Chapter 7 | How a University Was Founded | Acres of Diamonds

THE story of the foundation and rise of Temple University is an extraordinary story; it is not only extraordinary, but inspiring; it is not only inspiring, but full of romance.

For the university came out of nothing!--nothing but the need of a young man and the fact that he told the need to one who, throughout his life, has felt the impulse to help any one in need and has always obeyed the impulse.

I asked Dr. Conwell, up at his home in the Berkshires, to tell me himself just how the university began, and he said that it began because it was needed and succeeded because of the loyal work of the teachers. And when I asked for details he was silent for a while, looking off into the brooding twilight as it lay over the waters and the trees and the hills, and then he said:

"It was all so simple; it all came about so naturally. One evening, after a service, a young man of the congregation came to me and I saw that he was disturbed about something. I had him sit down by me, and I knew that in a few moments he would tell me what was troubling him.

" 'Dr. Conwell,' he said, abruptly, 'I earn but little money, and I see no immediate chance of earning more. I have to support not only myself, but my mother. It leaves nothing at all. Yet my longing is to be a minister. It is the one ambition of my life. Is there anything that I can do?'

" 'Any man,' I said to him, 'with the proper determination and ambition can study sufficiently at night to win his desire.'

" 'I have tried to think so,' said he, 'but I have not been able to see anything clearly. I want to study, and am ready to give every spare minute to it, but I don't know how to get at it.'

"I thought a few minutes, as I looked at him. He was strong in his desire and in his ambition to fulfil it--strong enough, physically and mentally, for work of the body and of the mind--and he needed something more than generalizations of sympathy.

" 'Come to me one evening a week and I will begin teaching you myself,' I said, 'and at least you will in that way make a beginning'; and I named the evening.

"His face brightened and he eagerly said that he would come, and left me; but in a little while he came hurrying back again. 'May I bring a friend with me?' he said.

"I told him to bring as many as he wanted to, for more than one would be an advantage, and when the evening came there were six friends with him. And that first evening I began to teach them the foundations of Latin."

He stopped as if the story was over. He was looking out thoughtfully into the waning light, and I knew that his mind was busy with those days of the beginning of the institution he so loves, and whose continued success means so much to him. In a little while he went on:

"That was the beginning of it, and there is little more to tell. By the third evening the number of pupils had increased to forty; others joined in helping me, and a room was hired; then a little house, then a second house. From a few students and teachers we became a college. After a while our buildings went up on Broad Street alongside the Temple Church, and after another while we became a university. From the first our aim"--(I noticed how quickly it had become "our" instead of "my")--"our aim was to give education to those who were unable to get it through the usual channels. And so that was really all there was to it."

That was typical of Russell Conwell--to tell with brevity of what he has done, to point out the beginnings of something, and quite omit to elaborate as to the results. And that, when you come to know him, is precisely what he means you to understand--that it is the beginning of anything that is important, and that if a thing is but earnestly begun and set going in the right way it may just as easily develop big results as little results.

But his story was very far indeed from being "all there was to it," for he had quite omitted to state the extraordinary fact that, beginning with those seven pupils, coming to his library on an evening in 1884, the Temple University has numbered, up to Commencement-time in 1915, 88,821 students! Nearly one hundred thousand students, and in the lifetime of the founder! Really, the magnitude of such a work cannot be exaggerated, nor the vast importance of it when it is considered that most of these eighty-eight thousand students would not have received their education had it not been for Temple University. And it all came from the instant response of Russell Conwell to the immediate need presented by a young man without money!

"And there is something else I want to say," said Dr. Conwell, unexpectedly. "I want to say, more fully than a mere casual word, how nobly the work was taken up by volunteer helpers; professors from the University of Pennsylvania and teachers from the public schools and other local institutions gave freely of what time they could until the new venture was firmly on its way. I honor those who came so devotedly to help. And it should be remembered that in those early days the need was even greater than it would now appear, for there were then no night schools or manual-training schools. Since then the city of Philadelphia has gone into such work, and as fast as it has taken up certain branches the Temple University has put its energy into the branches just higher. And there seems no lessening of the need of it," he added, ponderingly.

