The Promise of a University

Dr. Goodspeed and I had not named ourselves on the new Board of Trustees, and I had supposed that on turning over the campus and the subscriptions we had gathered to the Trustees, and securing their incorporation, my own connection with the institution would wholly cease. But this was not to be. Mr. Rockefeller suggested that I be made a Trustee, and for reasons that will appear later, a large part of my labor and anxiety for more than twenty years was given in cooperation with the officers and Trustees at Chicago, to the upbuilding of the University. My interest in the University has never flagged since the days of our anxious canvass in 1889 but has increased with the amazing expansion of the institution.

At their first meeting the Trustees were faced with the question of the presidency. We had a campus, and a million or more of pledges to be paid through five years in annual instalments. If all had been paid in immediately in cash, it would hardly have sufficed for the opening in two or three years of a modest college. Suitable buildings must be erected, a small corps of instructors gathered, library and apparatus secured, and a body of students attracted. By the charter the President must be a Baptist. Who among Baptists was best fitted for the place?

The question was by no means a new one. From the very outset of the enterprise years before, this question had been in the minds of the little group of friends who had the college in their hearts. All were agreed that Dr. Harper was the man. He knew this. We talked about it frankly, in friendly intimacy with each other, and with him. But he was far from desiring the position. His professorship at Yale was congenial to him; and, while he never absolutely declined, he always objected with entire sincerity. When he became satisfied that Mr. Rockefeller did not intend to found a university with a great sum in Chicago, he thought that let him out and he was personally relieved. Indeed, he at once entered into relations, financial and otherwise, with Yale, which would make his leaving there difficult if not impossible. For he loved to teach and was passionately devoted to his subject of Hebrew and Old Testament Literature. This was a university subject. It had no place in a college such as the Chicago enterprise seemed destined for a long time to be. So long as it was a college only, it offered no suitable place for him. But the situation had now somewhat changed. We had succeeded at Chicago. We had secured a fine campus. Our property now in pledges, cash, and campus amounted to at least a Million and a Quarter. We had a Board of Trustees from which much might be hoped. Baptists everywhere were elated. Chicago business men had disclosed deep interest. Above all, Mr. Rockefeller was visibly gratified. Might he not now be led into larger views? Perhaps the University was after all not so very distant. And then, during the year of our canvass, matters at Yale had taken a turn not altogether to Dr. Harper’s mind. He had found himself limited and was disappointed in some ways. Also, he had allowed himself to overwork and to go without sufficient sleep, and had several times had premonitions of breakdown. We were allowed to learn for certain from a very near and confidential friend of Dr. Harper at Yale that, under favoring conditions and if elected unanimously, Dr. Harper might not perhaps decline the presidency at Chicago. This friend communicated these facts to Goodspeed and me. Thus, matters stood when the new institution was chartered in the summer of 1890, a month or two after the close of our canvass.

The Chicago Board, under these circumstances, asked me to undertake a sort of diplomatic mission to Mr. Rockefeller on the one hand, and to Dr. Harper on the other, to open negotiations looking to Harper’s election to the presidency.

I went first to Cleveland and found Mr. Rockefeller favoring Dr. Harper for President, and ready to do any reasonable thing to facilitate his acceptance. At my suggestion he wrote Dr. Harper to that effect and gave me the letter for delivery in person. In this letter he inserted, without suggestion from me, the following significant and even pivotal sentence. “I confidently expect we will add funds from time to time to those already pledged to place it [the university] upon the most favored basis financially.” Did he mean financially as well provided as, say, Harvard and Columbia were at that time? Certainly, such is not an unreasonable interpretation. Had not Dr. Harper the right to infer from this broad statement that Mr. Rockefeller now intended in his own time and way, if all went well, to make the college a great university, like Harvard or Columbia? I carried this letter to Dr. Harper. After long negotiation in daily conference at New Haven, Dr. Harper and I reached an agreement, subject to Mr. Rockefeller’s approval and cooperation. The main points were as follows: Dr. Harper was not to begin active work as President until a year later, namely, October first, 1891. The Morgan Park Theological Seminary was to be organically united with the University, and buildings were to be erected for it on the new campus in Chicago. The seminary buildings at Morgan Park were to become the property of the University for an academy. To bring these things about, Mr. Rockefeller was to give One Million Dollars more. I was to present the whole plan to Mr. Rockefeller. If he would give the Million, Dr. Harper would accept the presidency. With these terms carefully written out, I again visited Mr. Rockefeller at Cleveland, endorsing the plan and asking for the new Million. Mr. Rockefeller seemed favorable. Dr. Harper was sent for by Mr. Rockefeller for a personal conference at his home in Cleveland. You will be interested in Dr. Harper’s brief but generous letter about this visit. “I did not get to Mr. Rockefeller’s house until two o’clock, Thursday, September fourth [1890], I found there Mr. and Mrs. Faunce and Dr. Broadus and his family. The first hour was occupied in general talk, then business called Mr. Rockefeller away, and Dr. Broadus had a private interview with me in which he tried to assure me that things were favorable. Friday morning, we [Mr. Rockefeller and Dr. Harper] drove out alone and remained away all forenoon. Gates’ representation had made a strong effect on him.”

On Dr. Harper’s verbal agreement to accept the presidency on the conditions which Dr. Harper had laid down and I had presented, Mr. Rockefeller pledged himself to give the additional Million Dollars to the University, payable in seven equal annual installments. The pledge was duly executed, and sent to the trustees, Dr. Harper was duly elected President, union with the Theological Seminary was assured, and on paper at least the foundations of the University of Chicago were laid. But the stretching of the payment of this pledge over seven years was very significant. It indicated that Mr. Rockefeller was then contemplating a slow and cautious development.

I spent much of the summer without vacation in these negotiations, Dr. Goodspeed having retired for a needed rest to his Wisconsin lake. There was not even yet money enough for a good college; Mr. Rockefeller’s new gift was to be spread over seven years, and the promise of a university certainly seemed to look to a distant future for fulfillment.

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The Pivotal Year in Our Family Life