THE CONVERSE FAMILY
Part II of III
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This biographical record was transcribed and submitted by Cathy Kubly and it is a part of the Vermont Biographies Project for the US Biographies Project

VT BIO - Chittenden Co - CONVERSE Family (Part II of III)

Source: Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation. Carleton, ed. New York & Chicago: Lewis, 1903, pp 539-554

Mr. [John Heman] CONVERSE is one of the directors of the Pennsylvania & Northwestern Railroad, and incidentally has been interested in banking; and in addition to the financial institutions mentioned in the "Ariel," with which he is connected, he is a director in the Philadelphia Trust, Save Deposit and Insurance Company. The banks and trust companies of which he is a director are some of the largest and strongest in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Savings Fund, a beneficial institution, has deposits to the extent of over $50 million, and over 175,000 separate accounts.

From 1896 to 1898 he was president of the Manufacturers Club of Philadelphia, which is not only a social club, but has been an organization [p 546] of much weight and influence as regards public questions of national finance and political economy.

During the time of the free silver agitation he did good work as the president of the Sound Money League of Pennsylvania. He is treasurer of the Christian League of Philadelphia, of which the object is to compel the enforcement of the laws against vice and immorality; and is first vice chairman of the Philadelphia Committee for the Czar's International Peace Conference, Hon. George F. EDMUNDS being chairman.

He [John Heman CONVERSE] is interested in art. He is one of the advisory committee of the Art Association of the Union League of Pennsylvania, and it was largely through his agency and means that Ridgeway KNIGHT's "Le Soir" was procured for the walls of that club house. To the collection of paintings in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, of which he is a director, he presented the large canvas "The Hailing of the Ferry," by Ridgeway KNIGHT. The Converse Medal was founded by him in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a prize for high achievement by American painters and sculptors. He is president of the Fairmount Park Art Association, which has done so much to beatify Fairmount Park, with sculpture of the highest order. The exercises over which he presided, in connection with the presentation of a statue of GARFIELD in Fairmount Park by that association in 1896, were the occasion of a distinguished assemblage.

As president of the Fairmount Park Art Association, Mr. [John Heman] CONVERSE also presided at the ceremonies of the unveiling of the Grant statue in Fairmount Park, 27 April 1899, which was illustrated and thus described in "Harper's Weekly" of 06 May 1899:

A New Statue of Grant

A commemorative bronze statue of General Ulysses S. GRANT was unveiled in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, on 27 April [1899], the seventy-seventh anniversary of the birth of the great commander of the Union armies. President McKINLEY, with many distinguished officers of the nation and state, took part in the ceremonies.

Promptly at the hour set for departure of the line of carriages from the Bellevue, in South Broad Street, a squad of mounted police appeared, followed by the First City Troop, under command of Captain John C. GROOME; and when the start was made this troop acted as the President's escort. The carriage containing Mr. McKINLEY, John H. CONVERSE, president of the Fairmount Park Art Association, Secretary GAGE, and Mr. Charles C. HARRISON, was drawn by four black horses. Secretary LONG and Secretary HITCHCOCK, with President THOMPSON of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and President DARLINGTON of the Union League, occupied the carriage immediately following. Attorney General GRIGGS and Secretary CORTELYON came next, and among the persons in the other carriages who were objects of special interest to the great crowd thronging Philadelphia's streets were General MILES; Admiral CASEY, Captain CLARK, formerly of the "Oregon;" M. Jules CAMBON, the French ambassador; Captain COGHLAN, of the Raleigh;" Daniel C. FRENCH and E. C. POTTER, sculptors of the statue; Governor STONE and his staff; and in the last section of carriages, which was devoted to the use of ladies and members of the reception committee, Mrs. GRANT, Mrs. McKINLEY and Miss Rosemary SARTORIS, General GRANT's granddaughter. When the head of the procession reached the statue a salute of twenty-one guns was fired. A military procession passed over the same route half an hour later. This was marshalled by General SNOWDEN; sailors and marines from the "Raleigh," led by Lieutenant Commander PHELPS, were given the place of honor; then followed the First Bridged of the Pennsylvania National Guard, a division composed of cadet commands, and representatives of the Grand Army of the Republic, carrying battle flags of the Civil War. The unveiling exercises opened with a prayer by Bishop WHITAKER. Mayor ASHBRIDGE delivered a short address, and Mr. [John Heman] CONVERSE formally presented the statue to the commissioners of Fairmount Park. At the conclusion of Mr. CONVERSE's address, Miss SARTORIS mounted the steps leading to a small platform, to which ran the cord which connected with the top of the red, white and blue covering of the statue. When she pulled this cord and the bunting fell to the base of the statue, two flags ran out on a line on each side, a salute of seventeen guns was fired, and a great cheer arose from the crowd. General SNOWDEN received the statue on behalf of the commissioners, and the sculptors were introduced. Immediately after the review the President and cabinet officers, escorted by the City Troop, drove to the Union League Club, where they were dined by Mr. CONVERSE. In the evening a great audience [p 547] in the Academy of Music listened to speeches by the President and Hampton L. CARSON.

