A Baptist College for Chicago—Our Canvass

It was now June first, 1889. My work for the next year was cut out for me. We were to raise Four Hundred Thousand Dollars in good subscriptions before June first, 1890, in order to fulfill the terms of Mr. Rockefeller’s conditional pledge. This would be my first concern. We had also the serious responsibility of so distributing our Hundred Thousand among our needy colleges and academies as to produce the best possible results.

The Four Hundred Thousand had to be raised, as we knew, almost wholly in Chicago. There was little promise of outside help. To aid in the Chicago canvass we at once enlisted the services of Dr. T. W. Goodspeed who thought the fulfillment of the conditions well-nigh impossible and was reluctant to join me. But he manfully resigned his position as financial secretary of the seminary and under the urgency of friends, and with all the cheerfulness and energy he could summon, undertook with me the dreaded task.

The future of our little family for at least a year was now clear. So long as my work was mainly done by travel and correspondence, Racine had not been an unsuitable centre from which to conduct it. But now I must spend a year mainly in Chicago, working jointly day by day with Dr. Goodspeed. We must move to Chicago or to a point near that city, and as Dr. Goodspeed and I were to be in the closest daily association, I thought it best to live in the same town with him. So, we secured a suitable home in Morgan Park, Illinois, the suburb of Chicago, where Dr. Goodspeed lived. We sent to Minneapolis for our household goods and removed to Morgan Park about the first of October 1889.

The raising of that Four Hundred Thousand Dollars was the most disagreeable, depressing, and anxious work of my life, and it placed a heavy shadow on that year, removed only at the very end by success. We made many hundreds of calls on business men in that year, both in Chicago and elsewhere for the purpose of securing subscriptions. I do not need to emphasize the fact that such calls are usually unwelcome. And yet Dr. Goodspeed and I were treated with uniform politeness, patience, and courtesy. We were handled with velvet gloves. Everybody seemed to realize that we were not soliciting for ourselves, that we were engaged in a purely public service, that our errand was wholly disinterested, and that the city of Chicago was to be the gainer if we succeeded. Our mission having been well advertised in the Chicago press, the business men tried to make us feel that our visit was a compliment. And we always sought to keep our canvass on the dignified public plane in which it began.

We had a year in which to raise the money. A year was too long. It invited procrastination. I think our work would have been more easily done if we had been limited to three months. We do such work now by ten-day “drives.” With a year before us we got about half the needed sum in the first three months, so that Eight Hundred Thousand of our Million in subscriptions were then in hand. After that each needed and prospective contributor to the last Two Hundred Thousand sat back in his chair and waited for nearly nine months, hoping of course that the movement would succeed without anything from him, and that some fine morning he would wake up to read in the papers that our subscription was complete. We could, indeed, often have forced the issue, but only to a declination. For, if we could help it, we never would let a possible subscriber go so far as actually to say “No.” If we perceived a declination coming we tactfully withdrew before the fatal word could be spoken.

I need hardly say that our first rule was to keep absolutely good- natured and unruffled. We acted with gentleness, deliberation, self- restraint, and caution, always giving every inch of rope that was wanted.

We were embarrassed by the disastrous and disgraceful failure of the old University, the scandalous litigation in connection therewith, and the personal quarrels among the Trustees and officers, too recent, too public, and too bitter to be forgotten. The old University had been for years a thorn in the Chicago side. We inherited all the prejudice of the city against Baptists and Baptist education that the old University had to bequeath, and it was much. We had to give and did give from beginning to end of our canvass the most positive assurances that the new institution would be run by business men, and not as of old by Baptist preachers; and the new management would under no circumstances incur debt.

One of the worst fighters in the quarrels of the old University, Dr. Evarts, with a lack of reflection and foresight that was characteristic, embarrassed us somewhat by the premature public advocacy, during our canvass, of the repurchase of the old site and building. This caused so great and immediate an advance in the price at which it was held as to forever settle the question in the negative. In this sequel this indiscretion proved a God-send, for it opened the way for the present superb site, with advantages unparalleled among universities. This site was chosen by Dr. Goodspeed and myself in January 1890. We secured the first ten acres of it, worth then about One Hundred and Twenty- five Thousand Dollars, as a gift from Mr. Marshall Field, and later enlargements were purchased. The choice of this site, and the identification of Mr. Marshall Field, then the leading business man of Chicago, thus prominently with our enterprise, was the turning point in our canvass, though Mr. Field stipulated that the gift should not be included in the Four Hundred Thousand but be an addition thereto. From that time, we had no doubt of our ultimate success.

