The American Baptist Education Society

Having disposed of the episode of the vacant presidency at Rochester, we will now return to the May Anniversaries at Washington in 1888 and follow the main current of events.

The program for that year provided that a session or more should be given to a question which for a year had been agitated in Baptist circles—the question of organizing a National Baptist Education Society, with the object of promoting education under Baptist auspices, especially academies and colleges in the United States. In the discussion pronounced differences of opinion developed. The denominational leaders were sharply divided. Dr. Morehouse, Dr. Goodspeed, Dr. Northrup, and all of the Western leaders favored the immediate organization of the proposed new Society. Dr. Strong, Dr. Bright, and a considerable following of Eastern men with privately cherished educational plans of their own, while they tactfully refrained from saying that they would always and under all circumstances oppose such a society, were pronounced in their opposition to forming an education society then and there. They wanted more discussion and a formulation of policy requiring time. The debate became heated. Personalities were exchanged. Motives were questioned. Indiscreet words were uttered, and for a time the feeling ran pretty high. Dr. Morehouse, who led the affirmative, and who had the majority with him and knew it, would not yield the slightest concession or brook one hour’s delay. He carried the day by a vote of some five to one of the qualified voters, although the larger number of the most influential denominational leaders were in the somewhat irritated and entirely beaten minority. It was really a popular victory of the moneyless and educationally destitute West and South, over the moneyed and educationally well- provided Eastern and New England states. Morehouse had the votes, but Strong and his followers controlled the money. No education society, however great the need in the South and West, could achieve anything at all, except it were enabled to do it by the cordial and generous financial aid and cooperation of the moneyed East. While favoring a society, I felt that it would be better to postpone the organization until both sides could unite. I therefore voted no with the minority. But we were defeated. A time and place for effecting the organization was set, and according to schedule the Society was duly organized at Washington.

Dr. Morehouse came to me in advance of the meeting for organization and told me he intended to nominate me as Executive Secretary of the new Society. The announcement came upon me like a thunderbolt. In shock, I told him that under no circumstances could I accept; that it was quite useless to present my name; that he would only subject himself and the new Society and me to embarrassment. But after he had left me I went off by myself and began to reflect. As I thought the matter over I perceived that circumstances might make it my duty to act for a little time at least as secretary, if given entire freedom to withdraw later. Anyhow, I would not create a scene by precipitately declining. Nor would I seem to acquiesce by attending the meeting and allowing my election to proceed in my own presence in silence. I would simply not attend the meeting and, without withdrawing my reply to Dr. Morehouse, would thus leave with him and the meeting the whole responsibility of action, whatever it might be.

I heard afterwards something of what transpired. Dr. Morehouse had laid his wires well. He nominated me according to his prearranged program and concealed my unqualified declination. My recent work in Minnesota was rehearsed and probably lost nothing in the telling. It was in fact, however, the only successful money-raising campaign that Baptists had seen for many years, in behalf of school or college. Several old friends gave such kindly descriptions of me as would attract the votes of strangers, for I was, of course, quite unknown to the mass of delegates, and as nobody knew anything against me, and there were no candidates at all for the experimental office, I was unanimously elected. Certainly, the honor was not great, and it brought me nothing but apprehension.

I did not accept, nor did I decline. I went to Dr. Strong and my friends of the minority who were sore over their defeat, and some of them, particularly Dr. Bright, of the Examiner, were smarting over stinging personalities uttered in the heat of debate. I went to them because I was both an Eastern and Western man, and thus a fair representative of both sides; also nearly all the leaders on both sides who had taken part in the debate were kind friends of mine of long standing; moreover, while I had favored the idea of the society, with Morehouse and the West and South, I had voted against precipitate organization with Strong, Bright, and the Eastern friends; and through all the turmoil I had preserved a golden silence. A mediator was needed. The factions must be brought together, if possible, into harmonious cooperation. Had I not some of the qualifications for this service? Indeed, did not my election give me the official standing necessary for the attempt, and put the duty on me as on no one else? And so, without accepting the secretaryship, I sought out my disgruntled friends of the minority. I had long and intimate talks with Drs. Strong and Bright. I also called together for a private meeting all the Baptist editors. I pointed out to them that the mere organization of the Society could not of itself do harm, or indeed be of much importance. What did matter was the shape and direction its policies were to take. But these were yet to be defined. If I were to accept the secretaryship, I proposed to make in advance the preliminary inquiries, and the complete survey of the whole field of Baptist education that the opponents themselves had urged, and that the policies of the Society would shape themselves as information, circumstances, and full publicity might determine. They might be assured that no policies would be adopted that did not meet with the overwhelming approval of all sections of the country. Would they not give me their support in attempting precisely the preliminary study that they themselves advocated? I had voted with them. Talk of this kind had of course its soothing effect. Dr. Bright promised that the Examiner would not oppose the Society or seek in any way to injure it, and that I personally might count on his active support. He kept his word, and there never was after those conferences any denominational division of sentiment over the American Baptist Education Society. But I was by that fact committed to the secretaryship, and with slight and, as it proved, needless reservations, I accepted the task. I had not sought it. I did not want it, but I saw no way of escape from manifest duty. The voice that called me out of the pastorate had come.

