THE CONVERSE FAMILY
Part III 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 III 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

If the place of his birth were to be of importance in the study of his character, we should describe him as a Yankee, for he [John H. CONVERSE] was born in Burlington [Chittenden County], Vermont, fifty-nine years ago, 02 December 1840. If climate and early environment had a determining influence upon his character, it would be fair to assume that his New England birth was responsible for that thrift without greed, that frugality without parsimony, which has marked his career. It is safe to assume, and those who have known him longest say it for him, that he was never a bad boy. He was not too good, however, to play pranks in his early school days, and he always insisted and fought for his rights in those days, as he has since.

He was studious and well prepared in his lessons, rather than brilliant, and never allowed a problem to conquer him if patience and inflexible determination could enable him to master it. After the usual preparatory course, Mr. CONVERSE was admitted to the freshman class in the University of Vermont in 1857, and he was graduated from that institution in 1861. During his college life, he paid more attention to the practical things in the course of study than to the merely ornamental. He took special delight in mechanical drawing, and during his four years at the university learned to be an expert stenographer, when stenography was a much more unusual study than it is today. [p 550] To these two elements in his rudimental education, he probably owed the determination of his future life work, and to them, in a measure, Philadelphia is indebted for his business and philanthropic life.

Mr. CONVERSE set out to make a career for himself at once. His first ambition was to become the maker of a great newspaper, and he accordingly became a journalist. Mr. CONVERSE is too modest to talk about himself, and he leaves to us to infer that what he did in that direction was done with conscientious care, but circumstances induced him to give up editorial work after a period of three years. He was a editorial writer on 'The Burlington Weekly' and 'Daily Times' from 1861 to 1864, when he received an inducement to enter one of the departments of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway with an office at Chicago.

Although Mr. CONVERSE possessed literary attainments of a marked character, his new employment was more suited to his temperament and disposition, and to those qualities of mind which have made his business career so signally successful. It was about the time that Joseph PENHAM was making the effort to build the railroad from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, which subsequently developed into the Northern Pacific Railroad, that Mr. CONVERSE entered the Northwestern road's employ. It was a good time to study railroading in the west, and he made good use of his advantages to learn a good deal about it.

He remained in Chicago for two years, displaying decided ability, and had he remained in the west, probably would have been one of the prominent figures in the organization of the great systems of railroad which have since grown to such magnitude in the northwest. Mr. E. H. WILLIAMS, who had come out of New England also, and had known Mr. CONVERSE in his school days, and who had observed his talent, had become general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He needed just such a man as Mr. CONVERSE with him and accordingly
wrote out to Chicago and offered him an important position. At that time Mr. CONVERSE had made up his mind that his field of work was in the west, and notwithstanding a very strong inclination to be with Mr. WILLIAMS, he decided to decline the offer and so wrote to that gentleman. Over night, however, Mr. CONVERSE fortunately changed his mind and also his determination . He telegraphed Mr. WILLIAMS to disregard the contents of the letter.

Thus the business association of these two men who have ever since been closely allied began, and has culminated in their joint control and management of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. As Mr. George H. BURNHAM and Mr. WILLIAMS have of late years given up much of their active work in the firm, Mr. CONVERSE has become practically the head of the concern. He remained four years with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and was in the way of becoming one of the leading spirits of that gigantic corporation when Mr. WILLIAMS retired from his position and was admitted into the firm which controlled the Baldwin establishment. Mr. WILLIAMS at once induced Mr. CONVERSE to accept a post of great responsibility in the works, and the way was thus open for that advancement which has given him a place among the financial and industrial leaders of the country.

Naturally Mr. CONVERSE has become the possessor of large wealth, which he disposes of largely in work of philanthropy and benevolence. His business talents and his financial wisdom are not confined in their operation to the management of the department of the Baldwin Works, which is his special charge. He is a director in the Philadelphia National Bank, the Philadelphia Trust Company, the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad Company, the Real Estate Trust Company, of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Savings Fund.

All these offices receive his active and constant attention, and are by no means merely an indication of honor. It would seem such heavy business responsibilities are more than one could carry well, but Mr. CONVERSE brings to them a well trained mind and a wonderful aptitude in the conduct of financial matters.