No; there is certainly no lessening of the need of it! The figures of the annual catalogue would alone show that.

As early as 1887, just three years after the beginning, the Temple College, as it was by that time called, issued its first catalogue, which set forth with stirring words that the intent of its founding was to:

"Provide such instruction as shall be best adapted to the higher education of those who are compelled to labor at their trade while engaged in study.

"Cultivate a taste for the higher and most useful branches of learning.

"Awaken in the character of young laboring men and women a determined ambition to be useful to their fellow-men."

The college--the university as it in time came to be--early broadened its scope, but it has from the first continued to aim at the needs of those unable to secure education without such help as, through its methods, it affords.

It was chartered in 1888, at which time its numbers had reached almost six hundred, and it has ever since had a constant flood of applicants. "It has demonstrated," as Dr. Conwell puts it, "that those who work for a living have time for study." And he, though he does not himself add this, has given the opportunity.

He feels especial pride in the features by which lectures and recitations are held at practically any hour which best suits the convenience of the students. If any ten students join in a request for any hour from nine in the morning to ten at night a class is arranged for them, to meet that request! This involves the necessity for a much larger number of professors and teachers than would otherwise be necessary, but that is deemed a slight consideration in comparison with the immense good done by meeting the needs of workers.

Also President Conwell--for of course he is the president of the university--is proud of the fact that the privilege of graduation depends entirely upon knowledge gained; that graduation does not depend upon having listened to any set number of lectures or upon having attended for so many terms or years. If a student can do four years' work in two years or in three he is encouraged to do it, and if he cannot even do it in four he can have no diploma.

Obviously, there is no place at Temple University for students who care only for a few years of leisured ease. It is a place for workers, and not at all for those who merely wish to be able to boast that they attended a university. The students have come largely from among railroad clerks, bank clerks, bookkeepers, teachers, preachers, mechanics, salesmen, drug clerks, city and United States government employees, widows, nurses, housekeepers, brakemen, firemen, engineers, motormen, conductors, and shop hands.

It was when the college became strong enough, and sufficiently advanced in scholarship and standing, and broad enough in scope, to win the name of university that this title was officially granted to it by the State of Pennsylvania, in 1907, and now its educational plan includes three distinct school systems.

First: it offers a high-school education to the student who has to quit school after leaving the grammar-school.

Second: it offers a full college education, with the branches taught in long-established high-grade colleges, to the student who has to quit on leaving the high-school.

Third: it offers further scientific or professional education to the college graduate who must go to work immediately on quitting college, but who wishes to take up some such course as law or medicine or engineering.

Out of last year's enrolment of 3,654 it is interesting to notice that the law claimed 141; theology, 182; medicine and pharmacy and dentistry combined, 357; civil engineering, 37; also that the teachers' college, with normal courses on such subjects as household arts and science, kindergarten work, and physical education, took 174; and still more interesting, in a way, to see that 269 students were enrolled for the technical and vocational courses, such as cooking and dress-making, millinery, manual crafts, school-gardening, and story-telling. There were 511 in high-school work, and 243 in elementary education. There were 79 studying music, and 68 studying to be trained nurses. There were 606 in the college of liberal arts and sciences, and in the department of commercial education there were 987--for it is a university that offers both scholarship and practicality.

Temple University is not in the least a charitable institution. Its fees are low, and its hours are for the convenience of the students themselves, but it is a place of absolute independence. It is, indeed, a place of far greater independence, so one of the professors pointed out, than are the great universities which receive millions and millions of money in private gifts and endowments.

Temple University in its early years was sorely in need of money, and often there were thrills of expectancy when some man of mighty wealth seemed on the point of giving. But not a single one ever did, and now the Temple likes to feel that it is glad of it. The Temple, to quote its own words, is "An institution for strong men and women who can labor with both mind and body."

