Russell Conwell: A Biographical Sketch
When he returned to civilian life he earned a degree from Albany Law School. He spent a few years in St. Paul, Minnesota where he maintained a law practice and also started a newspaper. He continued to work as a journalist after he moved back to Massachusetts in 1868. He submitted stories about a trip through the South to revisit the battlefields of the Civil War and an account of a journey around the world in 1870. It was on this trip that he first heard the tale that would inspire his "Acres of Diamonds" speech. His reputation as a speaker opened an additional career path; he was hired by the Boston Lyceum Bureau as a lecturer in the 1870's.Russell Herman Conwell was born on a farm near South Worthington, Massachusetts on February 15, 1843. While he was attending Wilbraham Academy as a young man, he took a teaching position at a district school to help pay for his own education. He began Yale University in 1862 and found student jobs that enabled him to pay his tuition. He left the same year, however, and volunteered for "Lincoln's Army." He recruited a company of men from the South Worthington area; was commissioned as their captain and served until 1864.
A small Baptist congregation in Lexington, Massachusetts turned to him for legal advice about selling their church. He advised them not to sell the church, but to raise money to rebuild it. He began to work with them and was able to help increase their membership and keep the church open. The work inspired him to study for the ministry and he was ordained as their pastor in 1881. He was visited by a representative from the Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia the next year. The church needed a new pastor and they had heard about his work in Lexington. He accepted the call and moved to Philadelphia in 1882.
The original Grace Baptist Church was located at Berks and Mervine Streets (where Temple University's Gladfelter Hall now stands). Within a few years, the congregation had grown so large under Conwell's leadership that they began to consider building a larger church. They had the idea of a temple that would minister to the mind, body and spirit. Ground was broken for the new Baptist Temple church at Broad and Berks Streets in 1889 and it was opened in 1891. Russell Conwell began tutoring some of the young men in the congregation, but by 1887 he had inspired members to start a school that would be designed specifically for working people. The school was open to all, but was called the Temple College. In 1892, the congregation saw a need for a hospital in the area and raised the money to start the Samaritan Hospital. This was the teaching hospital for the Temple University Medical School and it has become Temple University Hospital. Russell Conwell continued to serve as the pastor at the Baptist Temple for 43 years.
He also continued to lecture and write, authoring close to 40 books. Taking some time away from his duties at the church and the college each year, he traveled across the country to lecture at Chautauqua Assemblies and Redpath Lyceums. He donated the fees he received for such lectures to pay for Temple students who could not afford the tuition. His best known lecture, "Acres of Diamonds", was delivered over 6,000 times including a radio broadcast in 1922 and a 78 r.p.m. recording for the Rodeheaver Record Company. In 1923, he was presented with the Philadelphia Award, an honor given each year to the area's outstanding citizen. Conwell Hall at Temple University was dedicated in 1924, a year before his death at the age of 82.