The Story of the University of Chicago

Chapter 3 The First Million Dollars

Thomas W. Goodspeed

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THE job that confronted us in Chicago on June 1, 1889, was to add to Mr. Rockefeller's subscription $400,000, making a full million by June 1, 1890. We got busy at once. A representative meeting of Baptists, held on June 5, appointed a College Committee, which, on June 10, appointed me financial secretary to co-operate with Dr. Gates in raising the required fund. Dr. Gates moved to Morgan Park, where I was living, and devoted himself for the ensuing year to this one undertaking.

The first step taken was the issuing of a preliminary statement and appeal which was distributed in the congregations of churches in Chicago and sent to 1,200 pastors throughout the West for distribution among their people. This being done, we settled down to the real work of personal solicitation. We went everywhere together. From twenty to thirty calls were sometimes made' in a single day. Because I was acquainted with the Baptist public it was my task, after a day's work of solicitation was over, to prepare a new list of people to be called on the next day.

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There was no hesitation as to where the first appeal must be made. The new institution was to be located in Chicago. It was to be founded under Baptist auspices. It was to be, as far as possible, the contribution of that denomination to the cause of education. It was to re-establish in Chicago that educational work the failure of which had been a sorrow and humiliation. The chief appeal must be to the Baptists of Chicago. They were a comparatively feeble folk financially. But they understood perfectly that the responsibility for the success of the campaign rested, in the first instance, on them. To their honor, it must be said, they did not shrink from, the great adventure, but welcomed it with enthusiasm. The Chicago churches responded liberally, the subscription in one of them reaching $80,000, in another $50,000, in another $20,000, in a fourth $7,500, and all the rest, in proportion 'to their ability, did fully as well. So ready was the Baptist response that at the end of sixty days $200,000 had been subscribed. At the end of the campaign when all the returns were in, it was found that the Baptist people of Chicago had subscribed $233,000. There were, of course, exceptions to the well-nigh universal interest. One man of wealth met us at his door and, knowing our errand, did not admit us to his house, but said immediately, "I cannot help you, I am too poor." I felt compelled to say to him, "Νο, you are not too poor. You are without

( 26) interest" This man came to the great jubilation meeting at the close of the campaign and warmly congratulated me on our success. Of the $200,000 raised in sixty days almost all had come from the Baptist people of Chicago. The appeals sent to 1,200 churches throughout the West had been fruitful in expressions of sympathy, but in subscriptions practically barren of results. We had every warrant for calling on the Baptists of the entire country. We were the agents of a national organization which had undertaken, in the name of the denomination, to establish the new institution. There were, of course, evident reasons why the Baptists of the Middle West should co-operate liberally. The institution was being established for them and their children.

Having practically exhausted the resources of help among the Baptists of Chicago, we were compelled to make our next appeal to the churches of the West. On October i, 1889, therefore, the appeals to the country began. These appeals were made in letters and circulars distributed by the thousand, in visits to other cities and through the columns of the denominational press, particularly through The Standard of Chicago. The columns of The Standard were generously placed at our disposal and through them every corner of the West was reached and kept informed of the progress of the work. As the denominational organ at the center of the movement, it was in a position

( 27) to render effective aid, and we could hardly have made it more useful in our work, if we had ourselves owned the paper. We began our systematic campaign to reach the churches of the country in its columns on October 3, 1889, in a very urgent appeal, telling how nobly the Baptists of Chicago had done and how imperative it was that they should now take up the work. Subscription blanks were sent to many pastors and laymen. But the results were almost nothing. Discouraged, but not despairing, we continued these appeals almost every week and sent subscription blanks more and more widely. Interest visibly increased, but subscriptions were few and small. We persisted, but it was not until January, 1890, that responses began to come that encouraged us. The stream, after beginning to flow, gathered volume every day. On February 1 8, we were able to say to the readers of our appeals: "We have thus far received from the Northwest, outside Chicago, about $30,000. If we can secure $70,000 outside the city our success will be assured." That anyone receiving The Standard who was disposed to help might have a subscription blank at hand we printed one in the paper. These blanks soon began to return in the shape of good subscriptions. The interest among the churches visibly increased. On March 20, the secretaries announced in The Standard that $40,000 had been secured outside of Chicago. Returns had so increased

( 28) that they were coming in at the rate of nearly $3,000 a week. In response to renewed requests to set a day for the presentation of the cause of the new institution in the churches we named the second Sunday in April as "University Day." Having been urged to insert the subscription form again in The Standard we did this also. The following week this was done once more and for the last time, and it was announced that up to that date a total of seven hundred subscriptions had been received. At the close of the campaign eight weeks later, the number of subscribers had more than doubled. On April 1, $100,000 remained to be secured. In the first two months of the campaign $200,000 had been subscribed. It had taken eight months to raise the third $100,000. How could a like sum be found in the two months now remaining ? It was evident that help must be found in the East as well as in the West. Dr. Gates therefore spent a full month in March and April seeking such help in the eastern cities. The results, amounting to nearly $1,000 for every day of his absence, contributed essentially to the final success.