Mr. CONVERSE is a modest man. While he would shrink from no public duty which occasion might demand of him, he would be repelled by the necessary publicity in connection with it. He is not a mockish modesty. "He is," remarked one of his business associates, "a true man, a most sincere man, in earnest in whatever he does."

One gets an impression of this from him almost at sight. His eyes look at you with force. You see character and candor there, sternness at times, but never without reason. He is direct in speech, deliberate in his manner. His forehead is high and although not [p 551] unusually broad, gives one an idea of power and great capacity for mental work. The nose is prominent, the mouth rather large, with a very full underlip. His head is well poised, and the physique and general bearing of the man is of one who is self-contained, sure of himself, tolerant but firm. His mouth, when to come to look at it closely, impresses you with that rare combination of a strong will, but a tolerant disposition.

His judgment upon matters is deliberate and always sound. It is to the possession of this quality that he owes his business success and the confidence of his associates. Said a distinguished professional friend of his: "I can rely almost implicitly upon Mr. CONVERSE's judgment. I fancy that I have a pretty strong mind of my own, but I should very seriously consider a course, in business or other affairs, in opposition to a conclusion reached by him. In a long and close personal relation with him I have scarcely ever known him to be wrong in judgment."

Mr. CONVERSE rarely if ever jumps at a conclusion. He examines every phase of a question, looks at it from every possible standpoint, and turns it over carefully in his mind. He never says that he knows a thing as a matter of fact until he is absolutely sure of it. This is as true in small matters as in more important ones. No detail is too trifling for him to look at.

The failure to keep an engagement, and that promptly, without the most sufficient cause is a cardinal sin in Mr. CONVERSE's eyes. I quote another friend of his: Mr. CONVERSE never broke an engagement in his life which it was possible to keep. I am quite sure of this. If he should tell me six months in advance that he would meet me at the corner of a certain street in London, say on a certain day at a certain hour, I should find him there, as sure as he was alive and able to get there, or a messenger from him explaining why he could not come. The importance of the engagement or the nonimportance of it would not be considered by him."

There is another characteristic trait of Mr. CONVERSE. He never forgets about a business statement. Indeed, he rarely ever forgets about any matter of fact that he ever had knowledge of. To remind him of a thing which he had agreed to or had not agreed to, or was an essential thing in any way, and have him say, "I forgot," would astonish any intimate friend of his. He takes careful note of all business affairs, church affairs, or home affairs, when necessary, but those things which he does not make a memorandum of he stows away neatly and conclusively in his memory, as though it had been put on his calendar.

But, withal, Mr. CONVERSE can be stubborn; not an obstinate stubbornness, but with an almost inflexible belief in his own opinion. He is by no means an unreasonable man, and is open to argument, and when convinced of an error, will frankly confess it, "But," remarked one of his most uncompromising admirers, "He is dreadfully hard to convince when he has once made up his
mind, probably due to the fact that he thinks out his conclusions more carefully than most men."

He is a devout Presbyterian, deeply religious, charitable, generous. He has probably given half a million dollars to his church and to others, and to broad schemes of philanthropy. He has given not only much of his money to the Presbyterian Hospital, but devotes much of his time to it.

He has given largely to his alma mater, the University of Vermont. Being a trustee of the university and intimately acquainted with its needs, he has known how to make his benefactions as wise as they have been liberal. Besides endowing a scholarship and making frequent contributions to meet
special needs, he has founded "the Converse Prize" for proficiency in public debate.

In cooperation with his friend and partner, Dr. WILLIAMS, who shares Mr. CONVERSE's liberal spirit and his interest in the university, he has erected for the university a number of buildings, which, for architectural beauty and completeness, rank with the most attractive of modern houses. The structures thus erected include a number of dwellings for the use of professors, a students' dormitory building, and a building which contains the laboratories and lecture rooms for the chemical and physical departments. In 1897 the University of Vermont conferred upon him the honorary degree of L. L. D.

But Mr. CONVERSE is not sectarian in his benevolence. He is one of the most liberal contributors to charity organized and otherwise of the very rich men of this city.