I returned to Minneapolis from Washington by way of New York, where I had a final interview with Dr. Bright, preparing for him such an article on the Education Society as would conciliate his readers, and stopping at Rochester for a final conference with Dr. Strong.

We were still living in the parsonage in Minneapolis. Our family consisted of your mother, Aunt, and baby Frederick, then not quite eighteen months old, toddling about in his short clothes, and disclosing even thus early the same close observation and eager curiosity about everything he saw and heard, that has so marked all his subsequent life. Auntie, who had been church missionary for some months, had become a permanent member of the family. We had received advance intimations by the Stork telegraph line that at no distant day a small stranger would ask our permanent hospitality.

My little family had learned from accounts in the papers and from my letters all that had happened in Washington, and they welcomed me home not without anxiety as to what the future might have in store for us—an anxiety that I fully shared. My thoughts were very accurately expressed in a letter to my parents. I wrote substantially as follows:

“I notice that all the papers speak well of me for the new secretaryship. For myself I have no very lively hopes of its success. I shall study the whole situation very carefully and shall try to allay any public apprehension. I shall use the press behind the editorial chair, as I am now using it, rather than by direct communication over my signature, and shall keep the society well-advertised. I shall try to demonstrate the possible usefulness of the society, by doing something useful as soon as I can; but in the end nothing can save the society from failure, except the enlistment of the interest of Eastern Baptists of wealth. Their interest alone can give the society financial weight, and without that its advice will not be sought.”

The next four months I gave to detailed, analytical, comparative, unremitting study of Baptist education in the United States, North, South, East, and West, just as I had promised. I prepared, printed, and sent out a long detailed and exhaustive questionnaire, and with this as basis of inquiry began a personal correspondence with the responsible officer of every Baptist institution without exception in the country. The answers were prompt, full, and almost universal.

My successor in the pastorate not having been chosen, we continued to occupy the parsonage in Minneapolis during the summer of 1888. A handsome and healthy little baby, whom we named Franklin, arrived on the thirteenth of July. So soon as mother and child were able to travel, however, we packed up our little store of household goods, placed them in a warehouse in Minneapolis, subject to future shipping directions, bade our final farewell to our kind Minneapolis friends, and made a safe journey to Racine, Wisconsin. This move was to serve only as a temporary convenience, until the development of the work and policy of the Education Society should disclose to us the most suitable place for a permanent home. So, for the time being we took rooms in Grandmother Cahoon’s house in Racine, your mother’s old home, where she and her babies would be surrounded by family and friends during my absences, which were likely to be frequent. There we spent more than a year, healthfully and most agreeably to us all. The unaccustomed lake beside which we lived, with its ever-changing lights and shadows, was to me a never ceasing source of interest. I spent leisure hours in fishing near the shore, and in teaching little Frederick to throw pebbles with his right hand instead of his left, as he wanted to.

I spoke in a former chapter of being in need of rest and change, and my being reduced by the hard work of my pastorate to skin and bone. I was really more overworked than I had imagined. For no sooner had I got release from the pulpit and pastorate, and into a complete change of employment and daily habit, then I began not only to feel much better, but to take on flesh, and this process continued at the rate of nearly a pound per week, until I had gained nearly sixty pounds. From one hundred and thirty-four I reached a weight of more than one hundred and ninety pounds, and this for more than twenty years continued to be my normal weight.

