The move from Muhlenberg to Mount Airy took Buchman from one part of the Pennsylvania German culture to another. The seminary, owned by the Ministerium, mirrored its dutiful earnestness. The buildings themselves conveyed an impression of austerity, even grimness, and suggested that a career in the Lutheran Church was not something to be undertaken lightly. At the same time, Mount Airy was situated in the exciting city of Philadelphia, the birthplace of the American Constitution and a major port, which still looked to Europe as the centre of gravity of the world. That great world, of which Buchman read and dreamed, seemed a good deal nearer now than it had in Allentown.
At first Buchman was intensely lonely, and compensated by taking a somewhat lordly attitude towards his classmates at the seminary. They were, he thought, rather colourless and narrow. Very few, he wrote his mother, had much general knowledge. They knew nothing apart from what they had studied in books. That was well and good, but a man needed a knowledge of the ‘doings of men’.
At the same time, in the manner of many young men who have newly left home, he was giving his parents a glimpse of his ambitions. They were grandiose in the style of an America saturated with the log-cabin-to-the-White-House philosophy of Horatio Alger, 200 million copies of whose books had been sold in the previous twenty-five years. ‘A man in order to be great must do extraordinary things, not ordinary,’ Buchman wrote to his parents. ‘By the grace of God, I intend to make the name of Buchman shine forth. By earnest toil and labour I can accomplish it.’ Dr Luther, he remarked, had not written hymns until he was forty; and his own ambition was to be a famous author and hymn-writer. ‘Never before’, he concluded, ‘have I revealed my mind to you like this but often I have laid awake and thought of all these things.’1
Not only did he take himself seriously, he also expected others to follow suit. For example, he not infrequently chided his mother for the stationery she used when writing to him. ‘I hate to receive letters on such poor paper,’ he told her briskly. ‘It looks so careless and I want to keep them. So please do me the favour to use better paper in the future. Every woman ought to have good paper.’2 ‘Don't feel hurt about the stationery question,’ he added in another letter, ‘I meant it in all kindness.’3
By March he had adjusted to the more reserved company he found himself in, and ‘recovered from the blues’.4 There were, also, a good range of things to be enjoyed in Philadelphia in the intervals between taking examinations in Hebrew, and as well as playing tennis, riding and boating, Buchman was soon making his number with young ladies of good position, fortified by a new pair of patent leather shoes. He had been invited, he wrote to his parents, to visit a Miss Taylor who was staying with family friends in Philadelphia – ‘very aristocratic people’ - and later he reported on the success of the visit. The shoes, he declared, had looked stunning; he only wished they could have seen him.5
Almost immediately he was invited to attend the wedding of Florence Thayer's sister in Woonsocket, and he started to lay careful siege to his father's pocket-book. It would, he told his parents, be a great education ‘to see the beautiful decorations, the people and the like’, the chance of a life-time, in fact. He didn't expect ever again to get an invitation to such a fine wedding because he had but one millionaire family on his acquaintance list. The only other wedding he could expect to attend was his own – ‘that is if I ever marry a girl like Miss Thayer, who can afford such a wedding’.
Then, no doubt recalling his previous letter about the visit to Miss Taylor, he seeks to reassure them that his affections are not promiscuous and that, this time, their money would be spent on the true object of his heart. ‘I think I must stick to Miss Thayer’, he declares, with perhaps a touch of remorse, ‘as she seems more devoted than ever.’6
Fearing his first effort may have no fruit, Buchman tries again. ‘You may think’, he writes, ‘that I want too much, but it will only be a few years more and then I shall enter on my life's work. Then I cannot taste these pleasures.’ ‘A man who enters the ministry’, he adds, ‘must of a necessity be social... It's the getting out into the world that opens one's eyes.’ The letter also contains a poetic description of an afternoon sky, which he had sat and watched for two hours, bolstered by comments on the moral purpose of beauty.7 ‘My ambition is some day to become an author,’ he added next day. ‘I am going to aim high. An author cannot describe a scene unless he has seen and experienced it. If he wishes to describe a fashionable wedding, he cannot imagine it, he must see one. I could never have described to you yesterday's sky had I not seen it. Do you catch the force of my argument?’8
His mother evidently did catch the force, anyway of his determination. So, having asked her to send him his ‘nose-pinchers'* - ‘because they are more becoming’ - and having suggested that she might care to let the Allentown Chronicle know of his visit to Woonsocket,9 which she did, he set off for Rhode Island.
