The Story of the University of Chicago

Chapter 6 The College Becomes University

Thomas W. Goodspeed

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THE University, in its inception, was not a university but a college. Mr. Rockefeller's original subscription was for a college. The Education Society undertook only to found a well-equipped college. There were few, however, who supposed that the new institution would long remain a college only. A million dollars looked like an immense amount of money. Almost anything could be done with that tremendous sum. At the time the new institution was founded there were ten colleges under Baptist auspices between Ohio and the Rocky Mountains, and all together they did not have endowments aggregating more than half a million dollars. The promoters of Chicago felt that with twice that sum, more than half of it endowment, the new institution was rich to begin with. Their hopes and expectations were large. They incorporated, therefore, under the title of The University of Chicago.

Not only was the new college, in this spirit of large expectation, named University, but the articles of incorporation, which might be called the charter, con-

(64) -templated far more than a college. A college could have been conducted under its provisions. But it was framed for a university and for a university of the most comprehensive character. It said that the corporation was organized

to establish and maintain a university, in which may be taught all branches of higher learning, and which may comprise and embrace separate departments for literature, law, medicine, music, technology, the various branches of science, both abstract and applied, the cultivation of the fine arts, and all other branches of professional education which may properly be included within the purposes and objects of a university.

While therefore the American Baptist Education Society and Mr. Rockefeller established a college, they at the same time opened the door for any possible enlargement and expansion.

And enlargement and expansion were not slow in coming. Indeed the story of the expansion of the college founded in 1890 into the University of Chicago of 1892 and thereafter reads like a creation of the imagination of some educational dreamer. If it had been prophesied in advance it would have been laughed at as an impossible dream. Its rapidly succeeding events surprised the actors in them not less than they astonished the public. The board of trustees had held but one meeting, the articles of incorporation had hardly been approved by the Secretary of State at Springfield, when the first great step in expansion was taken. In September, 1890, John D. Rockefeller made his

(65) first million-dollar contribution, the purpose of which was to make the college a university with Dr. Harper as its president. It took the following form: $800,000 for non-professional graduate instruction; $100,000 for theological instruction in the Divinity School, and $100,000 for the construction of buildings for that School, which was to be made a part of the University and transferred from Morgan Park to its grounds in the city. A well-equipped academy was to be established in the buildings of the Divinity School in Morgan Park.

Thus many months before a building was planned, more than two years before the work of instruction began, the first great step in expansion was taken, and the name of the new institution received its justification. It became the University of Chicago.

That the Theological Seminary should be made a part of the new University had been the desire and hope of the Seminary people from the beginning. The funds being now provided to bring about such a union and the trustees of both institutions being of the same mind, in April, 1891, the Theological Seminary was made the Divinity School of the University. It brought to the University during that institution's first year 204 students, assets amounting to nearly half a million dollars, and gave it its first professional school.

To one who considers it attentively the plan of

(66) organization of the University will be seen to have been of itself a great step in expansion. It was an imposing scheme. It was indeed the greatest forward step the University ever took. The genius of President Harper never shone more brilliantly than in this great piece of constructive work. What Frederick Scott Oliver said of Alexander Hamilton might with equal truth be written of Dr. Harper:

It was his policy and habit to overshoot the mark, to compel the weaker brethren to consider plans that were too heroic for their natural timidity, confident that the diminished fabric would still be of an ampler proportion than if it had arisen from mean foundations.

The enthusiasm of the chosen leader and his recent achievement in securing from the Founder the million dollars had excited among the trustees the highest expectations. They began to get a vision of a really great University. And the first feeling this vision awakened among them was a doubt about the site. They began to feel that three blocks made too small a campus. They wanted at least another block which would not only increase the size of the site but greatly improve its shape, making it a solid square of four blocks. Mr. Hutchinson urged the purchase of the fourth block, saying that in all the public institutions of Chicago the mistake had been committed of making the plans on too small a scale and thus hampering future development. The block in question

(67) fronted south on the Midway Plaisance and east on University Avenue. Mr. Field wanted $150,000 for this fourth block, but offered to contribute $5,000 and after the payment of $40,000 down to give the University ten years' time on the balance. The trustees hated to go into debt, but, Mr. Ryerson offering to contribute $25,000 toward the first payment, the block was bought. In September, 1891, the City Council vacated the streets and alleys running through the new campus, giving the University a compact site of four blocks, extending two blocks each way with a south front on the Midway Plaisance of eight hundred feet.

