In the early 1880s, the Elmira Sunday Telegram featured a regular column entitled “Our Short Sunday Sermon” by “Peter Klaus.” The “sermons” offered a liberal religious perspective – usually critical, sometimes to the point of ridicule – on orthodox Christian doctrines.
The original Peter Klaus was a character in a German legend who was the inspiration for Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. But this “Peter Klaus” was the pen name of Oliver Hazard Perry Kinney, editor of the Waverly Advocate and an early member of the Sheshequin Universalist Society.
Kinney, who was born in 1819, was a grandson of Joseph Kinney, one of Universalist preacher Noah Murray’s early converts. O. H. P. (as he usually was referred to) was also a younger brother of Julia Kinney Scott, the famed Universalist poet.
O. H. P. Kinney studied law with David Wilmot, of Wilmot Proviso fame, and was admitted to the bar in 1844. He practiced law in Towanda in the 1840s. He was also active in the Sheshequin Universalist Society during that time, serving as a trustee and delegate to several association meetings.
Like his mentor Wilmot, Kinney was involved in the early days of the Republican party. Kinney was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature in 1858 as a Republican.
In 1860 he moved to Waverly, N. Y., and became part-owner and editor of the Waverly Advocate, a weekly newspaper. He represented Tioga County at the 1867 N. Y. State Constitutional Convention, and also served in the state Assembly in 1868.
In his various roles, Kinney advocated for free public education, women’s suffrage, and separation of church and state. His speech in support of women’s suffrage at the 1867 Convention was so highly regarded that it was reprinted in several newspapers. He was responsible for bringing suffragist Lucy Stone to speak at Waverly in the 1860s.
While O. H. P. Kinney was still listed as a member of the Sheshequin Universalist Society in 1872, his spiritual journey may have led him in a different direction. Like many Universalists in the late 1800s, Kinney became interested in Spiritualism. One of his obituaries noted:
“In his religious belief he was a spiritualist, in which faith he was stubbornly firm.”
Kinney was also active in the New York Freethinkers Association.
When O. H. P. Kinney died in September, 1883, he was remembered for his “Peter Klaus” sermons and his “high rank as a writer of current liberal thought.”
My next few blogs will feature some of Kinney’s writings on education, women’s suffrage, and – as “Peter Klaus” – religion.