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Acres of Diamonds

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Acres of Diamonds

Russell Herman Conwell
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] Russel Conwell Middle Magnet School in Philadelphia, PA was also dedicated to him.[importance?]

Early life

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

Russell H. Conwell joined the pastorate of the Grace Baptist Church of Philadelphia before the members of the church had even heard him preach. Brother Alexander Reed had heard Conwell preach when he visited him at Lexington, Massachusetts. Brother Reed was an outstanding leader of the church and recommended that Conwell become a new pastor. Once the official "call" was made on October 16, 1882, Conwell arrived in Philadelphia on a Friday evening and was met by a committee of men from the Church at the Columbia Avenue Station of the Reading Railroad. The committee consisted of deacons Stoddard and Singley and members Enos Spare and Spencer VanHorn, who escorted Conwell to the church at Mervine and Berks streets in Philadelphia. Deacon Reed was leading a prayer-meeting at that time. This was the first time that Conwell met the members of the Grace Baptist Church.[awkward]

Conwell preached on the following Sunday in the lower room of the basement,later deemed the Lecture Room, as the Upper Main Audience Room was yet unfinished because work on frescoes, installations of pews, stained glass windows, carpeting, and other decorations were still in progress. 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.[citation needed]
( Reference - From the December 4, 1882 Issue of The Public Ledger)

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 This story so touched Conwell that he repeated it many times.

In September 1887 at the Centennial celebration of the [1]

The membership of the church continued to grow under the leadership of Conwell. In 1885, a letter to the Philadelphia Association stated:

The year that has passed since we met with you has been a year of uninterrupted growth and prosperity, spiritual, social and financial. Our church is much too small for those who desire to worship with us and our vestry rooms far too small for our Sabbath School. We are setting our faces as a united people toward a new and much larger house of worship, awaiting the Lord’s time and direction in the matter.[citation needed]

Dr. Conwell was an exceptional Pastor who continued to share is faith with the church membership. The effect that this had on the membership of the Baptist Temple is evident by the following are the statistics for the year 1885: United by [2]

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. Frank Bauder became acting Chairman, and the members were led in prayer by Deacon Moss. Then, the members elected Frank Bauder. 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.

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.

William Bucknell agreed to give $10,000. The ground was broken for the new building on Wednesday, March 27, 1889. The cornerstone was laid on Saturday, July 13, 1889. As the new church building was nearing completion, the pastor wanted to test the acoustics. A group of five members met in the sanctuary as Conwell read Habakkuk 2:20: "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." The acoustics proved to be excellent.

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.(Records of the Grace Baptist church [3]

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

Acres of Diamonds

"Acres of Diamonds" originated as a speech which Conwell delivered over 5,000 times around the world. It was first published in 1890 by the John Y. Huber Company of Philadelphia.[4]

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 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.[citation needed]

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.[5]


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.

The author Russell Conwell Hoban was named for him.[6][7] A magnet middle school in Philadelphia bears his name as well. The school yearbook is titled "Acres of Diamonds," and has also been known to reference its students by the title, "Acres of Diamonds."[importance?] 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.[8]


(Records of the Grace Baptist church [4]

External links

Biography portal
Philadelphia portal
  • "Temple's founder" article at Temple University
  • Complete text in paginated format
  • Project Gutenberg
  • Read "Acres of Diamonds" at Temple University website
  • Read "The History of Fifty-Seven Cents" at Temple University Libraries

Grace Baptist Church [5]

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

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