Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Frank W. Gunsaulus, D.D., Clergyman and Educator

One of the brightest examples of early success in life is Frank W. Gunsaulus, D.D., one of the sincerest friends of young men striving to climb upward, that America has produced. Chicago has helped him, and he has helped Chicago, to do great things. During his six years of ministry in that city, before he left the pulpit and became president of Armour Institute, he founded two notable institutions and raised over $7,000,000 in money for charitable purposes. On the stormiest of Sunday evenings, after a newspaper announcement that he will speak, an audience two thousand five hundred strong will gather to hear him. It was not an uncommon sight, during one of his series of winter sermons, for men anxious to hear the splendid orator, to be lifted through windows of Central Music Hall, when no more could get in at the doors. His most conspicuous labor has been the founding of the famous Armour Institute of Technology, which now has twelve hundred students, and of which he is the president.


I found him in the president's office of Armour Institute.

"Do you think," I said, "that it is more difficult for a preacher to become a power in a nation than it is for a merchant, a lawyer, or a politician?"

"Rather hard to say," he answered. "There are prejudices against and sympathies in favor of every class and profession. I think, however, that a preacher is more like a doctor in his career. He is likely to make a strong local impression, but not apt to become a national figure. Given powerful convictions, an undertaking of things as they are today, and steady work in the direction of setting things right, and you may be sure a man is at least heading in the direction of public favor, whether he ever attains it or not."

"How did you manage to do the work you have done, in so short a time?"

"In the first place, I don't think I have done so very much; and, in the second place, the time seems rather long for what I have done. I have worked hard, however.

"I thought to be a lawyer in my youth, and did study law and oratory. My father was a country lawyer at Chesterfield, Ohio, where I was born, and was a member of the Ohio Legislature during the war. He was a very eflfective public speaker himself and thought that I ought to be an orator. So he did everything to give me a bent in that direction, and often took me as many as twenty miles to hear a good oration."


"I admired Fisher Ames, to begin with, and, of course, Webster. I think Wendell Phillips and Bishop Matthew Simpson, whom I heard a few times, had the greatest influence on me. I considered them wonderful, moving speakers, and I do yet. Later on, Henry Ward Beecher and Phillips Brooks attracted my admiration."

"Did you have leisure for study and time to hear orations when you were beginning life?"

"In early years I attended the district school. From the twelfth to my eighteenth year, I worked on the farm and studied nights. For all my father's urgings toward the bar, I always felt an inward drawing toward the ministry, because I felt that I could do more there. My father was not a member of any church, though my mother was an earnest Presbyterian. Without any prompting from my parents, I leaned toward the ministry, and finally entered it of my own accord. I was fortunate enough to find a young companion who was also studying for the ministry. We were the best of friends and helped each other a great deal. It was our custom to prepare sermons and preach them in each other's presence. Our audience in that case, unlike that of the church, never hesitated to point out errors. The result was that some sermons ended in arguments between the audience and the preacher, as to facts involved."


"I was graduated from the Ohio Wesleyan Seminary in debt. I had no reputation for piety, and I don't remember that I pretended to any. I had convictions, however, and a burning desire to do something, to achieve something for the benefit of my fellowmen, and I was ready for the first opportunity."

"Was it long in coming?"

"No, but you would not have considered it much of an opportunity. I took charge of a small church at Harrisburg, Ohio, at a salary of three hundred and twenty dollars a year. In preaching regularly I soon found it necessary to formulate some kind of a theory of life, —to strive for some definite object. I began to feel the weight of the social problem."


"One important fact began to make itself plain, and that was that the modern young man is more or less discouraged by the growing belief that all things are falling into the hands of great corporations and trusts, and that the individual no longer has much chance. My father had been more or less of a fatalist in his view of life, and often quoted Emerson to me, to the effect that the dice of life are loaded, and fall according to a plan. My mother leaned to the doctrine of Calvin, —to predestination. I inherited a streak of the same feeling, and the conditions I observed made me feel that there was probably something in the theory. I had to battle this down and convince myself that we are what we choose to make ourselves. Then I had to set to work to counteract the discouraging view taken by the young people about me."

"You were a Methodist, then?"