The occasion turned out to be all he could have hoped for. There was, he wrote his parents, such a crowd watching that ‘it took four policemen to keep the mob in subjection’. The luncheon was excellent, with salads and oysters ‘in every style’, words were inadequate to describe the pretty dresses; there were jewels and laces galore; and a butler in full livery gave each of the departing guests a piece of wedding-cake.10
As the months went by, Buchman took advantage of the joys of the great city, and peppered his parents with enthusiastic reports. ‘We saw the pew in St Peter's which George Washington occupied and not only saw it, but sat in the very place he was wont to sit... I bicycled all up Wissahickon Drive yesterday; the scenery is grand… Yesterday Bernard and I went to a cricket match at Manheim. I saw a real live Prince. He is called Prince Ranji and is a champion cricketer. You can read about him in the Sunday Press …. Dewey* will be in Philadelphia on Thursday. I advise you to come. I wouldn't miss the chance to see Dewey as he is one of the biggest men of the century.’11 He heard Mile Nerada, who ‘frequently’ sang before Queen Victoria, saw Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in Robespierre and Bernhardt playing Ophelia.12 He loved the splendour of grand opera - one year, he complained, he hadn't seen a single one ‘and the season almost over’13 - and relished being invited to a private showing of new paintings at the local Academy to which ‘a great many Parisians have sent work over’.14 He also wrote a paper on ‘Art in Worship’ for the Melanchthon Society.’15
(* Commodore George Dewey, hero of the Spanish-American War.)
Beneath Buchman's relish for a fashionable social life lay the insecurity and touchiness of a young man who could easily be wounded. One of his fellow-students had evidently been spreading minor items of gossip about him in Allentown: to wit, that a professor had said he did not have sufficient will-power to do his work (a grave charge in the German community), that he blushed a great deal - and that this blushing was not unconnected with his interest in a young lady called Marie.
Buchman retorted with heat. No professor, he told his mother, had ever hinted that he was not doing good work. As for the suggestion of a romantic attachment, ‘where Marie comes in and the blushing I do not know. I know no one by name Marie in Mount Airy, except Mary Fry and she is every bit of thirty-five and perhaps older...About my blushing that is the worst rot.’16
So far as work was concerned, Buchman provoked no complaint from his tutors. To enter Mount Airy, he had had to pass a qualifying examination which involved translating St Augustine from the Latin and passages of the New Testament from the Greek. Soon he was reading the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. Morning prayers were conducted alternately in German and English, and the students read Luther in the original German at the Luther Abend society to which Buchman belonged.17 His own speech, too, was seasoned with words which were literal translations from the German (‘homelike’ from heimlich); but he wrote to his mother apologising for finding it too time-consuming to write letters in Pennsylvania German and asking her to translate for his father anything he did not understand.18 He was also evidently taking elocution lessons, possibly to iron out the typical Allentown brogue, at the same time as relishing a visit from a friend who ‘enjoys a good joke in the Pennsylvania German’.19
Sometime in 1900 he went to stay at the Hotel Walton, advertised as ‘the only absolutely fire-proof hotel in Philadelphia’, and from there took a momentous step. ‘If you won't say anything, I'll tell you a secret,’ he wrote home. ‘I received three dollars for my first sermon. ... It was a splendid experience for me.... My life work has begun.’20
At this time the Church was increasingly emphasising its mission to the poor, the destitute and the aged. Given the state of American society, it was an obvious and crying need. In the years after the Civil War, the United States had expanded rapidly but painfully. Between 1860 and 1890 the national wealth had almost quintupled, from 16 billion to 78 billion dollars; the coast-to-coast rail link had been completed in 1869 and 100,000 miles of new railroad track were laid in the 1880s alone; and enormous fortunes were made by the new business potentates, men like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman and John Pierpont Morgan. Some of the new plutocrats might have their teeth set with diamonds and provide cigarettes wrapped in hundred-dollar bills, but on New York's East side people lived in squalor, 290,000 to the square mile. In 1895 the Salvation Army served 150,000 Christmas dinners in Boston alone. In New York there were 10,000 destitute children on the streets; while in the Bowery, in one small area six blocks long and seven wide, there were no fewer than 200 saloons. Alcoholism was rife, prostitution flourished; and the thousands of strikes which took place between 1881 and 1894 were merely an outward expression of the desperation of the poor.
In 1901, Buchman attended a meeting of the Lutheran Church's Inner Mission Society and was considerably moved by what he heard. ‘The idea of the movement’, he told his parents, ‘is to bridge over the widening gulf which separates and alienates the masses from the Church by personal hand-to-hand work in densely populated districts, to visit the sick, lift up the fallen, counsel the tempted, cheer the aged, instruct the ignorant and reclaim the children.’21 ‘This, he wrote the following year, was the thing which lay nearest his own heart. ‘Perhaps’, he noted in his diary, ‘the Lord will open this way of serving Him for me.’