The statue is of heroic size, its height from the bottom of the platform to the top of the rider's hat being fifteen feet, one inch. Of the two artists mentioned, Mr. FRENCH designed the figure of GRANT, and Mr. POTTER designed the horse. Their motif is a moment when GRANT was surveying a battlefield from an eminence, intent upon the operations of his own forces and those of the enemy.

Mr. [John Heman] CONVERSE's summer home at Rosemont [a suburb of Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania] includes an art gallery which contains examples of the work of some of the world's greatest artists. Himself an amateur of music, and an executant (as are also the members of his family), he has always been among the foremost in efforts to provide the development of music in Philadelphia. He was vice president of the Philadelphia Music Festival in 1883-1885, which contributed largely to subsequent musical advancement in that city and vicinity. For several years he was vice president of the Utopian Club of Philadelphia, which was composed of musicians and amateurs.

From the University of Vermont he [John Heman CONVERSE] received the degree of LL. D. in 1897. He is president of the Alumni Association of the University of Vermont, a member of the chapter in that college of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and a trustee of Princeton Theological Seminary.

He has always been deeply interested in religious and charitable work, devoting his time and means thereto without stint. He has for some years been one of the Citizens' Permanent Relief Committee of Philadelphia, whose aim is to relive the distress of the poor. He has taught a class in Sunday school for some thirty years; is an elder of the Presbyterian church at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, one of the trustees of that church, and for many years president of the board of trustees; president of the board of trustees of Calvary Presbyterian church, Philadelphia; and president, in 1898-1899, of the Presbyterian Social Union of Philadelphia. In connection with the missionary work of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian church he built and donated a hospital at Miraj, India. He is a trustee of the general assembly of the Presbyterian church; a member of the Presbyterian board of publication; a trustee of the Young Men's Christian Association, of Philadelphia; one of the honorary directors of the Presbyterian Historical Society; and chairman of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Committee of Philadelphia.

The building referred to in the "Ariel" as having been donated by him to the Presbyterian Hospital of Philadelphia is the large central building called the Administration Building. The building referred to in the "Ariel" as in contemplation by him as a donation to the University of Vermont was completed in 1895. It is a handsome large dormitory building and is called "Converse Hall." In 1899 he founded and handsomely endowed the department of economics and commerce in the University of Vermont.

He was for several years president of the New England Society of Pennsylvania, and vice president for Pennsylvania of the National Association of Manufacturers, an organization whose object is to develop the foreign commerce of this country. The public interest in addresses by him on "Citizenship and Technical Education," delivered at Lehigh University on Founders' Day in 1896, and on "The Twentieth Century University" at the University of Vermont, before the alumni in 1898, led to their publication, and they have attracted considerable attention, especially among educators.

In addition to his membership in the organizations of which he is an officer, hereinbefore specified, he is a member of the following: The Bryn Mawr Citizens' Association (and president of the same); the Neighbors' Club of Wynnewood, Haveford [Haverford, Pennsylvania], Bryn Mawr, and vicinity (and ex-president of the same); the Free Library of Economics and Political Science of Philadelphia; the American Academy of Political and Social Science; the American Forestry Association; the American Philosophical Society; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the Vermont Historical Society; the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia; the Union League of Philadelphia; the Manufacturers' Club of Philadelphia' the University Club of Philadelphia; the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia; Indian Rights Association; the New England Society of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; the Geographical Society of Philadelphia; [p 548] the Philadelphia Country Club; the Radnor Hunt; the Vermont Antiquarian Society; the Philadelphia Society of the Archaeological Institute of America; the Lake Champlain Yacht Club; the Merion Cricket Club; the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution; and the Sons of the American Revolution in Vermont.

The following sketch of John H. CONVERSE is from "The Presbyterian Journal of Philadelphia," 11 May 1899:

We are gratified to be able to place on our front page the portrait of Mr. John H. CONVERSE, the president of the Presbyterian Social Union of Philadelphia. Mr. CONVERSE is one of the most esteemed citizens of Philadelphia. He has quietly and by force of character put himself in the
front rank of the honored and trusted men of whom Philadelphia is proud.

Mr. CONVERSE is a fine specimen of sterling New England stock, a native of the Green Mountain State [Vermont], and the son of a minister. He was educated in the University of Vermont and has received the degree of Doctor of Laws from his alma mater. His early life was spent in Burlington [Chittenden County], Vermont. He was a diligent student, and devoted himself
for a time to journalism. Being a ready shorthand writer, his services were appreciated by the legislature of his native state, and in this limited field he did good foundation work.

