Question of the Week
Russell H. Conwell was the founder and first president of which Philadelphia university?
Answer: Temple University
“Your diamonds are not in far-away mountains or in distant seas; they are in your own back yard if you will but dig for them.” This saying by Russell Herman Conwell launched institutions and publications, including Temple University and Samaritan (now Temple University) Hospital, as well as inspired hundreds of people to believe hard work would be rewarded with material wealth.
Conwell was born in Massachusetts in 1843. He had a remarkable career and was a man of diverse talents and interests: Civil War soldier, lawyer, journalist, orator, Baptist minister. During an 1870 trip to Iraq, Conwell heard a parable about a simple farmer searching for a field of diamonds far from his home. The diamonds, as it turned out, were under the farmer’s own land all the time. Conwell used this story to shape his famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech that he delivered over 6,000 times. In it, Conwell promotes an ideology of success, attainable by anyone through effort and education. The sentiments espoused in his speech inspired the mission of Temple University.
Temple College was chartered in 1888, growing out of classes Conwell offered to prepare people for the ministry. The classes began, when as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Conwell received a request from one young man who had little money. One student turned into seven and then into hundreds. On December 6, 1922, Dr. Conwell was given the Philadelphia Award “for the founding and upbuilding of Temple University, and for general educational, religious and uplift work in the City.” At the ceremony, Rev. Conwell summarized his vision for public education: “The time is now coming when…there will not a be a poor boy or a poor girl, who will not have equal opportunity with the sons of the rich or the daughters of the rich, to secure such an education as they will wish to enjoy.” Temple University certainly has embraced that vision; mining acres of diamonds in Philadelphia’s own back yard.
Conwell served as Temple’s president until his death on December 6, 1925, and is buried there in the Founder’s Garden.
Conwell received the 1922 Philadelphia Award, and further information on him can be found in HSP's collection of Philadelphia Award records (#3081). Photographs of Temple University can be found in the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (#V07) and the Society print (#V89) and photo (#V59) collections.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.