This fourth step in expansion was one of great importance. While the trustees hesitated over it little could be done in any direction. The buildings could not be planned. Money could not be asked for, since no definite plans could be presented. The enlarging of the site changed everything. For the first time it became possible to make a general scheme for covering the site with buildings. The architect submitted such a scheme which excited great interest and admiration. It was looked upon by many as a dream of a far distant future. A hundred years might see it realized! As a matter of fact one-third of that time saw the dream practically transmuted into enduring structures of stone. Energy was at once released in effective appeals for funds, and all the wheels of progress

(68) were speedily set in motion. Looking back after a third of a century on the growth of the University, one wonders that there should have been any difference of opinion about the necessity of enlarging the site to twenty-four acres—a site which in twenty years became a hundred acres. But it must be remembered that the question arose nearly two years before the institution opened. It had no president, no professors, no students. It had no funds with which to buy additional acres. The original site was not paid for, and no one knew where to begin in asking for money to enlarge it. It was felt that perhaps too great expectations were cherished. There might not be the extraordinary growth and development expected. It is clear enough, long after the event, that, though the trustees hesitated, they decided the question with great wisdom. It was not so clear at the moment. The whole transaction illustrates the fact that the interests of the new institution were in the hands of careful, conservative, and at the same time farsighted men.

These movements toward enlargement came so fast that before one was completed another was under way. Sometimes three important steps in expansion were trying to get themselves taken at the same time. Thus while the taking over of the Divinity School was going forward, the enlargement of the site was being considered. And in January, 1891, before either of these important movements was concluded another

(69) great advance had been initiated. This was the movement, which, in a very few months, resulted in the Ogden Graduate School of Science. Dr. Harper was still in New Haven, and had not yet accepted the presidency. Indeed he was hesitating as to whether he could accept or must decline. At this very critical moment he received a letter from Rev. Leighton Williams of New York which asked him to appoint a time to meet in that city a gentleman who wished to confer with him "in reference to the possibility of an endowment for scientific studies."

Dr. Harper named so early a date that in less than a week the conference was held. The man who wished the interview was Andrew H. Green, one of the executors and trustees under the will of William B. Ogden. It will be recalled that Mr. Ogden had been for many years a trustee of the first University of Chicago. He had been one of Chicago's leading citizens in the early history of the city and was its first mayor. He succeeded Stephen A. Douglas as chairman of the board of trustees of the Old University and held that position until his death after a service of sixteen years. Mr. Ogden was much interested in the first University and was believed to cherish generous intentions toward it. It was, therefore, peculiarly fitting that his executors, Mr. Green and Mrs. Ogden, should interest themselves in his name in the new University which had taken the name of the for-

(70) -mer one, had adopted its alumni, and, commanding public confidence and giving every promise of permanence and growth as the old one had not, invited great endowments. Dr. Harper's first conference with Mr. Green was held on January 10, 1891. It resulted so favorably that two days later Mr. Green wrote to Dr. Harper asking if the trustees would accept an endowment of $300,000 to $500,000 for a scientific school "to be named by the donors."

On January 19, Dr. Harper assured Mr. Green that his proposal would be "most gladly and heartily accepted by the board of trustees," and that it had "been one of the cherished plans of those most intimately connected with the organization to devote special attention to the encouragement of scientific research." In an elaborate discussion of the scope and conduct of the school, he proposed that it should be a graduate school of science, that fellowships for advanced students be provided for as well as the support of professors, that provision be made for scientific investigation as well as instruction, more emphasis to be put on the ability of professors to investigate than on their ability to teach, that the school should include "at least the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology and Mineralogy, and Astronomy," that the professors be given every encouragement to publish the results of their investigations, and that "the entire graduate work of the University in the

(71) subjects mentioned be done in connection with this school of science." These suggestions were entirely acceptable to the executors of Mr. Ogden's estate, and the negotiation resulted in the designation to the University of 70 per cent of the moneys to be devoted to benevolences under the terms of Mr. Ogden's will. This endowment became the basis of the Ogden (Graduate) School of Science, and in the end added nearly $600,000 to the funds of the University. Such was the third movement toward expansion, inaugurated many months before the institution opened its doors to students, before, indeed, a professor was appointed or a student enrolled.

In the summer and autumn of 1 891 President Harper spent three months abroad. He returned in October with two important things calling for attention. It had been determined that the University should begin the work of instruction October 1, 1892. The erection of buildings had not yet begun. Not only must the necessary buildings be made ready, but a large sum of money must be raised for their construction and equipment. When in September, 1890, Mr. Rockefeller gave a million dollars to make the college a university he had been assured that Chicago would quickly respond to his liberal gifts for the endowment of instruction by large contributions for buildings and equipment. More than eight months passed and very little was done in Chicago in the way of raising the

(72) additional funds which the Founder had been assured would be contributed.

