The Story of the University of Chicago

Chapter 2 Mr. Rockefeller Opens the Way

Thomas W. Goodspeed

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IN WRITING this story I have the advantage of a knowledge of the very details of the founding of the University. The very earliest steps can be traced. For the most part the facts are found in a series of letters written by those immediately interested in the enterprise. These letters, several hundred in number, were carefully collected from widely separated files, copied, and the copies placed in my hands. In my larger history there are very liberal quotations from these letters. In this story there is room for one or two only.

Dr. Harper, who was deeply interested in our hopes for a new university, had left the Theological Seminary at Morgan Park in 1886 and become a professor in Yale.

In the autumn of 1888, three months after my last letter to Mr. Rockefeller on the subject of a university for Chicago, like lightning out of a clear sky, or rather like the dawn of a glorious day after a long, dark night, there came to me from Dr. Harper the following epoch-marking message:

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October 13, 1888

Dr. T. W. Goodspeed, Morgan Park, Illinois

MY DEAR FRIEND: I spent last Sunday at Vassar College. (I am to be there every other Sunday during the year.) Much to my surprise Mr. Rockefeller was there. He had reached Poughkeepsie Saturday night. What his purpose in going to Vassar was is not quite certain. He seemed to have nothing to do there except to talk with me. Whether he knew that I was going there before or not is not known to me. I met him at the breakfast table, and he at once asked me for an opportunity to talk during the day. The result was that when I had finished my morning lecture at ten o'clock he joined me and we spent the rest of the day together. He expected to remain until Monday, but changed his plans and came down to New York with me Sunday night, leaving Poughkeepsie at 8:30 and reaching New York at 11:00 P.M. We were therefore together the most of the time for thirteen hours.

Other matters came up, but the chief question was the one of the educational problem. . . . He stands ready after the holidays to do something for Chicago. . . . He showed great interest in the Education Society, and above all talked for hours in reference to the scheme of establishing the great University at Chicago instead of in New York. This surprised me very much. As soon as I began to see how the matter struck him I pushed it and I lost no opportunity of emphasizing this point . . . . He himself made out a list of reasons why it would be better to go to Chicago than to remain in New York.

Mr. Rockefeller left me with the understanding that he would at once communicate with Mr. Colby in reference to the matter and led me to infer that the question would receive his careful attention at once.

Now we must not expect too much. We all know how easy it is to make a start and then fall back, and so I am building nothing

( 15) on this matter. I have thought I would lay the thing before you in all its details, in order that you, Dr. Northrup, and myself might be able to keep track of both ends of the line. . . . I write you these particulars in order that you may at once put me into possession of the facts in reference to matters at Morgan Park. It would be a great pity, if this could be done, to have something so much smaller carried out.

Will you not at once write me ? I remain

Yours truly,

The reference in the closing sentences to matters at Morgan Park is to proposals which had been made to establish a college in that suburb in proximity to the Theological Seminary. These proposals were at once laid aside in view of the greater plan.

The significant thing in the letter and the matter of historical moment is this, that the suggestion that he should assist in founding a university in Chicago was made by Mr. Rockefeller. He himself proposed that the institution should be established in Chicago instead of New York. This greatly surprised Dr. Harper, but after Mr. Rockefeller made the suggestion "he pushed it and lost no opportunity of emphasizing it." Indeed for the six months following this interview he lost no opportunity of encouraging Mr. Rockefeller to go forward with the project. He was so far immediately successful that on November 5, 1 888, three weeks after this first interview, I received a telegram from him, asking me, on Mr.

( 16) Rockefeller's behalf, to go to New York for an interview on the subject of a new university in Chicago. The following Friday I was in New York.

It must be borne in mind that Dr. Harper had never had in mind anything less than a real university, with college and graduate departments. He had impressed this upon me in his letters and took occasion to do this again in our interview together Friday evening. I, on the other hand, had been for more than two years asking Mr. Rockefeller's help in founding a college.

We met Mr. Rockefeller Saturday morning at the breakfast table. His entire family was present and interested in the discussion. I gave such information as I could. After a conference of an hour or more, Mr. Rockefeller turned to me and said, "Well, Dr. Goodspeed, just what would you like to have me do? Tell me frankly what is in your mind." Divided between the remembrance of my previous very modest demands upon him and Dr. Harper's large expectations, I compromised, and said: "We would like to have you give us $1,500,000, to which we will undertake to add from other givers $500,000 more, starting the institution on a $2,000,000 basis." Mr. Rockefeller replied to this that the proportion I assigned to him was large and closed the conference by adding that he would be glad to help in founding an institution in Chicago and was disposed to make a contribu-

( 17) -tion of several hundred thousand dollars for the purpose.