By this time, he had already become involved in a wide variety of social work and flung himself into it with the same ardour as he showed in his social life. He joined the Sunshine Society, founded to help orphans, and visited hospitals and the aged.22 In 1901 he and a group of colleagues opened a new Sunday School in Kensington, one of the poorest districts of the city. On the first Sunday fifty-one children were present, unprecedented in Philadelphia, wrote Buchman to his mother; on the second, seventy-four, though the collection amounted to only $1.06. ‘I have charge of the infant department.... They are all interesting and all have beaming faces.’ He had a distinctly lively sense of the wider significance of what he was doing. ‘We are’, he said, ‘making history for the Lutheran Church in Kensington.’23
In the summer of 1901 he had been to the Northfield Student Conference in Massachusetts, founded by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody and now run by John R. Mott, the Assistant General Secretary of the YMCA and perhaps the dominant figure in the student evangelical movement. The visit, Buchman reported, ‘completely changed’ his life.24 ’Never have I had such a splendid week.’25 It seems to have been there that he decided that winning people to Christ must be his main objective in life, and that therefore he ought to win at least one person before he got back to Allentown. A visit to New York diverted him from this resolution, recalled as he was buying his train ticket home. The first person he laid eyes on at this juncture was a black porter. Buchman launched in.
‘George, are you a Christian?’
'Then you ought to be.'
The conversation continued in this vein, ending with, ‘Now, George, you've got to be a Christian.’
‘Thus ended', recalled Buchman, 'my first crude attempt to bring the unsearchable riches of Christ to another man. Whether he became a Christian or not... I can't tell. But that day the ice was broken on a new life-work.'26
Another influence on Buchman at this time was said to have been his Aunt Mary, who had a habit of asking him over Sunday lunch, ‘Well, Frankie, how many people got converted today?’ ‘Meeting Mary is as good as going to church ten times over,’ said Buchman's father.
His letters at this time display a marked increase in piety, frequently ending with a text or motto for his parents' edification. He also developed a deeper interest in his fellow-students. ‘The other week’, Buchman wrote to his parents in 1901, ‘I did a work for one of my fellow-students which has changed his entire life. He was on the verge of leaving the Seminary, feeling that he was not leading the true kind of a life. Today that man is the happiest fellow here. He is such a fine fellow and today he owes all he has in way of position in this institution to me.’27 The tone is self-important, the theology no doubt unsound, but Buchman's desire to help individuals seems to have been starting to bear fruit.
He graduated from Mount Airy in the summer of 1902, having meantime succeeded in reviving a chapter of the Pennsylvania Alpha Iota fraternity there, and was one of the three members of his class chosen to speak at the commencement ceremony. Florence Thayer came down from Woonsocket to attend it. By now, Buchman was a little sad to be leaving – ‘I shall miss these beautiful surroundings and the fellowship of the boys,’28 he wrote to his parents - but conscious, too, that he was about to take up his vocation.
His parents had already vetoed a number of notions about what he might do next - at one time he had wanted to go to India, at another to spend a year at university in Leipzig - but he still cherished the ambition that he might be called to an important city church. Therefore when, in August, he was asked to take over the Oliver Mission in the city, he promptly refused. Then he talked with an old college friend from Allentown, Bridges Stopp, the son of wealthy parents but crippled and often in ill health. Buchman spoke of his hope of being offered a place in a big city church. ‘You're going out to get a fat job,’ retorted Stopp, ‘but what am I going to get?’ The remark stung Buchman's pride and redirected his ambition - or, perhaps, determined him to prove his lack of it. When, on the day of his ordination,* he was asked to start a new church in one of Philadelphia's growing suburbs, he agreed.
(* 10 September 1902, at St John's Lutheran Church, Allentown.)
Overbrook, the charge which Buchman accepted, was an area embracing extremes of social class. There were mansions belonging to the city's prosperous business men and, on the other side of the railway tracks, the shacks and tenements of the poor. When he started work there was no church building, the room where he slept had no carpet on the floor, he was given a bed but no mattress. The letter appointing him said that he should begin work as soon as possible but added that the question of a salary ‘must for the present be left unstated’. It did not take long to discover what that implied. ‘They have just enough to pay their debts,’ wrote Buchman to his parents, ‘and nothing left for me.’29
The whole of his first month was spent tramping the streets trying to whip up a congregation and acquire suitable premises. All Buchman could find was a triangular three-storey building, on the corner of Lancaster Avenue and 62nd Street, the ground floor of which had been a store. This had to serve both as church and living quarters. One friend offered to pay the first month's rent, another to lend some chairs, providing that Buchman could arrange to have them picked up in Philadelphia. A month after he had arrived in Overbrook, the Church of the Good Shepherd opened its doors. There were eighty at the first evening service and the collection was $10.35.
