Inspired by the Ethical Culture Movement began by Columbia University professor Felix Addler in the late 19th century, the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture was established in 1906. The society's headquarters is located in this neo-Jacobean style mansion designed by William B. Tubby. The historic building was constructed for the family of William J. Childs in 1900. Childs was an investor who helped to create the holding company that marketed the Bon Ami brand of cleaning powder--a product that once dominated the market and is still sold in stores. The society acquired its current headquarters in 1938. Although there are not regular public tours, the Society welcomes visitors.


  • This 2010 photo by Bill Coughlin shows the exterior of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture building.
    This 2010 photo by Bill Coughlin shows the exterior of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture building.
  • New York Society for Ethical Culture founder Felix Adler.
    New York Society for Ethical Culture founder Felix Adler.
  • Learn more about the philosophy of Felix Adler with this book by author Horace Friess by clicking the link below.
    Learn more about the philosophy of Felix Adler with this book by author Horace Friess by clicking the link below.

Felix Adler was the son of the rabbi at New York's Temple Emanu-El. Although most assumed that young Felix would follow his father's footsteps, he stunned his father and his congregation by publicly expressing doubts about the certainty of Judaism and other organized religions. After his beliefs led to controversy at Cornell University in 1876, where he had taught courses on Hebrew and Chinese language courses, he resigned his professorship and established the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Adler's organization
 was dedicated to the study of social justice and establishing new institutions to achieve a more just and ethical society. In some ways, the new organization resembled the more traditional faith-based organizations, but Adler focused more on ethical behavior rather than faith in a single religious creed. Developing his talents for written and oral communication, Adler continued to publish and lecture and would later be appointed as chair of political and social ethics at Columbia University

Addler became a leading national figure in several reform movements. For example, he was the chairman of the National Child Labor Committee and one of the founding members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture was established in response to a growing interest in Addler's ideas. Today, it presents itself as a liberal and educational fellowship of individuals and families who come together to pursue personal growth and social progress. 

"About BSEC." Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. Accessed Web, 6/9/17. http://bsec.org/about-bsec/.

"Our Founder." New York Society for Ethical Culture. Accessed Web, 6/9/17. http://www.nysec.org/felixadler.