As I studied the Baptist educational chess board during the summer and pondered its problems and how, if possible, to solve them, one great move finally emerged as immediate and imperative—one move which, if it could be made, would do much towards clearing up the whole board. That move was not, as I had thought probable, the endowment of our academies, and the founding of more and better ones. That might be desirable and possible, but it could wait. The move was not even to increase the endowment, equipment, and efficiency of our neglected, feeble, and ill-patronized colleges, for they were condemned to an early death by reason of impossible locations in remote country hamlets, especially the colleges of the West. It was not to aid the larger colleges of the East, comparatively easy though that might be, for they were already comfortably off, both in resources and attendance, and could be trusted to grow naturally and spontaneously. It was not, as many thoughtful Baptists then imagined, to found a great Baptist University at Washington, with Columbian University as the foundation, for Washington was not a suitable location for a great university, Baptist or otherwise. It was not, as Dr. Strong had long been urging, and with him more recently some forty leading Baptist divines and influential laymen of the East, the founding at a single stroke of a great Baptist university in New York City, with Twenty Millions of money. For such an institution we were not at all prepared, had little need, and no promise either of money or students, nor was New York a suitable location.

What then was this great move? It was the one thing that looked utterly hopeless, and yet must indispensably be done before anything else that was worthy should be attempted. It was the establishment of a powerful college, to become later a university, on the ruins of the old University of Chicago. Such was my well-matured and final conclusion. By it I was prepared to stand or fall.

Having come to this thoroughly reasoned and for myself final conclusion, fortified by a wide induction of facts, I determined to give myself entirely to an attempt to establish a college in Chicago as the foundation of a university.

My first step was to write out the whole case as I saw it. My next was to lay the case as I saw it on the hearts and consciences of the Baptists of Chicago and, if I found the right response, I had other steps in reserve. Having written out my address, I secured an invitation to make a speech on Baptist educational policy before the Chicago Baptist Pastors’ Conference. The date was arranged for the Monday morning of October fifteenth, 1888. It was noised abroad by the Chicago leaders that I might have something urgent to say, and pains were taken to drum up a wide attendance. The meeting proved to be the largest in the history of the conference. Many pastors came in from surrounding towns and the city pastors were all there. I still have the address that I delivered.

The address was a close detailed analytical study of Baptist educational conditions and needs in the Mississippi Valley north of the Ohio. The educational destitution among Baptists was disclosed and shown to be appalling both positively and in comparison with other denominations. The first impression of the brethren was astonishment. No survey of the kind had ever been made. The pastors had never studied the questions of the location, sphere of influence, conditions of growth, number, and permanence of higher institutions of learning. I had spent many hours every day for five months in assembling the material by correspondence with every Baptist institution not only in the Mississippi Valley but in the United States, so that I could present East and West in comparison and in contrast. I arranged and wrote out my argument for cumulative effect. On reading the speech today after forty years, it seems to me the most forcible and certainly the most carefully and accurately studied of any of my public efforts. The pastors were frankly astonished at the disclosures. But for reasons which I must now disclose, they could not lift a finger to remedy the situation.

The painful and mistaken litigation, the prolonged struggles and lingering death of the old University, had left an aftermath of profound discouragement and deep dissension among the Baptists of Chicago, ministers and laymen alike. After repeated failures at resuscitation they had finally agreed to give up the idea of establishing a university in the city of Chicago, and to shift their burden to the suburb of Morgan Park.