University Day in the churches produced $5,000 in a single week. In the end the appeal to the churches was a great success. At the outset it seemed doomed to failure, but as the end of our year drew near the volume of subscriptions increased wonderfully.

In the very last week of the campaign the Evanston church reported $7,500, and the Woodward Ave-

( 29) -nue Church of Detroit, Michigan, $15,000. Scores of other congregations sent in their offerings and large numbers of individual subscriptions were received. When the campaign ended it was found that $116,000 had been subscribed outside of Chicago. Such was the effort to enlist the co-operation of individuals and churches in places beyond the narrow limits of a single city and so unexpectedly great was the result. Great, but not enough.

We, therefore, sought to open a third fountain of benevolence. After anxious consultations, we determined to appeal to the general business public of Chicago. Feeling that in trying to see men of wealth we must be introduced by someone better known than ourselves, we sought help in getting such introductions. But we soon found that if we made good use of our time we must do the work ourselves, together, depending on no outside help.

The first man called on, in this new departure, was Charles L. Hutchinson, who promised help, entered heartily into our plans, and continued to give us suggestions and assistance to the end of the campaign. Our reception by Mr. Hutchinson greatly encouraged us. We were still more encouraged as we continued to get a sympathetic hearing and receive assurances of help. We were received so well and so many assurances of help were given us that our courage was greatly increased and our hopes began to enlarge. We

( 30) soon had the names of seventeen men from whom we had assurances of substantial assistance, though none of them had yet made formal and definite subscriptions.

Matters had reached this stage when, on December 4, 1889, a call was made on Marshall Field, the leading merchant of Chicago. Some time had already been spent in inspecting possible sites for the new institution. Finally unoccupied ground was found fronting on the Midway Plaisance between Washington and Jackson parks. It was recognized at once as the ideal site. Learning that it belonged to Mr. Field it was determined to ask him to donate ten acres for the purpose. He received the request with hospitality, but said the firm was about to make the annual inventory and learn the results of the year's business. He asked his visitors, therefore, to come and see him six weeks later. Before the end of the six weeks a letter was sent to him embodying the following points:

That his favorable decision would lead to certain and great success; that any section of the land he preferred to give would be satisfactory; that an agreement would be made to expend at least $200,000 in buildings and improvements within five years; that these improvements would be begun within one year from June 1, 1890; that a deed of the land would not be asked until these conditions, or such as he

( 31) might impose, were fulfilled; that every effort would be made to increase the endowments and equipments every year and to make a really great institution. We next called on Mr. Field on January 15, 1890. The details of the interview are preserved in a letter written four days later to my sons at college. The first thing Mr. Field said was this:

"I have not yet made up my mind about giving you that ten acres. But I have decided one thing. If I give it to you, I shall wish you to make up the $400,000 independently of this donation."

We assured him that this we could and would do. He then had his maps brought and indicated the tract he had in mind to give, lying on the southeast corner of Ellis Avenue and Fifty-sixth Street. We thought we saw that Mr. Field had really decided in his own mind to make the donation and therefore felt that we might safely urge him to do so. We asked if Mr. Gates might not telegraph Mr. Rockefeller that he had decided to give the site. He repeated that he was not quite ready to go so far as this. We then said:

"Mr. Field, our work is really waiting for your decision. We are anxious to push it rapidly; indeed, we must do so; and if we can say that you have given us the site, it will help us immensely with every man we approach."

After a moment's reflection, Mr. Field answered: "Well, I suppose I might as well decide it now as

( 32) at any time. If the conditions are satisfactory, you may say that I will give this ten acres as the site."

He pronounced the points made in the letter sent to him satisfactory and the secretaries accepted the condition named by him, viz., that they should go on and secure the full $400,000 independently of his donation. The matter of the site finally took the following form: Mr. Field gave to the Education Society for the new institution one and one-half blocks and sold to it for $132,500 another block and a half, the three blocks beginning at the Midway Plaisance and running north along the east side of Ellis Avenue two blocks to Fifty-seventh Street and east along the south side of Fifty-seventh Street two blocks to University (then Lexington) Avenue. These three blocks constituted the site afterward transferred by the Education Society to the University.