Before leaving New York I wrote out two or three propositions varying in amounts and proportions, and sent them to him. On reaching home I received a line from him inviting me to take lunch with him. It had reached my hotel after I had left for Chicago and had been forwarded to me. Meantime it had been borne in upon me that I had overreached the mark and asked a larger contribution than Mr. Rockefeller was ready, at that time, to consider. I therefore wrote him suggesting that he give $1,000,000 instead of a million and a half. Wearing months of waiting followed, Dr. Harper's letters continued, telling of interviews more or less encouraging, but without any definite result. Early in December a meeting of the executive board of the Education Society was held in the city of Washington. Dr. Gates submitted an elaborate report, setting forth his conclusions so convincingly that the board approved the effort to establish a well-equipped institution in Chicago, and instructed the secretary to use every means in his power to originate and encourage such a movement. One month later we turned over the negotiation to Dr. Gates. He is the best historian of what followed and I give the story in his words.

The adoption, by the Executive Board of the American Baptist Education Society on the evening of December 3, 1888, of

(18) the plan to establish a college, to be ultimately a university, at Chicago, was—in view of Mr. Rockefeller's expressed interest, already secured by Dr. Goodspeed, and nourished by Dr. Harper—the decisive action which resulted in the founding of the University of Chicago eighteen months later. The report of this action, which I sent immediately to all the Baptist newspapers, was favorably received editorially and commanded the approval quite evidently of the rank and file of the Baptist denomination in all parts of the land. Dr. Harper made a full personal report to Mr. Rockefeller, specially emphasizing the unanimity of sentiment among men widely representative of the denomination, many of whom had prepossessions favorable to Columbian. It is quite evident from many things that Mr. Rockefeller's interest in this action was deeply engaged. Almost immediately afterward he sent to the treasurer, of his own accord and without solicitation, a contribution toward the current expenses of the society which some months before he had declined. He began to drop hints to Dr. Harper and to others that the society might become an authoritative agency for his educational giving. On a letter of introduction from Dr. Harper, he very kindly received me as secretary of the society, for a conversation covering the scope and methods of the society's proposed work, and invited me to accompany him on the same train from New York to Cleveland for further and more detailed conversation. In these talks, the possibilities of the useful. ness of the society to the colleges and academies throughout the land were fully discussed. . . .On the subject of contribution to the Chicago enterprise, which I did not at that time press, Mr. Rockefeller was reticent, beyond saying that progress was being made in his mind. The general impression he left with me was that to his mind the plans for Chicago were not clearly enough outlined to justify present action. His practical and cautious mind needed, I imagined, definite and clear-cut plans from authoritative sources, and the first result of the ride together to Cleveland

(19)   was a determination on my part to secure, if possible, and place before Mr. Rockefeller, a definite plan of an institution which the denomination would be willing to undertake to establish with his aid in Chicago—a plan which should have denominational authority and to which he could definitely answer, on careful inquiry, yes or no. Accordingly, I wrote him the letter still preserved in the file, proposing a conference of certain leading Baptist educators and laymen of wealth and influence, to whom should be committed the duty of defining with precision just what in their opinion—as representatives of the Baptist denomination—should be attempted in Chicago. It should be their duty to estimate the cost, define the nature and degree of denominational control, make suggestions as to wise and proper location of campus, and generally answer every fundamental question in advance. Mr. Rockefeller seized on this suggestion, as I hoped he would, without hesitation. He disclosed interest in the personnel of the committee, the gentlemen were duly invited, and in an all-day session in the city of New York, early in April, 1889, they worked out a clear, well-reasoned, moderate, and sensible plan. This plan was immediately communicated to Mr. Rockefeller and was later, as we shall see, adopted in substance by the denomination.

.... Mr. Rockefeller intimated to various friends, in writing, among them Dr. Harper, that whatever he might do for the University of Chicago he would do through the agency of the American Baptist Education Society; and after the report of the Committee on Plan for an Institution in Chicago had been presented to Mr. Rockefeller, and he had found opportunity for studying it, he formally invited me to visit him in New York on my way to the May Anniversaries to be held that year in Boston.