An illustration of the quickness and spontaneity of his response to appeals to his generosity is a case which occurred recently. A friend wrote to him of a work he was engaged in, merely [p 552] mentioning it as a matter of news, and with no thought of appealing to him for help, because he had recently subscribed for a similar object, Mr. CONVERSE at once sent him a check for one hundred dollars. As the arrangement to meet the case had been completed before the check arrived, the check was returned with thanks and an explanation. He at once remailed it with instruction to apply it to the next best thing in that direction. Having once devoted the money to the cause, he would not take it back.

Mr. [John Heman] CONVERSE in domestic life is such a man as one would expect to find in the home of such a man. He would be out of place as a first-nighter at the theater, and his tastes do not run in that direction. He is, however, fond of music, and is an excellent performer on the violin. In his private life he has gathered about him in a quiet and modest way the luxuries which are congenial to a man of culture. In his home, art, music, literature and genial society abound. His accomplished wife [Elizabeth Perkins (THOMPSON) CONVERSE] is full of sympathy with him in taste and aims. He is a loving, sincere, and artless man among his friends. His attachments are strong and his circle of friends is large. He has two daughters and one son [Mary Eleanor CONVERSE, Helen Prentis CONVERSE, and John Williams CONVERSE], the latter a student at Princeton College.

In the popular meaning of he term, Mr. CONVERSE is not interested in politics. That is to say, he is not attracted either by the political methods which are potent in shaping our public affairs, or by some of the products of them. It is probable that he does not regard with any degree of complacency the use of his name by mere politicians who might desire only the use of a good name to trick reforms; but it is not unreasonable to suppose that he has enough human nature in his makeup to cause him to look not unkindly upon that other influence which has often picked him out as one of the very best types of Philadelphia's public-spirited citizens, when prosperity and fitness are to be regarded in the selection of men for high positions.

No man is insensible to this kind of tribute from his fellow men, and Mr. CONVERSE values the esteem and confidence of neighbors and friends just as he valued the good opinion of his employees when he was making his way in life.

In the company of men who have sought to remedy some of the evils of our municipal government, he has worked for the better men and better principles in the conduct of city affairs. He was a supporter and contributor to the old Committee of One Hundred and the Committee of Fifty, and other kindred organizations; but his aid has been given for his city, not for himself.

As a Republican of strong connections, he has always supported that party in its national progress; he has probably not always been able to follow it in local and state contests. Mr. CONVERSE is not a fluent talker, but in business councils he can express himself with great clearness and effect, and in his semi-public capacity as one of the members of the board of city trusts, he has shown an aptness in discussion which suggests that he would be a good speech maker if he cared to try. He was elected a member of the trust in 1889, and is now serving as chairman of the committee. He has had charge of all the Girard estates within the city, and takes a deep interest in the incomparable institution founded by that other great Philadelphia business man, Stephen GIRARD. Recently he was transferred to the post of chairman of the household committee.

It is not surprising that he should be a member of the Fairmount Park Art Association. He is fond of art, and has a fine gallery of rare pictures in his country home at Rosemont [suburb of Philadelphia]; and he regards the beautification of the park as a duty which every man of means and influence should interest himself in.

He is a trustee of the Presbyterian Hospital, and is secretary of the board. It is characteristic of Mr. CONVERSE that he personally attends to all of the details of that position. He keeps the accounts himself, writes with his own hand every letter necessary to be written, and will allow no one else to do so. This is in keeping with his policy in the conduct of his own business, his scrupulous care in seeing that the little things are looked after with as much certainty as the large affairs.

He is also one of the most industrious and enthusiastic of the trustees of the University Extension Association and of the Academy of Fine Arts.

It will be readily recalled that he was the president of the National Relief Association during the recent war with Spain, and in that position rendered services for which he has received the thanks of the country. A catalogue of the positions he holds in those enterprises in which men lend their brains and their bank account for the bettering of the condition of their fellows would be a long one.

It can readily be imagined then, that he has [p 553] become known as one of Philadelphia's very first citizens, and one toward whom public attention frequently gravitates when the hope of something better and purer in our public affairs lifts up its head.

A simple, worthy, broad-minded citizen, a sincere but never an ostentatious Christian; a man of truth and stern virtue; a generous dispenser of much of the large means Providence has enabled him to accumulate, to those who need it and deserve it. Such is John H. CONVERSE. The world is better for having such men in it.