As the months passed, President Harper proceeded with his plans to so organize the University and man its various departments with professors that from the day it opened it should take its place in the first rank of American universities. It was a most ambitious program for a new institution, and demanded much larger funds than were in hand or in prospect. To meet this demand Mr. Rockefeller again came forward and with rare magnanimity gave another million dollars "to remain forever a further endowment for the University, the income to be used only for the current expenses." It was like him to give the million in bonds bearing accrued interest from December 1, 1891, three months of interest prior to the date of the contribution. This again was a new and long step in advance taken seven months before the University was to open.

The feeling in Chicago over this great contribution was one of universal gratification. Marshall Field said: "Now Chicago must put a million dollars into the buildings of the University." The newspapers agreed with Mr. Field, the Post printing an editorial, "Chicago's Turn Next," to the effect that Chicago must now erect the buildings. This was precisely the feeling the trustees desired to see. For a year they had been looking for the right time and the

(73) right way to begin a movement to raise a large fund for buildings and other necessities. It was not, however, until February, 1892, that a real beginning was made by the offer of a chemical laboratory by Sidney A. Kent. On April 7 Marshall Field agreed to give $100,000, on condition that a million was secured in sixty days. Two days later he extended the time to ninety days. With this extension the undertaking was felt to be well-nigh impossible of accomplishment. But even the impossible had to be attempted and we went about it with all the courage we could muster.

When Mr. Field made his subscription,- conditioned on the securing of a full million dollars by July Ι0, 1892, the subscription of Sidney A. Kent for the Chemical Laboratory, already made, was to be counted as a part of this sum. Mr. Kent generously increased his pledge to $235,000. Much quiet work was done during May, and $50,000 was given by Mrs. Elizabeth Kelly and $18,000 by other women for halls for women students. Early in June came a great subscription of $150,000 from Silas B. Cobb, and immediately after a cablegram from Martin A. Ryerson, who was abroad, for a similar amount. These great pledges were quickly followed by $50,000 from Mrs. Nancy A. Foster and hope ran high in all hearts. George C. Walker gave $130,000. On June 30, with ten days to go, we had $860,000. During the next two days some small subscriptions were found, and at the end of the week,

(74) on July 2, the workers were sitting in the University office in a somewhat subdued frame of mind. It was about four o'clock and we were saying that, as Sunday was the next day and Monday the Fourth of July we had only five working days left. At that moment a messenger from Mrs. Jerome Beecher came in and said that she had sent him to say that she might be depended on for $50,000. Seldom have men been so uplifted. They were inspired with new hope and new purpose. President Harper went at once and called on Mrs. A. J. Snell, and three days later received from her $50,000. The last day of the canvass was Saturday, July 9, and when on that day the trustees met, the president was able to announce that a little over a million dollars had been subscribed. To crown the work Mr. Hutchinson read a paper signed by twenty of the leading business men of the city, pledging themselves pro rata, for any deficiency up to one hundred thousand dollars. The following were the names attached to this guaranty: H. Ν. Higinbotham, Charles L. Hutchinson, H. H. Kohlsaat, Henry H. Getty, Ferdinand W. Peck, Clarence I. Peck, Charles Counselman, E. Buckingham, Henry Botsford, Ernest A. Hamill, Byron L. Smith, Edwin G. Foreman, William T. Baker, T. J. Lefens, John J. Mitchell, A. A. Sprague, O. S. A. Sprague, A. C. Bartlett, John R. Walsh, Henry A. Rust. This paper had been prepared and circulated without the knowledge of President Harper

(75) and the secretary. It came to the president's knowledge a few days before the end, but only spurred him to more energetic effort. And thus was this unprecedented undertaking accomplished and the million dollars raised in ninety days. This fund provided the material expansion corresponding to the educational enlargement made possible by the Rockefeller endowments and the Ogden designation.

These steps in expansion were not successive and orderly steps. They came so fast that they crowded upon and overlapped each other. They were all taken within twenty-one months. In that brief space of time, and before the doors were opened for students, the college with seventeen acres as a site, $1,000,000, and provision for one building, had developed into the University of Chicago with an enlarged and much improved site, $4,000,000, and provision for ten buildings, with a faculty of one hundred and twenty teachers and with an Academy, a College, two Graduate Schools, and a Divinity School.


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