That Guy on Hewitt outside the Bush Center

Dressed for commencement

Quick facts:

  • Bishop Hamline did not found the Methodist Church, he is the namesake of Hamline University
  • He wears a size 4XL

Leonidas Lent Hamline
b. Connecticut, 1797
d. Iowa, 1865.

As a young man, L.L. Hamline studied law and was admitted to the Ohio bar. In 1828 he converted to  Methodism and was granted a license to preach. After several years as a preacher, he was appointed in 1834 as assistant editor of the Western Christian Advocate, and when The Ladies’ Repository was established in 1841, he was given editorship of that journal. He held this position until 1844, when he was elected Bishop. He retired in 1852.

Late in his life, Bishop Hamline’s property investments had appreciated, so that he was modestly wealthy, with some estimates of his wealth reaching $100,000. When informed of the value of his holdings, Bishop Hamline believed that it was his Christian duty to dispose of his wealth in a just manner.

The cause of education in the West was of great concern to him, and he desired to aid the creation of colleges there. As a result, he began a correspondence with Rev. Brooks of Minnesota and Rev. Bowman of Iowa to ascertain what their needs were.

Thus, on April 17, 1854, Bishop Hamline wrote the following to his friend Rev. Kingsley:

“I have sought for some months to concentrate my pecuniary means of usefulness at some very needey point, with the purpose of a very special effort, on an extensive scale, to furnish the means and facilities of education to a large number of young persons. For this end I have been in correspondence with frontier ministers, where the field is comparatively unoccupied, and yet is so filling up with emigrants that no time should be lost. To accomplish this enterprise I have pledged to a friend, who joins me in it, all that I can possibly spare for years to come in this good cause–more than one-half of my early income–and ultimately about half of all my possessions.”

Later, on May 25, 1854, Bishop Hamline wrote the following in his diary:

“Have been visited by Rev. David Brooks, presiding elder of St. Paul District of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minnesota. Have donated twenty-five thousand dollars for the university in Minnesota. This is about one-fourth of my estate. I have done it in a wholesome dread of such scriptures as ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ God has prospered me without my own agency, and added to the value of my possessions.”

Five days later, Bishop Hamline recorded his donation of another twenty-five thousand dollars for a college at Mount Vernon, Iowa, which later became known as Cornell College. With these two donations, Bishop Hamline cheerfully disposed of half of his worth.

It is important to note that Hamline University was named in honor of Bishop Hamline and chartered by the State of Minnesota and before the Minnesota Methodists learned of Bishop Hamline’s ability and willingness to donate. What is more, Bishop Hamline donated the funds without knowing the new University would bear his name. Bishop Hamline said of this: “I have given twenty-five thousand dollars to the Minnesota University, but the name was all unknown to me, and was given it before they expected any thing from me. I wish the name was changed.”

Bishop Hamline was well-known throughout his life as a friend of education for both sexes, and at least two institutions of higher learning—Hamline University and Cornell College—remain grateful he had the vision and the financial means to support the Methodist Episcopal project of bringing high-quality collegiate education to the women and men on the westernmost edges of our emerging nation.

Sources: Biography of Rev. Leonidas L. Hamline by Freeborn Garretson Hibbard (1881); History of Methodism in Minnesota by Chauncey Hobart (1887).