American Institute of Sacred Literature

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The American Institute of Sacred Literature, which offered courses in the study of the Bible, was organized in 1889. The Institute grew out of the Correspondence School of Hebrew (established in 1880 by William Rainey Harper) which was renamed the American Institute of Hebrew in 1883.

From the description of Records, 1880-1943 (inclusive). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 40935173

Establishment and Purpose of the Institute-

In December of 1880, at the Morgan Park Theological Seminary, one of the first correspondence schools in the country was established by William Rainey Harper. By February 1881, the Correspondence School of Hebrew had an enrollment of three hundred students, mostly ministers and teachers, and a movement which might justly be called a revival in the study of the Old Testament in the original tongue was begun. In 1883 the school was renamed the American Institute of Hebrew; in 1889 Harper, now Professor of Hebrew and Woolsey Professor of the English Bible at Yale University, realized a need for broadening the scope of the Institute's work and it was expanded to include Biblical Hebrew, such as Syriac, Assyrian and Arabic, the Bible in the original tongues, the Bible in the ancient versions, the Old and New Testaments in English, and Biblical literature, history and Theology.

Harper and the Institute-

From the founding of the Institute until the beginnings of the University of Chicago in 1892, the strong personality of Harper appears in every phase of the Institute's operation. From 1892 until his death in 1906, Harper's influence is seen less in the affairs of the Institute as he devoted himself more and more to the young University. Although the Institute maintained a constant fund raising effort, it is clear that after Harper turned most of his energy toward the University, the Institute began to suffer from a lack of money often sufficient enough to cause a slowing of its work. Beyond the money problem there were the more serious problems of the loss of Harper, with his imagination and drive, and the changing times. Reorganization and adjustment became the normal pattern of the Institute's operation as it attempted to survive after the interest which had called it into being was dead.

The University of Chicago and the Institute-

The relation between the Institute and the University of Chicago began as soon as the University started to function. Upon the opening of the University and the organization of the University of Chicago Press, the good will of The Old and New Testament Student (published by the Institute) was transferred to the Press and the publication of Hebraica and The Biblical World began. Upon the organization of the Correspondence Department of the University, in the same year (1892), such courses of the Institute as would lead to University credit were transferred to the Department and carried on cooperatively. In the middle of 1905 the University's Board of Trustees carried out Harper's wish to make the Institute a part of the University and it was soon firmly attached to the Divinity School. By 1924 the Institute was handling most of the Divinity School's extension work; by the early 1940s the Institute had reversed its position and was placed under the Divinity School's

Director of Extension, and by the mid-forties the Institute had ceased to function, except to fill orders for material if a stock still existed. (In Appendix II will be found a rough chronology of the Institute, some material quoted and some cited.)

The Administration of the Institute-

In the early years of the Institute, from 1880 to 1883, the administration rested largely in Harper's hands. However, by 1883, the Institute had grown to such an extent that a stock company was formed to conduct both the Correspondence and the Summer Schools of Hebrew, sponsored by the Institute. The following year a division of responsibility placed the publishing feature of the Institute in the hands of the stock company and the educational work with Dr. Harper. When the American Institute of Hebrew was formed in December of 1883 the organization consisted of seventy professors of Hebrew and the Old Testament subjects in the United States and Canada, and between one and two hundred interested persons, as associate members and patrons providing financial support. In 1889, when the American Institute of Sacred Literature was organized, Harper became principal and a board of twelve directors was appointed. A President, Vice-President, Secretary, Principal, Treasurer and Auditor, together with five instructors administered the work of the reformed Institute and gave instruction to its students. In 1890 Local Boards were organized in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco, and under their auspices Winter Schools for Bible study of from one to twelve weeks each were held. In this year, also, publishing interests were transferred to the Student Publishing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, and the magazine The Old Testament Student became The Old and New Testament Student.

In 1891 the headquarters of the Institute moved with Harper to Chicago. The Secretary and two members of the teaching staff were brought to Chicago, and the eastern interests, chiefly financial, were left with Dr. F. K. Sanders of Yale. In 1896 the Institute was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois. In 1905 the Institute was accepted by the University of Chicago with the agreement that the University continue the Institute "as part of the extension work of the University." At this time President Harper placed the immediate administration of the Institute under the control of an executive committee, selected form members of the Divinity School faculty, and an Executive Secretary who were responsible to the President and through him to the Board of Trustees.

Professor Ernest D. Burton, the first Chairman of the Institute's Executive Committee, remained active until his appointment as Director of the University Library. After this Miss Georgia L. Chamberlin, who had been Harper's secretary in the pre-Chicago days, and who remained with the Institute until 1935, carried on the work of the Institute from her post as Executive Secretary. Upon her retirement in 1935, Professor Archibald G. Baker was appointed Director and remained in this position until 1940. Between 1940 and 1943 the Institute was placed under a committee and then Professor Sidney E. Mead was appointed Director. After little more than a year the dying Institute ceased to function actively and was subordinated to the Divinity School's Director of Extension.

From the guide to the American Institute of Sacred Literature. Records, 1880-1943, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Relation Name
associatedWith American Institute of Hebrew corporateBody
associatedWith Chautauqua Institution. corporateBody
associatedWith Goodspeed, Edgar J. (Edgar Johnson), 1871-1962 person
associatedWith Harper, William Rainey, 1856-1906. person
associatedWith Harrison, Ross G. (Ross Granville), 1870-1959. person
associatedWith Price, Ira Maurice, 1856-1939 person
associatedWith Religious Education Association. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Hebrew language

Corporate Body

Active 1880

Active 1943



Ark ID: w6q863ff

SNAC ID: 4951311