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Maria Capek

Underwood & Underwood Studios

Unitarian church leader Maja Capek (1888-1966) served New Bedford’s North Unitarian Church, where daughters of immigrant mill workers from Central Europe could meet for games and classes in sewing, millinery, and cooking. Under the leadership of Maja Capek from 1940- 1943, the church prospered. In 1943, Maja Capek left New Bedford to serve with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, helping to provide relief for Europeans ravaged by World War II.

Maja Capek (1888-1966) was born in 1888 and grew up in Western Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. She, with her family, emigrated to the United States in 1907. She graduated from Columbia University’s School of Library Science. There she met her husband, Baptist minister Norbert Capek, and became his wife in 1917. Developing increasingly liberal views, Norbert Capek resigned his Baptist ministry in 1919. After an initial rebuff by the American Unitarian Association, Norbert and Maja returned to their native country with one daughter to found a liberal church. Their church was very successful, becoming the largest Unitarian congregation in the world. With the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Maja came to the United States to raise funds for relief work in Czechoslovakia. Unable to return, she began serving North Unitarian Church in New Bedford in 1940. Sadly, Norbert Capek was sent to Dachau and was put to death in October 1942 for “high treason.” Maja did not learn of his death until 1945.

North Unitarian Church, originally Unity Home, was a mission of the First Unitarian Church, becoming a separate church in 1917. The church served a congregation composed mostly of immigrants from Central Europe who worked in the local mills. Unity Home began by serving the young people of the North End of New Bedford. Rooms were taken for a “Girls Social Union” where the daughters of immigrants could meet for classes in sewing, millinery, and cooking, as well as games. All girls were welcome free of charge. In these same rooms Rev. Paul Frothingham established a free kindergarten for younger children, said to be the first in New Bedford. In 1901 Unity Home was built to accommodate these increasing programs and eventually a church. Under the leadership of Maja Capek from 1940-1943, the church prospered. She was said to have a particular interest in the young people of the church, although her influence extended to all members of the church.

In 1943, Maja Capek left New Bedford to serve with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, helping to provide relief for Europeans ravaged by the Second World War. In 1947, she joined the organization Relief for Czechoslovakia, providing relief for the people of her homeland. Maja Capek died December 2, 1966.

Judith N. Lund

Information from

  • Harper, Dan. Liberal Pilgrims: Varieties of Liberal Religious Experience in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Fish Island Books, 2009.

  • Henry, Richard. “Norbert Capek.” Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, 28 July 2000, http://uudb.org/articles/norbertcapek.html.

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