But the coming man soon threw off the restraints of such local service. The man destined for so much more important work soon became restless in such environments, and he went west. Dr. Edward H. WILLIAMS, another honored son of Vermont, who knew and valued Mr. CONVERSE was already prominent in railroad affairs in the west. The career of Mr. CONVERSE is very considerably linked to the fortunes of Dr. WILLIAMS, and the two men are
close confiding friends. Mr. CONVERSE first found a start in Chicago [Cook County, Illinois]. Whatever his hands found to do he did with his might. The value of Dr. WILLIAMS as a railroad manager was soon discovered by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he was put in charge of affairs at Altoona [Blair County, Pennsylvania]. Ever mindful of the capacity and worth of his young friend, Dr. WILLIAMS imbued Mr. CONVERSE to turn his face east again. It was not without a struggle that he decided to leave Chicago, thinking that he would have a better chance in the west. But his conscience determined his course at this critical moment, as always, and he began the movement that was to bring him success. Later Dr. WILLIAMS found his crowning triumph in his
connection with the Baldwin Locomotive Works. And, following the lead that has proved so successful, Mr. CONVERSE was soon applying his remarkable energy and all the fine qualities of his character to the wonderful development of this powerful corporation. For twenty-five years he has been the determining spirit of this magnificent enterprise. Fortune has forced itself upon the man. He has constantly scattered with a liberal hand, and his fortune has grown as by magic. He is a master of money, and never allowed money to master him. While other men have dreamed of generous purposes, after so many millions have been accumulated, Mr.CONVERSE has seemed
determined to be his own executor. Nobody talks about the millions he may be worth, everybody recognizes his lavish generosity. He seems to take no thought about accumulation, but seeks opportunity to be helpful to ever good cause.

As a citizen he is universally appreciated; financial institutions are anxious to have the use of his judgment. The Philadelphia City Trust, recognizing his integrity, has claimed him as a member. In every movement, for the public good or for the public honor, the cooperation of Mr. CONVERSE is sought. But none of these things that his character draws to him seem to excite any ambition for personal preferment.

Mr. CONVERSE is not the sort of man that politicians are looking for, and he is not the sort of man that stops to consider the favor of those who determine office holders. There may come a landslide some of these days that will give a patient public the luxury of seeing such a man in some place of honor, long disgraced by little politicians, but it will be a divine Providence, rather than a human purpose, when it comes. It is refreshing to find men great enough not to seek their own glory, just great in goodness and in true worth.

As a loyal, faithful, generous church man, Mr. CONVERSE is pre-eminent. He is a thorough Presbyterian, but will help any Christian enterprise. His hand is never off his purse. Plenty of schemes of doubtful desert impose upon his generosity. But any poor minister, any poor church, any poor Christian can share what the [p 549] Lord gives him. As a university man he is keenly awake to all educational projects.

The Presbyterian Hospital is greatly loved and favored by Mr. CONVERSE. He is a trustee in this institution and for man years has acted as its secretary. He devotes himself to the details of hospital work with as much diligence as she shows in his own business affairs. The beautiful administration building was his gift, and he is constantly seeking the success of this benevolent institution.

Other institutions have shared bountifully in his benevolence, and missionaries in heathen lands are supported by him.

But the man is better than his abilities or his gifts. In the quiet walks of life he wins his friends and makes his friendships by the true heart throbs that reveal the secrets of influence and success. Any man is favored who has the confidence and friendship and gentle fellowship of John H. CONVERSE.

The following reference to John H. CONVERSE in the 27 December 1898 issue of "The Philadelphia Call" is part of an article entitled "Philadelphia Millionaires," on prominent citizens of the Quaker City:

Associated in the management of the Baldwin Locomotive Works are at least four millionaires, three of whom began life as clerks and have risen by sheer ability and character. Their names are William C. HENSZEY, John H. CONVERSE, George BURNHAM, and Dr. E. H. WILLIAMS. BURNHAM, who is the head of the establishment today, was one of the original young men associated with Mathias W. BALDWIN, the founder of the enterprise, and after the death of the latter, established the firm name of Burnham, Williams & Company. Dr. WILLIAMS graduated from the University of Vermont, and started life as an engineer on a small railroad in New England. Since he has acquired wealth, he has developed into a great traveler.

The most interesting figure in this group, and one of the most thoroughly self-developed men in the United States, is John H. CONVERSE, who is likewise a graduate of the University of Vermont, and started life just as Dr. WILLIAMS, in the great railroad shops at Altoona [Blair County, Pennsylvania]. He has been president of the New England Society and of the Manufacturers' Club, is a patron of the fine arts, and probably the best after dinner speaker in the Quaker City. Art lovers will remember him as the donor of Ridgeway KNIGHT's famous picture "Calling the Ferry" to the Philadelphia Academy. He is far and away the most prominent personality in the town since the death of George W. CHILDS.

The following sketch of John H. CONVERSE appeared in "The Philadelphia Press," 14 May 1899:

John H. CONVERSE, philanthropist and man of business; the personal side of one of the leading citizens of Philadelphia, who is foremost in seeking the good of the city and the welfare of its people. Fifth series of "Men Who are Prominent in Affairs of City and State.

It is difficult to say how John H. CONVERSE of Philadelphia is most widely known, as one of the heads of the great Baldwin Locomotive Works, as a philanthropist, or as a Presbyterian. In each he stands at the forefront. In each he has won fame. He is today one of the active, hardworking, wealthy Philadelphians, identified with most of the great movements, either for bettering the city or helping its people.

Converse BiographyPart III Continued Here


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