We mapped out our work in advance. We first canvassed the Baptists in Chicago, and got from them about Two Hundred Thousand Dollars, a very generous sum, for the Baptists were far from wealthy. Then we opened up on the business men of Chicago outside our denomination, and on the alumni of the old University, and pressed these sources thenceforward to the end. But simultaneously we canvassed also many leading Baptists of the West, and in March (1890), I made a visit to Eastern cities securing about Thirty-five Thousand Dollars from Eastern Baptists.

In our canvass we went straight to our subject without introductory talk, as an intimation that we were not needlessly to consume the time of a busy man.

We were tactfully persevering. I secured over Twenty Thousand Dollars from men who had given a declination so positive and final in form that Dr. Goodspeed could not bring himself to accompany me for another visit. They had reacted a little from their final No, and I caught them on the rebound.

We aimed so to conduct our canvass, as to base it on solid reasons and worthy ends, as to raise up a permanent constituency for the University. On principle we always avoided telling a man how much we thought he ought to give, though often asked the question. We replied to such inquiries that it was not ours to say that any man ought to give anything, least of all how much. Our canvass was public, and whenever asked we would freely tell what others had given. But it was for the subscriber to name his figure and for us to accept it with gratitude, whether large or small. We never tried to increase a man’s subscription or even to get the last cent possible. We aimed to leave friends behind us, not enemies. It is inexperienced canvassers that size up men and ask them for specific sums. It is impudent and unreasonable.

We kept right at it hotfoot, doing nothing else. I even insisted on working in the rain on rainy days. We worked at home evenings in correspondence, and never let up one hour. This kept us up to the tension of our best work at all times, even though at times we hardly got a Thousand Dollars in a week.

We kept on the watch for good material for Trustees, but never discussed the question with others, so as to avoid arousing ambitions and jealousies. It proved wise.

I find my weekly letters to my parents mainly occupied with descriptions of our canvass, our hopes, and our fears. I never admitted the possibility of failure, but I was in deep anxiety for many long and weary months. My life has been a happy one. I could not say of any single year that it was unhappy, but I will say of this year that it is the last that I would choose for living over, the nearest approach to unhappiness, the fullest of distaste and anxiety.

Before the fateful date of June first our canvass was triumphantly concluded. We had secured the Four Hundred Thousand and more. In fact, if the site and other gifts of property were included, our canvass had yielded more than Six Hundred Thousand. Everybody interested was electrified by the announcement, no one more so than Mr. Rockefeller. He telegraphed his congratulations. Marshall Field wrote a fine letter. The Chicago press hailed the glad day of a new university. The Baptist papers throughout the country joined in a chorus of praise and thanksgiving, and the representatives of the whole denomination came to Chicago for the Baptist May Anniversaries, which had been fixed at Chicago in anticipation of our success, with happy hearts and beaming faces. Goodspeed and I were rewarded for our hard campaign by the thanks and blessings of all.

It was my duty to prepare and read to the Society the official report of the Executive Board for the year. This I did in part only. When it came to the canvass at Chicago and its success, I introduced Dr. Goodspeed in words that must be here recorded, as a just tribute to him, and as representing my own feeling now as truly as then:

“Immediately after our last annual meeting, Divine Providence sent to our help a reinforcement which has been a decisive factor in our success. We mean, of course, the services of Dr. T. W. Goodspeed, as co-laborer with your Corresponding Secretary. With the esteem and confidence of the entire denomination, Dr. Goodspeed has brought to our work a ripe experience, and a knowledge of the fruitful sources of benefaction in this city, in the West, and in the East, such perhaps as no other man in our denomination possesses, in equal measure. With steadfast and contagious cheer and unfaltering persistence, Dr. Goodspeed has daily wrought with superb skill and with tension of self-mastery never for one hour relaxed. And it is to his clear statement of fact, his candid, courteous, forcible presentations, his gracious, tactful, sincere, persuasive appeals in public, in private, and through the press, that we owe in chief part our present measure of success. With love born of a common daily life of joy and sorrow, and prayer, and tears, and dread, and triumph, the most intense that either has ever known; with reverence which intimacy has only deepened, your Corresponding Secretary counts it the gladdest and most grateful privilege his office has hitherto afforded him, to introduce Dr. Goodspeed to the Society at this hour, and to invite him to present to the Society and to the denomination that more important portion of the report of your Board which is made possible today so largely by his splendid services.”

A full report of this triumphant meeting of Baptists is to be found in Dr. Goodspeed’s history of the University of Chicago, and the printed records of the Education Society.

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The Promise of a University