Russell H. Conwell
Temple University Founder

Biography

Although thousands of entrepreneurs have left behind the Fox School of Business to make their mark on the global economy, Temple University Founder Russell Conwell remains the very first forward-thinking businessman on campus, at the turn of the 19th century. Credited with The Temple Idea, Conwell based the university’s mission on the then-modern notion that anyone, man or woman, should have the opportunity for education. The first graduating class at Temple included four women out of 18 graduates. Conwell also believed that the cost of learning should be just sufficient enough for students to appreciate the advantages of education. Born in 1843 on a subsistence farm in western Massachusetts, Conwell enlisted during the Civil War. A gifted public speaker, his passionate speeches moved men to join up on the spot. Captain Conwell worked his way up in rank, and after the war earned a law degree from the University of Albany in 1865. A decade later, he changed course and decided to commit to the ministry, taking the reigns as pastor at a struggling Baptist church in Lexington. Conwell quickly turned the parish around, improving financials and increasing membership. By 1882, Conwell moved his family to Philadelphia to become the pastor at Grace Baptist Church. His reputation preceded him as a rousing speaker in the well-known traveling tent show, Chautauqua. It was during Chautauqua that Conwell gave his famous Acres of Diamonds speech—which he claimed to have given on 6,000 different occasions. With the goal of attracting new parishioners at Grace Baptist, the new pastor blew into the church with vigor, charisma and soon, many new members. In North Philadelphia, Conwell’s church offered more than just sermons—there was food, physical activity, financial assistance, and eventually education. In 1884, the young pastor was approached by a few young men who asked Conwell to tutor them to prepare for the ministry. When the number grew to 40 students, the classes were moved to the church basement. A few years later, Conwell announced from the pulpit that he would be forming Temple College, with a formal schedule of classes. Two hundred prospective students signed up in the first month. And so, the University became more than a place, it became an idea, one that lives on in future generations.