He was married in Brooklyn, New York, 09 July 1873, by Rev. Dr. Heman DYER, to Elizabeth Perkins THOMPSON, daughter of Professor James THOMPSON (Professor in the Western University, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and later of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Lewiston, Pennsylvania) and Mary Johnson BISHOP, daughter of Daniel Lathrop BISHOP, of New York.

Mrs. CONVERSE, also, has been much engaged in benevolent work. Since 1888 she has been the treasurer of the Depository and Philadelphia Exchange for Woman's Work. She is one of the vice presidents of the Ladies' Aid of the Presbyterian Hospital and one of the working members of the Civic Club of Philadelphia, a woman's organization whose object is the improvement of the economic, sanitary and political conditions of the city. She is also a member of the New Century Club of Philadelphia, the Contemporary Club of Philadelphia, the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames.

Children of John Heman and Elizabeth Perkins (THOMPSON) CONVERSE: (all born in Philadelphia)

Mary Eleanor CONVERSE (VIII), born 10 April 1877; graduated at Bryn Mawr College in 1898.

John Williams CONVERSE (VIII), born 30 March 1879; student Princeton University, class of 1900.

Helen Prentis CONVERSE (VIII), born 26 July 1880; student Bryn Mawr College, class of 1901. In her early youth she was much given to composition, and a short story written by her entitled "The Iron Virgin of Nuremberg" was published in 1893.

Charles Allen CONVERSE (pp 553-554)

Colonel Charles Allen CONVERSE (VII) -- Rev. John Kendrick (VI), Joel (V), Thomas (IV), Samuel (III), Sergeant Samuel (II), Deacon Edward (I) -- was born in Burlington [Chittenden County], Vermont, 17 May 1847; fitted for college at the Burlington Union high school, which he left in March 1863, before graduation to enter the service of the Rutland Railroad Company at Burlington, as accountant in the freight office during the agency of R. W. CHASE. After a few months he relinquished this work in order to become the teller of the Bank of Burlington, and afterwards the teller of the First National Bank of Burlington, which superseded the former bank at the time when the national banks were instituted. In the fall of 1865 he resigned his position in the bank to enter the University of Vermont, from which he graduated in 1869, receiving the degree of A. B., and admission to the Phi Beta Kappa, having largely worked his way through college by vacation work as a telegraph operator, stenographer and newspaper reporter, viz: On the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad at Geneva [Kane County], Illinois, and Dixon [Lee County], Illinois, during the winter of 1865-1866; in general superintendent's office, Pennsylvania Railroad, at Altoona [Blair County], Pennsylvania, during the winter of 1866-1867; on the line of the North Western Telegraph Company at St. Paul, Minnesota, Watertown, Wisconsin, and LaCrosse, Wisconsin, during the winter of 1867-1868; night press operator, Burlington [Vermont], winter of 1868-1869; in Western Union Telegraph office, Saratoga [Union or Grundy County, Illinois? Saratoga County, New York?], in summer of 1869; and temporarily for the Burlington "Daily Times" at various times. In the University of Vermont he was a member of the Lambda Iota fraternity.

He [Charles Allen CONVERSE] was in the service of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Blairsville [Indiana County], Pennsylvania, during 1870 as chief operator, West Pennsylvania division of telegraph. From October 1870 until November 1886, he was in the service of the Vermont Central Railroad and the Central Vermont Railroad Company at St. Albans [Franklin County], Vermont, as secretary to general freight agent, secretary to general superintendent traffic, chief clerk general freight office, general manager's secretary and assistant superintendent local freight traffic, consecutively. He resigned the latter position in November 1886 to engage in a lumber operation in Pennsylvania as junior partner of the firm of Nichols & Converse of Philadelphia. Upon the completion of that work in September 1888, and [p 554] the dissolution of that partnership, he became the secretary of the the Kosenko & Hetherington Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, manufacturers of gas and electric fixtures, and was secretary and treasurer of same from September 1895 until the sale of its plant to a new company in September
1897. Since then he has been engaged in the office of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia.

