A story from Pastor Russell H. Conwell on December 1, 1912:
A little over twenty years ago, Little Hattie May Wiatt lived in a house near the church in which we then worshipped. It was a small church and was crowded; tickets of admission were obtained sometimes weeks in advance for every service. One day when I came down to the church, I found a number of children outside. They were greatly disturbed because they could not get in due to the crowd of children already in the Sunday school rooms of the church, and little Hattie May Wiatt, who lived near by, had brought her books and a contribution and was standing by the gate, hesitating whether to go back home or wait and try to get in later. I took her up in my arms, lifted her to my shoulder, and then as she held on to my head – an embrace I never can forget – I carried her through the crowd in the hall, into the Sunday school room, and seated her in a chair away back in a dark corner. The next morning as I came down to the church from my home, I came by their house, and she was going up the street to school. As we met, I said: “Hattie, we are going to have a larger Sunday school room soon,” and she said: “I hope you will. It is so crowded that I am afraid to go there alone.” “Well,” I replied, “when we get the money with which to erect a school building, we are going to construct one large enough to get all the little children in, and we are going to begin very soon to raise the money for it.” It was only in my mind as a kind of imaginary vision, but I wished to make conversation with the child.
Within the next couple years, Hattie became very sick, and they asked me to come in and see the child, which I did. I prayed with her. I walked up the street, praying for the little girl’s recovery, and yet all the time, with the conviction that it was not to be. Hattie May Wiatt died. She had gathered 57 cents, which was left as her contribution towards securing another building for the children. After the funeral, her mother handed me the little bag with the gathered 57 cents. I took it to the church and stated that we had the first gift toward the new Sunday school building — that little Hattie May Wiatt, who had gone on into the Shining World, had left behind her this gift towards it. I then changed all the money into pennies and offered them for sale. I received about $250 for the 57 pennies, and 54 of those cents were returned to me by the people who bought them. I then had them put in a frame where they could be seen and exhibited them, and by a sale of the $250 changed into pennies, we received enough money to buy the next house north of the church. That house was bought by the Wiatt Mite Society, which was organized for the purpose of taking the 57 cents and enlarging them sufficiently to buy the property for the Primary Department of the Sunday school.
Then when the crowd became so great we could no longer get in there, the thought impressed itself upon our congregation, “We ought to have a larger church and a larger Sunday school room.” Faith in God was the characteristic of this people, and they said, “We can do it,” notwithstanding the fact that we had no money in advance. Yet the conviction was strong that we ought to build a larger church, and some ventured so far, though then it seemed absurd, to say that we might “build on Broad Street somewhere”.
I walked over to see Mr. Baird and asked him what he wanted for this lot on which the Temple now stands. He said that he wanted $30,000. I told him that we had only 54 cents toward the $30,000 but that we were foolish enough to think that some time we would yet own that lot. Encouraged by what he said and with no opposition on the part of the Board of Deacons, I went around again to talk with him and asked him if he would not hold the lot for five years. Mr. Baird said: “I have been thinking this matter over and have made up my mind that I will sell you that lot for $25,000, taking $5,000 less than I think it is worth, I will take the 54 cents as the first payment, and you may give me a mortgage for the rest at 5%. I went back and reported to the church, and they said: “Well, we can raise more money than 54 cents.” But I went over and left the 54 cents with Mr. Baird and took a receipt for it as a part payment on the lot. Mr. Baird afterwards returned the 54 cents as another gift. Thus we bought the lot, and thus encouraged of God step by step, we went on constructing this building. We could hardly have dreamed then that in the number of years that followed, this people without wealth, each giving only as he could afford from his earnings, could have paid off so great a debt. I must state also that in the house purchased by the sale of the 57 cents was organized The Temple University.
Hattie May Wiatt was a school girl living in one of the homes of the industrious, honorable, upright and saving classes of society, not of the wealthy and great, yet think how her life was used; think what God did with her and the 57 cents that was used of hers. A glance at it would put many to shame. Think of this large church; think of the membership added to it – over 5,600 – since that time. Think of the influence of its membership going out and spreading over the world. Think of the influence of the Sabbath school carried on in this great building for more than twenty years. Then think of the institutions this church founded. Think of the Samaritan Hospital and the thousands of sick people that have been cured there and the thousands of poor that are ministered to every year. I received the report of the Samaritan Hospital for October last Saturday and find that during the month, 2,540 had visited the dispensary. By multiplying that by twelve to get the average for a year, we find that over 30,000 people every year go to the dispensary of that one hospital, and that does not include the inner wards for the poor or the private rooms. Then there is the other hopital, the Garrestson, also taken up by the people of this church. Without this church, it could never have been started. There they ministered in one single year to over 14,000 workmen, wounded, broken, and dying. When we think of the ministrations of these hospitals that were started by the influence of this church and supported in the beginning by members of this church, what a long roll it is of the deeds of Christian kindness.
Think of how in that Wiatt house were begun the very first classes of the Temple College. The Wiatt Mite Society provided the seats, the books and the teachers. Thus it began as an evening school, and it has gone on growing and developing through the years. That house, bought for 54 cents in the first place, was sold, and the proceeds were given to the Temple College in order that it might open on Park avenue. We moved out of the original church too and gave it to the Temple College, and the college sold it to another church and used the money to erect a building next door to us on Broad Street. Think of the influence of that 57 cents just for a moment. Almost 80,000 young people have gone through the classes of the Temple University, and think where they are. A year ago, we estimated that there were 500 young men and women in the business department who earned nothing before they went there and who, after six months’ instruction, were earning a decent wage. Think of the added income, of the added comforts, which even the smallest departments had given, and then think of the Departments of Law, Medicine, Dentistry, Theology, Household Arts, the Normal School and the Teachers’ College – nearly 4,000 are now going in and out its various doors in various parts of the city. Just estimate how they will go and teach thousands more and how those thousands will in turn teach many thousands more in their lifetime; think how it sweeps the world in a century with one techer, multiplying himself or herself a hundred times, perhaps, nearly every year. Two years ago, the smallest year of that work, we took statistics of the Temple University students. We ascertained that 504 young men were studying for the Gospel ministry in a single year. Now, if we graduate – and certainly we do – at least a hundred a year into the ministry, think what must have come to pass in twenty years since Hattie May’s donation. Think of it – two thousand people preaching the Gospel because Hattie May Wiatt invested her 57 cents, because she laid the foundations.
Men may have powers of eloquence; they may sing with all the sweetness of angelic voices, and yet they may not speak as Hattie May Wiatt speaks, as she will speak through your life as you go out and do differently from what you would have done if you had not heard this story. Hattie May Wiatt is speaking in tones of eloquence, sweet, divine and powerful, moving on upon the ages. Many men are counted great; many men are given credit for that which they do not do, but here is a life filled with motive power that sweeps on for all time.