It was hard and often dispiriting work. ‘I do so miss the home life,’ he wrote. ‘Everything is so quiet, but I shall again be accustomed to it ere long. Pray for me and that I may have strength to continue.’30 Buchman ate his meals off an old trunk covered with a cloth and, when his mother eventually sent a rug for the floor, he wrote that it made him feel as if he were living again. Nor was there any longer the consoling prospect of marriage. During the years at Overbrook, the relationship with Florence Thayer seems quietly to have faded away, even though at a reunion of his Muhlenberg class of '99 he was proposing the toast of 'Our Sweethearts'.
Buchman took an active interest in the School for the Blind in Overbrook. He enlisted the pupils to help him, and invited their chorus to sing in public. Genevieve Caulfield, blind since the age of three months, was one of these pupils, and sixty years later was decorated by President Kennedy for her life-work for the blind in Asia. She had never forgotten Buchman. ‘He was very interested to know that even then I was thinking of going to Japan,’ she recalled. ‘He asked me all about it when he took us out to the park or the zoo. He knew how children liked to eat, and he knew just what we liked to eat.... I never forgot him. He was kind without being patronising, and didn't take us out because he thought we were blind, but treated us as if we were real people whom he expected to do something in the world.’31
Following a pattern which persisted throughout his life, Buchman spent himself entirely on his work at Overbrook, and by the following summer was so exhausted that his doctor prescribed a long holiday. In June 1903 he sailed for Europe on the Vancouver, with a college friend, Howard Woerth. Buchman had hoped that his wealthier parishioners would provide the fare. It seems, however, to have come from his father, who at first was outraged at the thought of added expense after three years of college fees but then relented and won over his wife, for once disinclined to generosity towards her son. It was, in fact, most unusual for any but the wealthiest of Pennsylvania Dutch families to send their sons abroad.
The two young men made friends with a party of young ladies from Quincy, Massachusetts, organised by Miss Edith Randall. Soon they were all calling each other ‘cousin’, and for a time travelled together. Landing in Genoa, they visited Florence and Venice, and then went over the Simplon Pass by ‘diligence’ into Switzerland. Edith Randall later wrote to Buchman, ‘How many years have gone by since I first saw you drenched with sea-water on the deck …! Shall we ever forget the perils of the Gorner glacier which we braved together, or the sunrise at 4 am (ouch) on the Rochers-de-Naye.’32 At the Grand Hotel on the Rochers-de-Naye, two thousand metres above Montreux on Lake Geneva, Buchman found awaiting him a card from a Polish-German acquaintance staying half-way down the mountain at the Caux Palace, where he visited him next day.*
(* Forty-three years later, it was this hotel which became the centre of Buchman's European work.)
For Buchman, however, the holiday soon became more than a pleasant sightseeing trip in amiable company. As an ardent and ambitious young pastor, he was constantly looking for new ideas. Both in Switzerland and in Germany, he stayed in Christian Hospices (Christliches Hospiz) set up by the Lutheran Inner Mission to provide lodgings for young men who were away from home. Might he not, he wondered, be able to open a similar home in Philadelphia?
In the same enquiring spirit, Buchman visited Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, the son of a Prime Minister of Prussia, who had founded a colony of farms, hospitals and workshops for epileptics and the mentally sick at Bethel, near Bielefeld. Buchman was deeply impressed with von Bodelschwingh’s attempt not merely to create the atmosphere of a Christian family but also to give everyone a worthwhile job to do.
Back in Overbrook again, the Church of the Good Shepherd flourished modestly. During the first year Buchman had depended heavily on an allowance from his parents. The first anniversary celebration, however, raised $310 and the executive committee were so overjoyed that they agreed to give their pastor $ 130 in back pay. That, at least, enabled him to pay off his debts. From now on he received his salary of $50 a month regularly.
It was little enough to meet the sort of expenses which Buchman began to incur. Immediately he arrived back from Europe, he had discussed with a group of young business men the idea of opening a Hospiz on the European pattern. Soon, necessity overtook planning. One snowy night there was a knock at Buchman's door. It turned out to be a house-boy from one of the nearby mansions who had been driven out into the night for some trivial misdemeanour. Buchman took him in and, eventually, found him a new job.
Then he heard of a college student who was literally starving. Buchman wanted to invite him, too, to share what he had, but realised that he did not even have a spare bed. One of his young friends in the congregation soon resolved that problem. He told Buchman to buy a bed at Wanamaker's and let him have the bill.
