By Frederick Taylor Gates. LL.D.
I am asked to narrate in general outline the circumstances which led to the founding of the University of Chicago.
The material for this outline consists mainly of the letters exchanged between those who were most active in the work. I have had access to the complete files of Mr. Rockefeller's office; Dr. H. L. Morehouse gave me copies of his correspondence; the files of the American Baptist Education Society of which I was then the secretary were turned over to me; copies of the correspondence of Dr. W. R. Harper and Dr. T. W. Goodspeed were furnished me by Dr. Goodspeed. The whole mass makes a manuscript of several thousand pages.
The parties actively interested lived widely apart, Mr. Rockefeller in New York, Dr. Harper in New Haven, Dr. Morehouse in New York, Dr. Goodspeed in Chicago. Conference was, therefore, mainly by letter. For the historian this is fortunate. These associates were all friends, accustomed to share their thoughts; all wrote without dreaming that their letters would be preserved; and they unburdened their minds to each other with the freedom of intimacy. The result is that it is possible by means of this correspondence, from December, 1886, to May, 1890, to trace with accuracy not only the events leading to the founding of the University, but also the progress of thought in those who brought the institution into being.
To Dr. Thomas W. Goodspeed belongs the honor of first calling Mr. John D. Rockefeller's attention effectively to the unique educational needs and opportunities at Chicago. This, Dr. Goodspeed did with fervor and power, in season and out of season, in letters and in visits covering at least two years (1886-88). There can be no question that these labors of Dr. Goodspeed were the effective agency that convinced Mr. Rockefeller of the need of an institution of higher learning in that city and led him to believe that he had an important duty to perform in connection therewith.