Russell Conwell

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Russell Herman Conwell
Russell Herman Conwell.jpg
Born (1843-02-15)February 15, 1843
South Worthington, Massachusetts, United States
Died December 6, 1925(1925-12-06) (aged 82)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Alma mater Yale University
Occupation Baptist minister, orator, philanthropist, lawyer, and writer
Known for Founder and first president of Temple University

Russell Herman Conwell (February 15, 1843 – December 6, 1925) was an American Baptist minister, orator, philanthropist, lawyer, and writer. He is best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the Pastor of The Baptist Temple, and for his inspirational lecture, Acres of Diamonds. He was born in South Worthington, Massachusetts, and was buried in the Founder's Garden at Temple University.[1]

Early life[edit]

The son of Massachusetts farmers, Conwell left home to attend the Wilbraham Wesleyan Academy and later Yale University. In 1862, before graduating from Yale, he enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War. From 1862–1864, Conwell served as a captain of a volunteer regiment. He was dismissed from the military after being charged with deserting his post at Newport Barracks, North Carolina. While Conwell claimed that he was later reinstated by General James B. McPherson, no military records confirm his statement.[2] After the Civil War, Conwell studied law at the Albany Law School. Over the next several years, he worked as an attorney, journalist, and lecturer first in Minneapolis, then in Boston. Additionally, during this period, he published about ten books—including campaign biographies of Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield. In 1880, he was ordained as a Baptist minister and took over a congregation in Lexington, Massachusetts.[2]

Baptist minister[edit]

Russell H. Conwell joined the pastorate of the Grace Baptist Church of Philadelphia before the members of the church had even heard him preach. Alexander Reed, a leader of the church, had heard Conwell preach when he visited him at Lexington, Massachusetts, and recommended that Conwell become a new pastor. The official "call" was made on October 16, 1882.

Conwell first preached there in the lower room of the basement, later deemed the Lecture Room, as the Upper Main Audience Room was yet unfinished. This church building was later dedicated by Conwell on December 3, 1882.

The December 4, 1882 issue of The Public Ledger reported the following about the new minister and church:

Dedication of a New Baptist Church services conducted by the Rev. Russell H. Conwell, late of Massachusetts. The church proper on the upper story is in the form of an amphitheater, and has seating capacity for between six and seven hundred persons. It is finished with great taste and completeness. The ceiling is frescoed, the windows are of stained glass and the pews of hard wood and handsomely upholstered. The edifice cost about $70,000.[3]

Conwell ended evening services by holding an hour of prayer, leading song services, and giving commentary relevant his sermons. The musical pastor often performed a solo piece during evening services.

The story of Hattie May Wiatt is one of importance to the Baptist Temple as it describes the role of a child in encouraging the congregation to grow and build a new church building. She lived near a church where the Sunday School was very crowded and he told her that one day they would have buildings big enough to allow every one to attend who wanted to. She had saved only fifty-seven cents when she contracted diphtheria and died. Rev. Conwell was asked to do the funeral, and the girl's mother told him that Hattie May had been saving money to help build a bigger church and gave him the little purse in which she had saved 57 cents. Rev. Conwell had the 57 cents turned into 57 pennies, told the congregation the story of little Hattie May, and sold the pennies for a return of about $250. In addition, 54 of the original 57 pennies were returned to Rev. Conwell and he later put them up on display. On June 28, 1886, A nearby house at the corner of Broad and Berks streets, referred to as The Temple because the property owner did not want the house to be called a church until the mortgage was fully paid, was investigated for purchase by the Wiatt Mite Society, which was organized for the purpose of taking the 57 cents and enlarging on them sufficiently to buy the property for the Primary Department of the Sunday school. A few days later, the congregation agreed to purchase the lot. The first down payment for the lot was the 57 cents. The property was conveyed to the church on January 31, 1887. In that same house, the first classes of Temple College, later Temple University, were held. The house was later sold to allow Temple College to move and The Baptist Temple (now the Temple Performing Arts Center[4] to grow, and still more of that money went towards founding the Samaritan Hospital (now the Temple University Hospital).[5] This story so touched Conwell that he repeated it many times.

In September 1887 at the Centennial celebration of the United States Constitution, money received from the Wiatt Mite Society was given "for the success of the new Temple". This was the first time the name "Temple" was used in place of the church name.[6]

In 1888, the youth group considered becoming a world-wide youth organization. The pastor was a speaker at a Christian Endeavor convention. Conwell was very impressed by the purpose and enthusiasm of the group. He later recommended the Christian Endeavor to the youth group of the church. On September 10, 1888, the Society of Christian Endeavor was finally organized. The Christian Endeavor youth groups continued to meet at the Church until the 1960s.

