Elsie Thomas Culver (January 3, 1898 - August 21, 1988) was born in Connecticut to Dudley and Orie (Streeter) Thomas, and raised in Oakland, CA. She received an A.B. in political science (with honors) from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1918. She married and had a daughter, Helen. She was widowed in the 1930's. While raising her family, she did part-time commercial, journalistic and promotional work through 1935.
She then began studies at the Pacific School of Religion (M.A. 1941, B.D. 1942). During her time at PSR, she worked on the school's publicity, helped publicize the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair, and wrote articles for various religious papers. She was ordained a Congregational minister in New York in 1943.
In 1941, Culver was called to New York to handle promotion for the Committee on Foreign Relief Appeals in the Churches. This was an organization established in the United States by churches and other participating organizations which included the Foreign Missions Conference, the YMCA, and the YWCA to coordinate World War II relief efforts. This committee changed and its charge expanded in 1942 to become the Church Committee on Overseas Relief and Reconstruction (CCORR). This Committee later became Church World Service in 1946 under the National Council of Churches. She was in charge of planning and creating material for fund raising campaigns, directing a staff of 15.
In the fall of 1945, Culver went to Europe under CCORR auspices to consult "with church leaders, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration officials, and others…. Articles and stories I wrote and pictures I took appeared in leading secular magazines and in church publications of practically all denominations." She was one of the first American women, not wearing a uniform, to travel through post World War II Europe.
She continued to serve Church World Service as publicity director until 1948. During her last year, she reported that the Church World Service sent over $34 million in money and goods overseas. She resigned "to undertake an around-the-world trip [1948-49], speaking, writing and taking photographs for a number of interested agencies and editors. … Primarily, I was looking for evidence that essentially, around the world, people are friends."
Culver accepted the position of Director of Public Relations for the World Council of Churches in 1950, working in the New York office and traveling extensively. Her many responsibilities included writing articles for church and secular press, editing the Ecumenical Courier, and preparing film strips, radio scripts, press folders, and posters. She retired in 1957 and returned to Berkeley, CA.
Here, she continued to be active in issues of aging and the churches' responsibility to older persons, serving on various committees and commissions. She was also founder, director, and newsletter editor (The Cornerstone) of Senior Peacebuilders, an incorporated non-profit educational organization. She continued to write, including some work for the GTU, for various organizations and publications. Of her three books, she is best known for Women in the World of Religion (Doubleday: 1967).
After a ten-year battle with Alzheimer's disease, she died in Santa Rosa, California, in August 1988.
At right, photograph of Culver with Mrs. Peter Dagadu, in Accra, Gahana, 1955.