It was the same young man, Gus Bechtold, who told Buchman of a boy he had seen in the tuberculosis ward of a local Home for the Indigent and Insane. The boy's father had just died of delirium tremens and his mother, who had once been cook to the Governor of Pennsylvania, was addicted to laudanum, the alcoholic tincture of opium. Mary Hemphill and her two boys were living in a tenement, of the type known as ‘three rooms straight up’, in one of the most squalid parts of Philadelphia - searching the garbage-bins for food. Buchman called on her and found her washing herself thin over the laundry-tub trying to make a living, a woman totally without hope. He needed a housekeeper, and invited her to join him along with her two boys.
Meeting this family made him decide to give up drinking alcohol. If Mary took a drop, she would return to her addiction; so he too must not touch it. The decision, a genuine sacrifice for one of his upbringing, lasted his lifetime.
Nor were the Hemphills the only poor family whom Buchman helped. ‘No one will ever know how much he did,’ said Bechtold later. ‘He was very close-mouthed about it. In all the years I knew Frank his first love was to serve the poor.’33
‘That work’, said Buchman afterwards, ‘was a fellowship in a store, where it was easier for workers and domestic help to gather together. It was literally the church in the house. Some walked miles because they felt the poor would find an understanding heart and ear, but also a home. With them I gladly shared my all and learnt the great truth that where God guides, He provides.’ Increasingly, he depended on gifts of food and money. Money was pushed through the letterbox, baskets of food left on the doorstep.
In May 1904 Buchman formally founded a Hospiz.34 By November his own warmth of heart, Mary's cooking and the insatiable need in the district, had filled the house.
Indeed, the Hospiz was almost too successful. It soon had more applicants than beds. The Church's Home Missions Board, however, were not slow on the uptake. Within weeks they were beginning to talk about opening a full-scale hospice, with room for fifty young men. Buchman was delighted. The local Ministerium consulted him fully and seemed only too happy to go along with the kind of institution he had in mind. He had no intention of setting up an austere hostel which merely offered basic amenities: he wanted something much closer in spirit to the Buchman House Hotel.
‘It is his (Buchman's) and the Board's purpose’, record the Ministerium's minutes for June 1905, ‘to actualise as nearly as possible the Christian family life, with all its comforts, refinements and wholesome influences.’ Nor, at this stage, did either Buchman or the Ministerium consider economic self-sufficiency critical. Although it was hoped to make the hospice self-sustaining, the minutes went on, ‘its very purpose might be defeated were an effort made to make it altogether so ... The deficit... will have to be covered from the Treasury of the society.’ The Ministerium had rented premises for this first Luther Hospice for Young Men at 157 N 20th Street for $2,000 a year, a sum which, in fact, made breaking even virtually impossible.
That was the understanding on which Buchman took the job of ‘housefather’, at $600 a year, with ‘general charge of the house in material and spiritual things under the direction of the Board’.35 Unfortunately, the chairman of the Board, Dr J. F. Ohl, was determined that the hospice should make the balancing of its books a priority and, indeed, regarded fund-raising as one of the housefather's principal jobs. Although he had, as Superintendent, been the sole signatory of the original terms of reference as set out in the minutes, it soon became clear that, so far as he was concerned, they might never have existed. Ohl was a musician, a liturgical scholar and a student of social movements, and known as a prickly character.
The two men found themselves in disagreement even before the hospice opened. Buchman had rented a cottage at Northfield, where he was taking daily Bible studies, as he did each year, and had invited Mary Hemphill, her sons and some of the young men from the Overbrook Hospiz to attend the Student Conference there with him. He was appointed as from 1 September and, having told the Board that he planned to return to Philadelphia on 26 August in ample time for the opening on 15 September, he was astonished to get a letter from Ohl pressing him to return sooner. It was essential, Ohl wrote, that the hospice should be completely full on the day it opened. Did Buchman not realise the cost if it were not? ‘Furthermore,’ he added, ‘I must point out that the Board does not like the word "Hospice" spelt “Hospiz”.'36 Buchman replied that he could not leave Northfield before the 26th, to which Ohl sent a charitable acquiescence.
The new hospice flourished as the old one had done. Buchman chose as housemother an elderly New Englander called Sarah Ward, who was a close family friend of Dwight Moody and whom Buchman had first met at Northfield. Between them, Buchman and Miss Ward managed to create an atmosphere which was both homely and friendly.
‘I believe I was expected, but certainly not that night,’ wrote one college student who stayed there for a summer. ‘Practically everyone had gone to bed; Mr Buchman had, I know. He was up immediately, however, and welcomed me in his dressing-gown as warmly as an old friend. I had scarcely been an hour in the town before I felt as much at home as in any place outside my native city.’