I duly presented myself in New York three or four days before the Boston meeting, so as to give time for discussing and arranging all the details of the important action I was now confident Mr. Rockefeller would take. My first interview with Mr. Rocke-

(20)  -feller was at his home. It was disappointing. He talked only in the way of general review of the situation. He withheld from me for the time his intentions, quite evidently with the purpose of going over the situation once more finally in order to see if there were any weak spots or questions of doubt. On parting, he reassured me somewhat by inviting me to breakfast next morning, and after breakfast we stepped out on the street and walked to and fro on the sidewalk in front of his house, No. 4 West Fifty-fourth Street. It was a delicious May morning. It was agreed that the least possible sum on which we could start, the least sum which could or ought to command confidence of permanence, would be $1,000,000. Of this he said he thought he might give as much as $400,000, if it should be absolutely necessary. I explained to him that it would be impossible for the society to raise $600,000 to his $400,000, or even $500,000 to his $500,000; that nothing less than $600,000 from him to $400,000 from the denomination gave any promise of success. For success we should have to go before the people of Chicago and the West with the thing more than half done at the start. Such a proposition they would not, they could not, allow to fail. Anything less than that would never even get started. It would be doomed to hopelessness and to failure at the outset. "Give $600,000 of the $1,000,000, and everybody would say at the outset: `This will not, cannot, must not fail; every adverse interest must and will efface itself. The whole denomination, west and east, will rise as one man to do this whether other things are done or not." At last, at a certain point near Fifth Avenue, Mr. Rockefeller stopped, faced me, and yielded the point. Never shall I forget the thrill of that moment. I have since then been intimately associated with him. I have seen him give $10,000,000, $30,000,000, $100,000,000, but no gift of his has ever thrilled me as did that first great gift of $600,000, on that May morning after those months of anxious suspense.

After the decisive words, Mr. Rockefeller invited me down to

(21)  his office to work out the pledge and all the details. I wrote the first drafts of the pledge, and we together worked it over again and again, trying various forms of words until it took the shape in which it stands. The report of the Committee in April, defining the institution to be founded, was put by me in the shape of a series of brief, pointed resolutions. Mr. Rockefeller required that I keep his pledge absolutely confidential until the society should have adopted the resolutions without material change. If the society should fail to adopt the resolutions, committing it and the Baptist denomination to the Chicago enterprise as there outlined, and doing so without any knowledge whatever of his pledge, doing so in advance of any assurance whatever from him, then the pledge was to be returned to him undelivered.

I went to Boston and duly presented the resolutions, first to the board which adopted them without change and then to the society itself; and on the adoption of the resolutions, Mr. Rockefeller's pledge was announced and received with wild enthusiasm.

Mr. Rockefeller's pledge of $600,000 toward $1,000,000 required the society to raise $400,000 more within the period of one year. The resolutions fixed the character of the institution. It was to be at the first a college, though it might grow into a university. There might be an academy in connection therewith. The institution should be located within the city and not without it in a suburb. The site should be not less than ten acres. The president and two-thirds of the trustees were to be Baptists. Both sexes were to be afforded equal opportunities.

The proposition of Mr. Rockefeller which was read at the meeting of the Education Society in Boston, May 18, 1889, in connection with the action pledging the Society to take immediate steps toward the founding of a well-equipped college in the city of Chicago, was as follows:

May 15, 1889

Rev. Fred T. Gates, Corresponding Secretary,
American Baptist Education Society:

MY DEAR SIR: I will contribute six hundred thousand dollars ($600,000) toward an endowment fund for a college to be established at Chicago, the income only of which may be used for current expenses, but not for land, buildings, or repairs, providing four hundred thousand dollars ($400,000) more is pledged by good and responsible parties, satisfactory to the Board of the American Baptist Education Society and myself, on or before June I, 1890, said four hundred thousand dollars, or as much of it as shall be required, to be used for the purpose of purchasing land and erecting buildings, the remainder of the same to be added to the above six hundred thousand dollars, as endowment.

I will pay the same to the American Baptist Education Society in five years, beginning within ninety days after completion of the subscription as above and pay ς per cent each ninety days thereafter until all is paid; providing not less than a proportionate amount is so paid by the other subscribers to the four hundred thousand dollars; otherwise this pledge to be null and void.

Yours very truly,

The reading of this proposal and the action resolving to enter at once on the work of founding the new institution was greeted with tumultuous applause. Enthusiastic speeches of indorsement were made and the whole assembly united in singing: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow."

Such then was the happy outcome of the anxieties of those most interested, of the many letters, interviews, and consultations of the seven preceding

( 23) months, and of many hopes and fears. All had ended in enthusiasm, shouting, and songs of praise. I was the only man who was depressed. I had earnestly pressed for an unconditional pledge. But here was the great sum of $600,000 conditioned on our raising $400,000 in a single year. I knew that I would be called on to help raise that, as it then seemed, enormous amount of money. I thought I knew, as few others did, what we were up against. While others, therefore, were enthusiastic and confident, I returned home from the great meeting depressed and doubtful. The final event, happily, showed how foolish I had been and how truly and wisely Mr. Rockefeller had opened the way.


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