The impulse which we had assured Mr. Field would be given to our work by the donation of the site became immediately apparent. We had been at work among the business men three months. We now had the names of twenty-three men of wealth who had assured us of help, but we had not secured a single definite, formal subscription. During the week following the giving of the site, however, three subscriptions of $1,000 each and two of $5,000 each were secured among the business men. The work among them went on from this time with increasing success.

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The well-nigh universal attitude was one of sympathetic interest and of willingness and desire to assist. No men were ever better treated than were we two unknown solicitors for money.

Such indeed was the public sympathy and interest that two independent, auxiliary movements were launched that contributed greatly to the final success. The first of these was undertaken by the alumni of the Old University. An inconsiderable sum was subscribed toward endowing a chair as a memorial of a fellow-alumnus, Edward Olson, of the class of 1873. Many subscriptions were made in addition to those for this memorial and there were received from the old alumni aggregate pledges of $30,000.

The other auxiliary movement was inaugurated and carried through by the Standard Club, the great Jewish club of the city. At a meeting held April 8, 1890, the club voted unanimously to raise $25,000 for the new institution. This they did, the total pledges received from the Jews amounting to $27,000. This movement gave a new impulse to our work. Men were found increasingly ready to respond to the appeals made to them. On May 1 we issued A Brief Final Statement, setting forth that $50,000 was still lacking and must be raised during the next thirty days, which was sent to a large number of business men. The next week the subscriptions reached $16,000. The week following they aggregated $30,000.

( 34) We had undertaken to raise among the business men $100,000. Including Mr. Field's gift of ten acres of the site, they gave us $200,000.

The meeting of the Baptist National Anniversaries of May, 1890, was held in Chicago. The interest of the entire series of meetings, covering a week, centered in those of the Education Society. Dr. Gates submitted the report on the general work of the year and called on me to report on our joint efforts in securing the subscriptions for the founding of the new institution. In the course of my report this sentence occurred: "It was this universal interest and this country-wide rally to our support that secured success." At this point I interrupted my report and incidentally expressed the hope that the roll of states and territories represented in the subscription might be completed. The official report of the meeting says:

At once two or three people are up to speak for missing states. Maine, South Carolina, West Virginia, Utah, are in the field so nearly together that it is impossible to say which led off. Then someone speaks for the Sandwich Islands. The states and territories have all answered. The doors are opened to the nations of the earth .... the nooks and corners of the atlas are ransacked that the world may have a share in the privilege of building the University of Chicago. It is a cheerful scene and yet with an element of earnestness which the report of it may fail to convey. The subscriptions are small, they are found when they are footed up to aggregate but a few thousand dollars, but they represent hearty congratulations and a very widespread sympathy.

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The total subscription of the year, including all pledges, was found to amount to $549,000. It was approved and accepted by Mr. Rockefeller. A great jubilation meeting was held in the then newly completed Auditorium. As one year before in Boston, the great assembly united in singing the Doxology. Again the anxieties, fears, hopes, and struggles of the year had ended in enthusiasm, shouting, and songs of praise.

The board of trustees was immediately appointed by the Education Society. Its first meeting was held July 9, 1890, when Dr. Gates submitted an important statement from the Education Society, reciting "the engagements and obligations which that Society entered into with the subscribers" to the million-dollar fund and concluding thus: "We now commit to you this high trust. The erection of the buildings, the organization of the institution, the expenditure and investment of its funds, and all that pertains to its work, its growth and its prosperity is placed absolutely without any reserve under your control."

On September 8, 1890, the trustees of the first University of Chicago changed its name to "The Old University" and the way being thus opened to give the new institution its name, two days later the Secretary of State of Illinois issued the Certificate of Incorporation to it as the University of Chicago. The second meeting of the board of trustees was held

( 36) September 18, memorable because it witnessed the unanimous election of Dr. Harper to the presidency. The officers of the Board were E. Nelson Blake, president; Martin A. Ryerson, vice-president; Charles L. Hutchinson, treasurer; Dr. Justin A. Smith (editor of The Standard), recording secretary; T. W. Goodspeed, financial secretary.

At the end of the first fiscal year June 30, 1891, $160,000 of the subscriptions to the $400,000 fund had been collected and the proportion due from Mr. Rockefeller, $240,000, had been paid. The block and a half of ground purchased from Mr. Field was paid for and on August 24, 1891, the Education Society conveyed the entire site of three blocks to the University. Thus the Society, in accordance with the policy adopted in the beginning, "to exercise no control over the financial affairs of the institution beyond the time when in the judgment of the board the institution is solidly founded," now withdrew entirely and, turning over all funds and pledges, left the new University it had done so much to originate to the sole care of its own trustees. The first million was now in its hands.


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