‘Eating’, he went on, ‘was a most enjoyable affair ... I remember one long table and two or three smaller ones. Mr Buchman sat at the head of the long table, some ten of us in a row down either side, and delightful Miss Ward sat at the foot. The meals were very simple, of course, but well-cooked, and there was always plenty of everything. Much was made of every occasion of note. Fourth of July, a distinguished guest, a birthday: all were made an excuse for some slight celebration at table. After breakfast, there were family prayers in the parlour.’37
‘One sensed at once the spirit of the hospice,’ wrote John Woodcock, a minister who lived there for a time. ‘It was not an institution. It was a family. There were few rules beyond those in any well-ordered house-hold.’
‘If one of the young men went out for the evening he knew that, after a certain hour, he would be admitted only in response to his ringing the doorbell. But, however late the hour, Frank was invariably there to open the door with never a sign that he had been put to any trouble, nor by any look that might embarrass the young man; but rather to invite him to share ….something to eat. It is not strange that such an attitude frequently opened the way to further confidences and opportunities to help spiritually.’38
By the beginning of the following year, Buchman felt it was time for the hospice to extend its activities. He was much taken with the work being done in London at Toynbee Hall, a settlement in the East End founded by Canon Barnett in 1884. Barnett's idea had been to strengthen the mission work being done in the slums by setting up ‘a resident club with a purpose’, which would be run by a group of people who came to live in the slums and rehabilitate them from within. Instead of holding religious services in the settlements, he expected every member of the resident team to be a shining example of the Christian life. Faith, in other words, was to be caught, not taught. Buchman's ideas were modelled precisely on Barnett's. Having founded a hospice for poor boys, he wanted ‘to keep them from becoming selfish through only receiving’ by persuading them to care for people even poorer than themselves.
In the spring of 1906, therefore, he founded a settlement in one of the grimmest areas of downtown Philadelphia, on the corner of Callowhill and 4th Streets. According to a contemporary account it was a neighbourhood where immigrant families lived ‘amid filth and squalor ….under moral surroundings and influences that almost compel the angels to weep’. Here, Buchman persuaded a brewer to lend him a room above his stables where youngsters could meet on Saturday nights. Soon, immigrant children had begun to pour in from the streets - Polish, Italian and Turkish as well as German and Scandinavian, from Jewish and Catholic as well as Protestant families. On hot summer nights the ammonia stench from the stable straw came up through the floor. Buchman's home-town newspaper wrote, ‘The Settlement House is thronged with children from the streets who find a warm, happy home. Boys learn carpentering, girls learn sewing, cooking and other domestic arts.’39 When asked by some business friends what he was doing for these youngsters, Buchman replied, ‘Well, I'm just teaching them how to live.’*
(* Gus Bechtold became director of this settlement from 1914 to 1923.)
Both at the hospice and in the settlement Buchman found himself dealing with the social problems afflicting all rapidly expanding American cities. He wrote, for example, to the Water Street Mission in New York, where they had had a great deal of experience in helping to cure alcoholics, asking for advice. He was also learning to win the confidence of individuals. The story of 14-year-old George, which Buchman often told in later years, was typical.
'George', he would recall, 'was an orphan who came to live with me. We spent the first week happily together. I told him my best yarns. We had our meals together, and I gave him a great deal of attention but, with all this, I never gained his confidence. One Friday night he said he was going down town. I didn't think anything amiss about it. Round about 9.30- it was one of those long summer evenings - I saw a form come up the street, sometimes zig and sometimes zag.
‘My heart sank and the question came, what to do? I could see from my window he was trying to fit the key into the key-hole, but did not seem to make the connection. He began violently shaking the grating of the door, naturally blaming the door and thinking it to be at fault. Someone finally let him in, he made his way up to the room next to mine, and I saw that he was safely in bed without speaking to him or letting him know of my presence.
‘Now, how to handle George? It came to me next morning not to go down to breakfast, because I thought if I saw the red in George's eye, I might say too much - so I waited until the middle of the morning and then went down to the place where George worked. I asked the manager whether I might see him. He said, ‘Yes, any time.’ The minute George saw me, his head fell. He thought, of course, that I had told the manager.
‘I turned to George and said, "George, what about having some lunch together?" George gladly assented, so we went to a restaurant and began with oysters. George was as silent as a clam. We had fish and, while he was picking the bones, he said to me, "I was drunk last night", an awfully difficult thing for him to say, because he was fearful of what I might say. I didn't say anything. He then volunteered the information that it hadn't cost him very much, only twenty cents. He wanted to appeal to my sense of economy!
‘He then changed the subject and wanted to know about my Sunday School class, as he called the settlement. He wanted to talk religion. I knew that the time for that was not ripe yet, so I said my Sunday School class was going on all right. Then he knew he had to come to the point. He said, "You know, I thought to myself as I came up 20th Street last night, ‘If he scolds me, I will go out and do it again.’” We then smiled, and he left. He said, “I think I will come to your Sunday School next Sunday.”’