He was aide-de-camp to the governor of Vermont on his military staff, with rank of colonel, in 1896, 1897, and 1898, having previously been connected with the Vermont National Guard from 1872 to 1882 as a member of the Ransom Guard of St. Albans. He was vice president of Arbor Vitae Club, St. Albans, 1878; member Owl Club, St. Albans, 1885-1886; honorary member of the Association of General Freight Agents of New England, 1878-1886; member of the Canadian Association of General Freight Agents, 1884-1886; director Central Vermont Railroad Library Association, 1885; high priest Champlain Chapter No. 1, Royal Arch Masons, St. Albans, 1886-1887; district deputy grand high priest, 1886-1887; member Engleby Lodge No. 84, Free & Accepted Masons, St. Albans, and Lafayette Commandery No. 3, Knights Templar, St. Albans; member of the Art Club of Philadelphia, the Union League Club of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, the Bryn Mawr (Pennsylvania) Presbyterian church, the Presbyterian Social Union of Philadelphia, the Lake Champlain Yacht Club, the Merion Cricket Club at Haverford, Pennsylvania, the New England Society of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution, Vermont Society Sons of the American Revolution; the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Vermont, and one of the Gentlemen of the Council of the last named society in 1897 and 1898.

Frank Kendrick CONVERSE

Frank Kendrick CONVERSE (VII) -- Rev. John Kendrick (VI), Joel (V), Thomas (IV), Samuel (III), Sergeant Samuel (II), Deacon Edward (I) -- was born in Burlington [Chittenden County], Vermont, 04 November 1849; married in Brooklyn, New York, 17 July 1871, by Rev. Mr. BOND, to Abbie Adelia CONNER, who was born in Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont] 27 September 1854, and is the daughter of Charles Adams and Anna Aurelia (JONES) CONNER, of Shelburne [Chittenden County], Vermont. She is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church of Burlington. Frank Kendrick CONVERSE is a farmer at Charlotte [Chittenden County], Vermont. The location of his farm on the shore of Lake Champlain lends much natural beauty to its environment.

Children: Sarah Allen CONVERSE and Bessie Helena CONVERSE

Sarah Allen CONVERSE (VIII), born in Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont], 10 September 1874; attended the Burlington public schools, and after finishing at the Burlington Union high school in 1894, spent a year at Miss UNDERWOOD's private school in Burlington. She [Sarah Allen CONVERSE] was married 08 October 1902 to Edgar Lane LEAVENWORTH, formerly of Charlotte [Chittenden County, Vermont], now western representative of the Proctor Marble Company, in Indianapolis [Marion or Hamilton County?], Indiana.

Bessie Helena CONVERSE (VIII), born in Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont], 07 June 1877; attended the public schools in Burlington until 1889, after which she was a student at Miss UNDERWOOD's school, and finished at Miss BARKER's private school in Burlington in 1897.

Ida Flavia Fredica CONVERSE

Ida Flavia Fredica CONVERSE (VII) -- Rev. John Kendrick (VI), Joel (V), Thomas (IV), Samuel (III), Sergeant Samuel (II), Deacon Edward (I) -- born at Burlington [Chittenden County], Vermont, 24 August 1851, educated at the Burlington Female Seminary; married in Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont], 30 September 1874, by Rev. John Kendrick CONVERSE, to George Foster SIMPSON, M. D., of Fort Edward [Washington County], New York. He [George Foster SIMPSON] was born in Montreal, Province of Quebec, 21 June 1847, and is the son of George F. SIMPSON and Mrs. Harriet (TOWN) SIMPSON. He was educated at the Fort Edward Collegiate Institute, and graduated from the medical department of the University of Vermont in 1873. He commenced the practice of medicine at Saddle River [Bergen County], New Jersey, in 1873; practiced in Newton [Sussex County], New Jersey, from February 1875 to September 1879, and since the latter date in North Adams [Berkshire County], Massachusetts, where he now resides. He is practitioner for the states of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, having passed examinations and been registered in each of these states. From 01 February 1896 to 01 February 1898, he was chairman of the board of health of the city of North Adams, and has been chairman of the Homeopathic staff of the North Adams Hospital since its opening in 1884.

End of Part III........End of Biographical Transcription

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