presidential candidate General Efraín Ríos Montt after a long and arduous election process.
  • UUSC kicks off Defending Democracy, a nationwide effort to engage U.S. citizens, with an emphasis on youth and young adults, in the election process.
  • A tsunami of extraordinary magnitude sweeps through South Asia during late December, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths in several Asia countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. UUSC collaborates with the UUA in establishing in a joint appeal and response effort. Members and supporters respond with enormous generosity.


  • The Stop Torture Permanently (STOP) Campaign conducts advocacy efforts to protest U.S.-sponsored torture and mobilizes thousands of activists for a rally and a mock trial in Washington, D.C.
  • UUSC’s Civil Rights Journey is adopted as an annual feature of its service-learning program, bringing participants to sites that were on the frontlines of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
  • UUSC responds to a massive humanitarian crisis in the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the years that follow, UUSC collaborates with the UUA and local grassroots organizations on multiple programmatic, advocacy, and volunteer-oriented rebuilding projects throughout the Gulf Coast.


  • UUSC’s origins during the early days of World War II receive international recognition when two of our founders, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, were officially honored for their wartime heroism in 2006 by the governments of Israel and the United States. Their daughter, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, urges human rights activists to build on her parents’ legacy to help end modern forms of genocide taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.
  • UUSC’s Economic Justice Program and advocacy work in support of minimum wage campaigns helps win ballot victories in six states across the country. The overwhelming support in the six states leads the new U.S. Congress to pass the first increase in the federal minimum wage in 10 years.


  • The Drumbeat for Darfur campaign — with the mandate to connect, take action, end the genocide — is launched, creating an advocacy list of several thousand activists and collaborating with other anti-genocide organizations to help end the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
  • As a result of its continuing and expected new growth, UUSC moves its national headquarters a few blocks to a more prominent location in the heart of Cambridge’s Central Square. Combined with the new visual identity of our new logo, UUSC has a new look as well as a new home to provide new ways to engage with the local community to help grow our movement for positive social change.


  • UUSC travels to Kenya on a special mission to investigate a political and humanitarian crisis following a flawed and disputed presidential election, subsequently submitting a report to Congress.
  • UUSC ramps up activism to end to the Iraq war and occupation, making “The Cost of Iraq: Who Pays the Price?” the major theme of our Justice Sunday and our General Assembly program.


  • UUSC collaborates with the UU Legislative Ministry of California to gain passage of the country’s first human-right-to-water law in both chambers of the California Legislature, only to have the measure vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Earlier in the year, UUSC and colleague NorthStar Asset Management celebrate a successful shareholder advocacy campaign culminating in PepsiCo’s adoption of a corporate human-right-to-water policy.
  • UUSC begins work in northern Uganda to help generations of people displaced by war return home to rebuild their villages, livelihoods, and culture.


  • UUSC works with its partner organizations in Kenya to help win passage of a referendum establishing a new national constitution regarded as truly representing the will of the Kenyan people.
  • UUSC responds to a massive humanitarian crisis in Haiti following a devastating earthquake.


  • UUSC supports the rights of the Egyptian people during the Arab Spring by facilitating education about civil rights and nonviolent resistance.
  • UUSC funds livelihood training on the Kenya-Uganda border to help at-risk youth avoid trafficking and exploitative work.


  • UUSC works closely with California partners to coordinate advocacy and grassroots actions that lead to the passage of the historic Human Right to Water Act.
  • UUSC and partners pressure Goldcorp in Guatemala to commit $27 million to reclamation at mining site that contaminated local water sources.
  • UUSC assists with case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which orders the Guatemalan government to guarantee the human right to water.
  • Peru adopts new national policy that includes the human right to water and prohibits privatization of water resources — and they credit the work of a UUSC partner.
  • UUSC and partner engage religious and community leaders in Darfur to reduce domestic and gender-based violence by drawing on time-honored Islamic values.


  • As part of UUSC’s Compassionate Consumption campaign, UUSC works with partners to improve wages and working conditions of restaurant workers.
  • UUSC coordinates and funds training of Haitian community leaders in body-based trauma resiliency techniques.
  • UUSC helps introduce a model of urban home gardens in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to support food sovereignty.


  • UUSC releases joint statement with the Unitarian Universalist Association declaring that raising the minimum wage is a moral imperative. More than 14,000 supporters sign the statement, which was delivered to key legislators.
  • UUSC gathers 5,000 signatures on a petition calling on the Darden restaurant group to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act.
  • In interest of transparency and accountability, UUSC works with grassroots activists to ensure that a 2012 report on the CIA’s use of torture is released to the public.
  • UUSC develops partnership to help women in immigration detention adequately access their legal rights and find the support they need.