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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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Letter of Gertrude P. Dingee

Gertrude P. Dingee to William R. Harper, April 11, 1892. President Harper's persuasive address to Chicago clubwomen created a significant new group of University donors.


Marshall Field letter

Marshall Field to Frederick T. Gates, May 26, 1890. The urban character of the University was confirmed by its site, which lay on the Midway Plaisance only six miles from the center of Chicago and within easy reach of streetcar and railroad lines.

A City Builds a University

The Shadow of the Old
Baptist leaders in Chicago and throughout the Middle West were humiliated by the extent of the catastrophe. While the BUTS survived in its suburban refuge, the failure of the Old University left the denomination without an academic base to rival the nearby institutional successes of the Presbyterians at Lake Forest College or the Methodists at Northwestern University in Evanston. Resolving to re-establish a Baptist academic presence in Chicago was a group of determined ministers and laymen including George C. Walker, Henry A. Rust, Frederick A. Smith, the Rev. George W. Northrup, president of the BUTS; E. Nelson Blake, president of the Baptist Theological Union; and the Rev. Thomas W. Goodspeed, financial and recording secretary of the board of the BUTS. They shared, Goodspeed wrote later, an "inextinguishable desire and unalterable purpose" that a new institution should emerge from the old. Goodspeed pressed their case with particular urgency on two laymen with close ties to the situation in Chicago: William Rainey Harper, a professor of Semitic languages at Yale who had just left the faculty of the BUTS, and John D. Rockefeller, the Baptist oil magnate who was serving as vice-president of the BUTS board.

The Promise of the New
Within two years of the collapse of the Old University, Chicago Baptists had secured critical denominational support for the creation of a new institution of higher learning in the city. In May 1888, the American Baptist Education Society was formed in Washington, D.C., and Frederick T. Gates, minister of the Central Baptist Church of Minneapolis, was named its corresponding secretary. After surveying the state of Baptist education, Gates quickly became convinced that a new university was needed "in the city of Chicago, and not in a suburb outside the city, but within the city itself and as near its center as conveniently possible."

In May 1889, the Education Society endorsed the Chicago plan and Gates was able to announce momentous news: John D. Rockefeller would give $600,000 toward the endowment of an institution in Chicago if additional pledges of $400,000 could be obtained from other donors before June 1, 1890. The Education Society was swept with enthusiasm, and Gates returned to Chicago with Goodspeed to begin the crucial one-year fundraising campaign.

Gates and Goodspeed recognized that the initial appeal had to be made to Baptists in Chicago and the Middle West. Within sixty days, $200,000 had been raised from within the city, and after nine months of persistent solicitations another $100,000 in pledges had come in from Baptist churches in the region. The remaining $100,000, however, was secured from the non-Baptist business leaders of Chicago whose wealth represented the commercial strength of the city: grain trading, meat packing, dry goods, hardware, shipping, railroads, street cars, real estate, publishing, and banking. A fourth of the non-Baptist total came from alumni of the Old University, and another fourth from the members of the city's premier Jewish social organization, the Standard Club.

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