Not surprisingly, the hospice was failing to balance its books, and Buchman's relations with Ohl and his Board became increasingly strained. Ohl kept up a constant barrage of criticism. The cooking at the hospice might be good, but was it not extravagant? Again, what about the rooms being occupied by Mary Hemphill and her sons, for which they paid nothing? Surely they could be let to paying guests?
On 3 May 1906 a special committee of the Board was set up 'to devise methods of decreasing expenditure and ensure the permanency of the Hospice'. It decided that a housekeeper should be taken on 'so that the housefather can give his time to spiritual care and, more important, the gathering of contributions, the collection of dues and securing of new members'. A housekeeper was duly hired. In addition, said the committee, there must be immediate economies: supplies should be bought at less expensive stores. Buchman, they implied, had been both careless and extravagant.
The new housekeeper naturally seems to have regarded herself as the committee's agent. The quality of the food fell sharply - Buchman said later that the butter was sometimes rancid, the fish stale - and she began a campaign to get rid of Mary Hemphill and her sons. Even under normal circumstances, Mary found it hard enough to stay away from her old addiction. Now, with a growing sense that the new housekeeper was determined to force her out, she began taking paregoric, a camphorated tincture of opium.
As the months went by, the situation became worse and Buchman found himself fighting a rearguard action. He put out at least one report, called Hospice Incidents, to try to illustrate for the Board the effectiveness of his work. There was the young man who had been ‘in the rudderless class’ but had decided to become a minister; a second who had been tempted to look for a prostitute (‘the social sin’) but who had then thought of the hospice and decided not to yield.
It was perfectly true, Buchman went on, that they had not succeeded with every young man, and that a handful had had to be asked to leave because they behaved ‘in an antagonistic spirit’, but every single one of them had asked if they could come back.
Why was it that they were not self-supporting? Well, replied Buchman, one of the young men earned only $4 a week in wages and paid all of it for his bed and board at the hospice. Another was paid $5 and he, too, handed over $4. In a third case, where both parents had died and two sisters were already in charitable institutions, a young man who earned only $3.50 a week had asked for a room. Should he have been turned away? He had since become confirmed.40
It was all to no avail. The conflict eventually came to a head in the summer of 1907. Buchman decided to make the matter an issue of confidence even at the risk of losing his job, though he seems to have felt there was very little danger of that.
First, he found a home for Mary Hemphill and her sons, with the future Mrs John Woodcock. Then, in October 1907, he submitted to the Board a seventeen-page handwritten document, signed by himself and Miss Ward. The hospice, he declared, was not a boarding house. ‘The boarding house woman cannot afford to give them a dinner at Christmas and Thanksgiving that they can remember to the end of their days. It would be extravagant on the part of the boarding house. It does not pay.
‘Out of my experience (I) consider these things necessary to ... make the home attractive. These things cost. The saloonkeeper in the corner does not hesitate for one moment to spend money to make his place inviting and attractive. Surely the church will not hesitate to do the same to win the man for the church.’
Buchman then compared the hospice with similar institutions in other cities and countries. Their experience, he argued, suggested that a hospice needed to own its own building to stand a chance of breaking even, and many of those which did so still made a loss. To insist that the hospice be self-supporting was short-sighted and would mean its down-fall. In any case, there was a much more important fact to be borne in mind. ‘The results of this work’, he declared, ‘are not to be weighed in the scales of mammon.’
The work had been called a failure, yet young men flocked to it-no less than 300 had come under its influence. The hospice was universally well spoken of. Was it a failure because $1,000 a year was needed to make the place attractive enough to hold the men? The issue resolved itself into a simple question: ‘What are you after?’
Then, there had been a number of occasions when his personal liberty had been interfered with and his actions questioned. If a man was old enough to be entrusted with such a work, he was also old enough to decide the minor details of his own conduct. ‘If you are to have a man at the head of this work to bear a man’s responsibilities, he must be treated as a man and not as a child.’
Next, Buchman laid down the conditions under which he felt prepared to continue. First of all, the Board must show its confidence in him: he had repeatedly had occasion, he said, to doubt men on the Board who were supposed to be behind him. All the hospice staff must be directly responsible to him. He must have the power to remove anyone who had proved unsuitable. In future, moreover, nobody should be appointed without his full knowledge and approval. He should be granted a month's vacation and his salary should be raised to $1,000 a year.
Finally, Buchman asked for a larger view of the work. The original commission, he said, could best be put in Jesus’ own words describing the Last Judgement: ‘Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in.’