The authorities of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Morgan Park led by Dr. Northrup, the President, and Dr. Goodspeed, the secretary and financial representative, had conceived the idea in 1886 of starting at Morgan Park a small college with initial property of perhaps Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars as a greatly needed adjunct to the seminary. So, chastened by adversity had been the leading pastors and laymen of the city that they were eager to relieve themselves by adopting the project. But it was believed to be impossible to enlist the interest of the Baptist denomination in the city for this Morgan Park project without an initial gift of from Fifty to a Hundred Thousand Dollars from the wealth of the East. Accordingly, early in 1886 Dr. Goodspeed opened a correspondence with Mr. John D. Rockefeller, his friend and a frequent contributor to the seminary, pleading for an initial contribution of from Fifty to One Hundred Thousand Dollars to start the enterprise. Mr. Rockefeller was personally cordial but skillfully noncommittal. Dr. Goodspeed continued his appeals at intervals for three years. Dr. Harper from Yale endorsed Dr. Goodspeed’s pleas. Drs. Lorimer and Henson, the two most prominent Baptist pastors, joined their entreaties to those of Dr. Goodspeed, and once or twice visited Mr. Rockefeller in New York. They also sought financial help from other wealthy Eastern Baptists. At the same time, they redoubled their efforts to interest Baptists of Chicago and the surrounding territory. They issued and widely disseminated a paper outlining the proposed organization. They chose a tentative Board of Trustees. They designated Dr. Goodspeed to be President. They put forth elaborate questionnaires and circulated them widely to awaken and test public sentiment. All this was for a small college for Morgan Park. The idea of establishing a university in the city of Chicago had been abandoned and now, after years of effort led by Dr. Goodspeed, the modest plans for Morgan Park had failed. They could count on only about Twenty Thousand Dollars from Baptist apathy in Chicago and nothing from the East, for by the spring of 1887 Mr. Rockefeller had become less approachable. His answers were distinctly discouraging in tone. As the summer approached, he began to decline interviews altogether, and at last in July 1888, while I was surveying the field, his secretary wrote for him, closing the subject permanently. No one learned the reason for Mr. Rockefeller’s withdrawal. I think Dr. Goodspeed himself never learned it to the day of his death. But the files of Mr. Rockefeller’s office revealed, many years later, the reasons for his withdrawal. There is no longer any reason for not disclosing them. Mr. Rockefeller’s change of attitude was innocently and rightly brought about by Dr. Strong.

Early in 1887 Mr. Rockefeller, who was then in frequent correspondence with Dr. A. H. Strong, President of the Rochester Theological Seminary, sent him one of Dr. Goodspeed’s powerful and persuasive letters, with one from Dr. Harper, strongly supporting the Morgan Park plan. Mr. Rockefeller asked Dr. Strong’s opinion of the project.

Dr. Strong replied immediately and at length. He said that Baptists needed a powerful college in the West, that Chicago was the only suitable location for it, that Chicago and the West would need it just the same even if the great University which for many years he had advocated were to be founded in New York; that the initial sum proposed for the college was much too small even for the modest beginning proposed at Morgan Park; but that Morgan Park was no place for the college; it would never attract students from the city of Chicago, twelve miles from its centre; that the wealth of Chicago had never been generously enlisted by any denomination for a suburban college or university; that, so far from seeking a college at Morgan Park as an adjunct to the seminary there, the seminary itself ought to move to the heart of the city, to give social, charitable, and evangelical experience to its students and assist in evangelizing the city. The university, or a college to become a university, ought to have a million at least as an initial fund and should be located not at Morgan Park, but within the city. This would call forth the wealth of the city and promised great things for the future.

The purpose of my urgent appeal to the Baptist pastors on October fifteenth, 1888, was to stir them up to united and vigorous action in behalf of a college at Chicago, ultimately to become a university. I purposely refrained from discussing the question of location, but the Chicago Baptist ministers and the authorities at Morgan Park had already done all that it was possible for them to do. I made my speech to an exhausted and hopeless audience. What they did was formally by resolution to shift the whole burden to my shoulders as Executive Secretary of the American Baptist Education Society and go back to their pastoral work to await results, not without sympathy for me in a well-nigh-hopeless task.

And I deserved sympathy. Of all the widespread and long- continued efforts of the leading Chicago pastors, and of the authorities of the seminary at Morgan Park and the complete failure of it all, I knew practically nothing when I addressed the Chicago pastors on October fifteenth, 1888. The reason for my lack of information was that for all the years I had been a busy pastor in Minneapolis, wholly engrossed with my pastoral duties and Baptist interests in Minnesota. So, when I naively delivered my speech to the Chicago pastors, they knew, as I did not, that I was standing on the verge of a chasm, and that destruction was impending. For I had committed myself irrevocably and publicly to a hopeless cause, but on that very day a merciful Providence saved me. The next chapter will tell the story of it.

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The Chicago Policy Advocated