And the management is proud to be able to say that, although great numbers have come from distant places, "not one of the many thousands ever failed to find an opportunity to support himself."

Even in the early days, when money was needed for the necessary buildings (the buildings of which Conwell dreamed when he left second-story doors in his church!), the university--college it was then called--had won devotion from those who knew that it was a place where neither time nor money was wasted, and where idleness was a crime, and in the donations for the work were many such items as four hundred dollars from factory-workers who gave fifty cents each, and two thousand dollars from policemen who gave a dollar each. Within two or three years past the State of Pennsylvania has begun giving it a large sum annually, and this state aid is public recognition of Temple University as an institution of high public value. The state money is invested in the brains and hearts of the ambitious.

So eager is Dr. Conwell to place the opportunity of education before every one, that even his servants must go to school! He is not one of those who can see needs that are far away but not those that are right at home. His belief in education, and in the highest attainable education, is profound, and it is not only on account of the abstract pleasure and value of education, but its power of increasing actual earning power and thus making a worker of more value to both himself and the community.

Many a man and many a woman, while continuing to work for some firm or factory, has taken Temple technical courses and thus fitted himself or herself for an advanced position with the same employer. The Temple knows of many such, who have thus won prominent advancement. And it knows of teachers who, while continuing to teach, have fitted themselves through the Temple courses for professorships. And it knows of many a case of the rise of a Temple student that reads like an Arabian Nights' fancy!--of advance from bookkeeper to editor, from office-boy to bank president, from kitchen maid to school principal, from street-cleaner to mayor! The Temple University helps them that help themselves.

President Conwell told me personally of one case that especially interested him because it seemed to exhibit, in especial degree, the Temple possibilities; and it particularly interested me because it also showed, in high degree, the methods and personality of Dr. Conwell himself.

One day a young woman came to him and said she earned only three dollars a week and that she desired very much to make more. "Can you tell me how to do it?" she said.

He liked her ambition and her directness, but there was something that he felt doubtful about, and that was that her hat looked too expensive for three dollars a week!

Now Dr. Conwell is a man whom you would never suspect of giving a thought to the hat of man or woman! But as a matter of fact there is very little that he does not see.

But though the hat seemed too expensive for three dollars a week, Dr. Conwell is not a man who makes snap-judgments harshly, and in particular he would be the last man to turn away hastily one who had sought him out for help. He never felt, nor could possibly urge upon any one, contentment with a humble lot; he stands for advancement; he has no sympathy with that dictum of the smug, that has come to us from a nation tight bound for centuries by its gentry and aristocracy, about being contented with the position in which God has placed you, for he points out that the Bible itself holds up advancement and success as things desirable.

And, as to the young woman before him, it developed, through discreet inquiry veiled by frank discussion of her case, that she had made the expensive-looking hat herself! Whereupon not only did all doubtfulness and hesitation vanish, but he saw at once how she could better herself. He knew that a woman who could make a hat like that for herself could make hats for other people, and so, "Go into millinery as a business," he advised.

"Oh--if I only could!" she exclaimed. "But I know that I don't know enough."

"Take the millinery course in Temple University," he responded.

She had not even heard of such a course, and when he went on to explain how she could take it and at the same time continue at her present work until the course was concluded, she was positively ecstatic--it was all so unexpected, this opening of the view of a new and broader life.

"She was an unusual woman," concluded Dr. Conwell, "and she worked with enthusiasm and tirelessness. She graduated, went to an up-state city that seemed to offer a good field, opened a millinery establishment there, with her own name above the door, and became prosperous. That was only a few years ago. And recently I had a letter from her, telling me that last year she netted a clear profit of three thousand six hundred dollars!"

I remember a man, himself of distinguished position, saying of Dr. Conwell, "It is difficult to speak in tempered language of what he has achieved." And that just expresses it; the temptation is constantly to use superlatives--for superlatives fit! Of course he has succeeded for himself, and succeeded marvelously, in his rise from the rocky hill farm, but he has done so vastly more than that in inspiring such hosts of others to succeed!

A dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions-- and what realizations have come! And it interested me profoundly not long ago, when Dr. Conwell, talking of the university, unexpectedly remarked that he would like to see such institutions scattered throughout every state in the Union. "All carried on at slight expense to the students and at hours to suit all sorts of working men and women," he added, after a pause; and then, abruptly, "I should like to see the possibility of higher education offered to every one in the United States who works for a living."

There was something superb in the very imagining of such a nation-wide system. But I did not ask whether or not he had planned any details for such an effort. I knew that thus far it might only be one of his dreams--but I also knew that his dreams had a way of becoming realities. I had a fleeting glimpse of his soaring vision. It was amazing to find a man of more than three-score and ten thus dreaming of more worlds to conquer. And I thought, what could the world have accomplished if Methuselah had been a Conwell!--or, far better, what wonders could be accomplished if Conwell could but be a Methuselah!

He has all his life been a great traveler. He is a man who sees vividly and who can describe vividly. Yet often his letters, even from places of the most profound interest, are mostly concerned with affairs back home. It is not that he does not feel, and feel intensely, the interest of what he is visiting, but that his tremendous earnestness keeps him always concerned about his work at home. There could be no stronger example than what I noticed in a letter he wrote from Jerusalem. "I am in Jerusalem! And here at Gethsemane and at the Tomb of Christ"--reading thus far, one expects that any man, and especially a minister, is sure to say something regarding the associations of the place and the effect of these associations on his mind; but Conwell is always the man who is different--"And here at Gethsemane and at the Tomb of Christ, I pray especially for the Temple University." That is Conwellism!

That he founded a hospital--a work in itself great enough for even a great life is but one among the striking incidents of his career. And it came about through perfect naturalness. For he came to know, through his pastoral work and through his growing acquaintance with the needs of the city, that there was a vast amount of suffering and wretchedness and anguish, because of the inability of the existing hospitals to care for all who needed care. There was so much sickness and suffering to be alleviated, there were so many deaths that could be prevented--and so he decided to start another hospital.

And, like everything with him, the beginning was small. That cannot too strongly be set down as the way of this phenomenally successful organizer. Most men would have to wait until a big beginning could be made, and so would most likely never make a beginning at all. But Conwell's way is to dream of future bigness, but be ready to begin at once, no matter how small or insignificant the beginning may appear to others.

Two rented rooms, one nurse, one patient--this was the humble beginning, in 1891, of what has developed into the great Samaritan Hospital. In a year there was an entire house, fitted up with wards and operating-room. Now it occupies several buildings, including and adjoining that first one, and a great new structure is planned. But even as it is, it has a hundred and seventy beds, is fitted with all modern hospital appliances, and has a large staff of physicians; and the number of surgical operations performed there is very large.

It is open to sufferers of any race or creed, and the poor are never refused admission, the rule being that treatment is free for those who cannot pay, but that such as can afford it shall pay according to their means.

And the hospital has a kindly feature that endears it to patients and their relatives alike, and that is that, by Dr. Conwell's personal order, there are not only the usual week-day hours for visiting, but also one evening a week and every Sunday afternoon. "For otherwise," as he says, "many would be unable to come because they could not get away from their work."

A little over eight years ago another hospital was taken in charge, the Garretson--not founded by Conwell, this one, but acquired, and promptly expanded in its usefulness.

Both the Samaritan and the Garretson are part of Temple University. The Samaritan Hospital has treated, since its foundation, up to the middle of 1915, 29,301 patients; the Garretson, in its shorter life, 5,923. Including dispensary cases as well as house patients, the two hospitals together, under the headship of President Conwell, have handled over 400,000 cases.

How Conwell can possibly meet the multifarious demands upon his time is in itself a miracle. He is the head of the great church; he is the head of the university; he is the head of the hospitals; he is the head of everything with which he is associated! And he is not only nominally, but very actively, the head!