Charles M. Davis, a young deacon, approached the pastor with his desire to preach; however, Davis had little education and was without sufficient funds to continue his studies. Conwell agreed to tutor him. Over the next few days, seven prospective students met with Conwell, and Temple College was conceived. Ultimately, Conwell became Dr. Conwell, president of the college, now known as Temple University.[repetition]

As the membership continued to grow to over one thousand and the Sunday School to even greater members, a larger facility was desperately needed. Consequently, on Monday, March 29, 1889, a contract was negotiated to build the new church for $109,000. This figure included only the building itself.[citation needed]

The ground was broken for the new building on Wednesday, March 27, 1889, and the cornerstone was laid on Saturday, July 13, 1889.

On February 15, 1891, Conwell preached his last sermon in the old church at Mervine and Berks Streets. He preached the first sermon at the new building on March 1. Sixty people were baptized in the afternoon, and several addresses were given. The Rev. L. B. Hartman, the first minister, was present. The celebration continued throughout the week, and the church was filled to capacity for all of its services. The new church later became known as The Baptist Temple.[6]

The congregation of the church continues today as The Grace Baptist Church.

Acres of Diamonds[edit]

Russell H. Conwell: Acres of Diamonds

"Acres of Diamonds" originated as a speech which Conwell delivered over 6,000 times around the world. It was first published in 1890 by the John Y. Huber Company of Philadelphia.[7]

The central idea of the work is that one need not look elsewhere for opportunity, achievement, or fortune—the resources to achieve all good things are present in one's own community. This theme is developed by an introductory anecdote, credited by Conwell to an Arab guide, about a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went off in futile search for them. The new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property. Conwell elaborates on the theme through examples of success, genius, service, or other virtues involving ordinary Americans contemporary to his audience: "dig in your own backyard!".

In A People's History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn comments that the message was that anyone could get rich if they tried hard enough, while implying that Conwell held elitist attitudes by selectively quoting the following from his speech:

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich ... The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly ... ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men. ... I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins ... is to do wrong. ... Let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings...[8]

Conwell's capacity to establish Temple University and his other civic projects largely derived from the income that he earned from this speech. The book has been regarded as a classic of New Thought literature since the 1870s.[9]

Legacy[edit]

Conwell's name lives on in the present-day Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (with campuses in South Hamilton and Boston, Massachusetts and Charlotte, North Carolina), an interdenominational evangelical theological seminary formed in 1969 by the merging of two former divinity schools, Conwell School of Theology of Temple University in Philadelphia and Gordon Divinity School in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Russell Conwell Middle Magnet School in Philadelphia, PA bears his name as well. The school yearbook is titled "Acres of Diamonds." Temple University's football team also wear diamond decals on their helmets and diamond trim on their collars to reference Conwell's "Acre of Diamonds" speech.[10]

The film Johnny Ring and the Captain's Sword (1921) is based upon Conwell's writings regarding his experiences in the Civil War.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Russell Herman Conwell (1843 - 1925) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  2. ^ a b John Wimmers, "Conwell, Russell Herman," American National Biography Online
  3. ^ The Public Ledger, December 4, 1882
  4. ^ Temple Performing Arts Center
  5. ^ Conwell, Russell (Sunday Morning, December 1, 1912). THE HISTORY OF FIFTY-SEVEN CENTS (Speech). Sermon. Grace Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Librariesaccessdate=April 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Records of the Grace Baptist Church http://www.gracebaptistbluebell.org/
  7. ^ "Acres of Diamonds | Temple University". Temple.edu. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  8. ^ "Russell Conwell Explains Why Diamonds Are a Man’s Best Friend". History Matters. George Mason University. Retrieved December 2, 2013. . Cited by Zinn in the work stated.
  9. ^ Ellwood, R.S. (1997) The fifties spiritual marketplace: American religion in a decade of conflict. Rutgers University Press, . p 225.
  10. ^ "Temple football enters first MAC season with strong recruits, new look". Temple University Communications. August 17, 2007. Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  11. ^ Baldwin, Milton Ford (Sep 1921). "Dr. Conwell's New Production". Motion Picture Age (Chicago) 4 (9): 15–18. Retrieved 2013-11-08. 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
New title President of Temple University
1887–1925
Succeeded by
Charles Ezra Beury