‘I insist’, he ended, ‘that whatever conclusion is reached be not from any mere motives of sympathy but that the question be squarely, dispassionately faced and such measures taken as shall ensure the healthy and normal growth of this work.’41
It was a passionate and uncompromising statement of Buchman’s case. His tone suggests that he was entirely confident that he would win, perhaps because he regarded himself as indispensable.
That night the discussion with the Board went on until midnight. Led by the implacable Ohl, its six members insisted that the hospice must be financially self-supporting. That, Buchman knew, could mean only one thing: he would have to resign. Next morning, he did not appear for breakfast, and when John Woodcock knocked at his door he ‘heard muffled sobs, and then “Come in.”’ “I knew then what had happened and understood his feelings,’ wrote Woodcock later. ‘He responded, however, to the suggestion that he get up, have breakfast, and then go out into the country for the day. There, walking and talking seemed to help him to think more clearly and to arrive at some reasoned conclusions. That night he went before the Board and offered his resignation.’42 The resignation was accepted on 24 October.
‘I feel like a whipped cur, all tired out,’ he wrote to his parents. Then, after saying that he had held a Settlement House service the evening before with some sixty children present, he added, ‘Mary was brave, but you could see it was hard for her. Don't be anxious about me. All will go well. Greetings and love to all, loyally your son, Frank.’43
But all was far from well. Buchman's whole heart had been in the hospice. Now, his hopes had come crashing down. He had virtually been dismissed, he had been belittled by men who, he felt, simply did not grasp what he was trying to do. Ohl's attitude is apparent in his subsequent annual report in which, without even a formal mention of the founder of the enterprise, he simply stated that it was ‘now well-organised’.* Buchman's world was in ruins. He was an outcast in his own creation. As day followed day and he relived again and again the fateful hours with the Board, Buchman began to conceive a bitter hatred for those men.
(* The new director, the Revd Joseph Schantz, was, however, to write Buchman on the 25th anniversary of the hospice, in October 1930, urging him to attend: ‘We would so like to have you present. Will you do this, Frank? The Hospice has been a wonderful work in spite of its poor plant. At lease 25,000 men have lived in its atmosphere in its 25 years of existence’.)
The exhaustion due to months of unremitting work, added to the turmoil in his spirit, made him ill. He saw a leading Philadelphia physician, Weir Mitchell, who told him that he was worn out and prescribed a long holiday abroad. His father gave him $1,000 and, on 29 January 1908, Frank Buchman sailed for Europe on the SS Moltke.
1 Buchman to mother, 30 October 1899.
2 ibid., undated (early November 1899).
3 ibid., 8 February 1900.
4 ibid., 4 March 1900.
5 Buchman to parents, 28 October 1899.
6 ibid., 29 October 1899.
7 Buchman to mother, 30 October 1899.
8 ibid., 31 October 1899.
9 ibid. .undated (early November 1899).
10 Buchman to parents, 8 November 1899.
11 ibid., September and October 1899.
12 ibid., 12 November 1899.
13 ibid., 8 February 1900.
14 ibid., undated (probably 1899).
15 ibid., 'First Monday in Lent', 1901.
17 Buchman to mother, 25 January 1901.
18 ibid., October 1899 and 15 November 1899.
19 Buchman to parents, 18 March 1901.
20 Buchman to mother, (undated).
21 Buchman to parents, undated, (early 1901).
22 ibid., 18 March 1901.
23 Buchman to parents, 18 March 1901.
24 ibid., (undated) November 1901.
25 ibid., 1 and 6 July 1901.
26 See A. J. Russell: For Sinners Only (Hodder & Stoughton, 1932), pp.148-50.
27 Buchman to parents, 10 December 1901.
28 ibid., 28 January 1902.
29 Buchman to parents, 15 October 1902.
31 Quoted in Martin MSS. For her adventurous life see Genevieve Caulfeild: The Kingdom Within (Hodder and Stoughton, 1961).
32 Edith Randall to Buchman, 21 December 1910.
33 Quoted in Martin MSS.
34 Interview with Buchman in Daily Item, Allentown, 7 February 1906.
35 Letter to Buchman datelined Philadelphia, 2 June 1905, from the Board of Managers of the Inner Mission Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, signed by the President, the English Secretary and the German Secretary.
36 J. F. Ohl to Buchman, 15 August 1905.
37 Martin MSS.
38 'Some early recollections of Frank Buchman' by the Revd John D. Woodcock (unpublished), p. 1.
39 Daily Item, Allentown, 7 February 1906.
40 'Hospice Incidents', report by Buchman, May 1906.
41 Buchman to Inner Mission Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 8 October 1907.
42 Woodcock, p. 2.
43 Buchman to parents, June 1907.