"Yes, I was admitted to preach in that body, but it was not long before I had an attack of transcendentalism, and fell out with the Methodist elder of my district. The elder was wholly justified. He was a dry old gentleman, with a fund of common sense. After one of my flights, in which I advocated perfection far above the range of humankind, he came to me and said: 'My dear young man, don't you know that people have to live on this planet?' The rebuke struck me as earthly then, but it has grown in humor and common sense since.

"I left voluntarily. I knew I was not satisfactory, and so I went away. I married when I was twenty. I preached in several places, and obtained a charge at Columbus, Ohio."


"When did you begin to have a visible influence on affairs, such as you have since exercised?"

"Just as soon as I began to formulate and follow what I considered to be the true ideal of the minister."

"And that ideal was?"

"That the question to be handled by a preacher must not be theological, but sociological."

"How did this conviction work out at Columbus?"

"The church became too small for the congregation, and so we had to move to the opera house.

"My work there showed me that any place may be a pulpit, —editorial chair, managerial chair, almost anything. I began to realize that a whole and proper work would be to get hold of the Christian forces outside the ecclesiastical machine and get them organized into activity. I was not sure about my plan yet, however, so I left Columbus for Newtonville, Massachusetts, and took time to review my studies. There I came under the influence of Phillips Brooks. When I began once more to get a clear idea of what I wanted to do, I went to Baltimore, on a call, and preached two years at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church.

"I came to Chicago in 1872. Plymouth Church offered an absolutely free pulpit, and an opportunity to work out some plans that I thought desirable."


"How did you go about your work in this city?"

"The first thing that seemed necessary for me to do was to find a place where homeless boys of the city who had drifted into error and troubles of various kinds could be taken into the country and educated. I preached a sermon on this subject, and one member gave a fine farm of two hundred and forty acres for the purpose. Plymouth Church built Plymouth Cottage there, and the Illinois Training School was moved there, and other additions were made, gradually adding to its usefulness."

"The church grew under your ministration there, did it not ?"

"You can leave off that about me. It grew, yes, and we established a mission."

"Was there not a sum raised for this?"

"Yes; Mr. Joseph Armour gave a hundred thousand dollars to house this mission, and the church has since aided it in various ways."

"This Armour Institute is an idea of yours, is it not?"

"Well, it is in line with my ideas in what it accomplishes. It is the outcome of Mr. Armour's great philanthropy."

"Do you find, now that you have experimented so much, that your ideals concerning what ought to be done for the world were too high?" I asked.

"On the contrary," answered Dr. Gunsaulus, "I have sometimes felt that they were not high enough. If they had been less than they are, I should not have accomplished what I have."

"What has been your experience as to working hours?"

"I have worked twelve and fourteen, at times even eighteen hours a day, particularly when I was working to establish this institution, but I paid for it dearly. I suffered a paralytic stroke which put me on my back for nine months, and in that time you see I not only suffered, but lost all I had gained by the extra hours."


"You believe in meeting great emergencies with great individual energy?"

"There doesn't seem to be any way out of it, A man must work hard, extra hard, at times, or lose many a battle."

"You have mingled in public affairs here in Chicago, also, have you not?"

"Yes, I have always tried to do my share."

"You believe the chances for young men today are as good as in times gone by?"

"I certainly do. That is my whole doctrine. The duties devolving on young men are growing greater, more important, more valuable all the time. The wants of the world seem to grow larger, more urgent every day. What all young men need to do is to train themselves. They must train their hands to deftness, train their eyes to see clearly, and their ears to hear and understand. Look at the call there is going to be upon young men when this country will be organizing its new possessions and opening up new fields of activity. What the world needs is young men equipped to do the work. There is always work to be done."

"You think, in your own field, there is a call for energetic young men?"

"It never was greater. A young preacher who looks around him, studies the conditions, finds out just a few of the ten thousand important things that are going begging for someone to do them, and then proceeds to work for their accomplishment, will succeed beyond his wildest dreams. "The world looks for leaders, it looks for men who are original, able and practical; and all I have got to say to a young man is simply to find out clearly all about a need in a certain direction, and then lead on to the alleviation of it. Money, influence, honor, will all follow along after, to help."

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