Biography of Rev. James L. Hill
Poweshiek County, IA Biographies





REV. JAMES L. HILL, D. D.
It is most fitting that Dr. James L. Hill be mentioned in the history of Poweshiek county for every citizen of the county is proud of his record and he numbers among the residents of this county many warm friends. Moreover, he completed his literary education in Grinnell College and has since been a stalwart, zealous and helpful friend of the institution.

Numbered among Iowa's native sons, Dr. Hill was born at Garnavillo, March 14, 1848, a son of the Rev. James J. Hill, who was long associated with the work of the ministry in Iowa and gave the first dollar to found Grinnell College, the proof of which fact Dr. Hill has in a written or printed statement from five of the men who were his father's associates at the time. His mother, Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Hill, was present at the meeting in Dubuque when, additional plans for Grinnell College took definite form and this record is still extant: "The wives also of the ministers, anxious to share in the enterprise of founding the college, resolved to raise one hundred dollars out of their own resources and seventy dollars were subscribed by fourteen who were present." It was at this time that Mrs. Hill, who died at the early age of twenty eight years, exclaimed: "Somebody must be built into these foundations," and these words are inscribed upon her monument in the cemetery at Grinnell.

Reared amid the refining influences of a cultured home, where intellectual training and moral teaching were rated at their true worth as forces in character building, Dr. Hill was provided with such opportunities and advantages as his parents could secure for him and completed his more specifically literary education by a course in Grinnell College, from which he was graduated with the class of 1871. He was a tutor there in 1871-2 and a continuous resident of Poweshiek county for twelve years. Following his connection with the college he left Grinnell and went east for professional training at Andover Theological Seminary. There he applied himself closely to the. mastery of the branches that constituted the curriculum of the school and before his graduation was called to the pastorate of the North Congregational church in Lynn, Massachusetts. During the ten years of his absence at school he never received a dollar from home to assist him in meeting his tuition and other necessary expenses and during the last year of his student life he earned eight hundred dollars notwithstanding the fact that he applied himself so closely to his studies that he won the valedictorian honors of his class.

As clergyman, lecturer and author Dr. Hill has since become known throughout the country, his labors calling him into various sections, but throughout the years he has never ceased to feel the deepest attachment for his alma mater nor neglected any opportunity to promote the interests and work of Grinnell College, of which he is still a trustee. He spent his first night in Poweshiek county in a small building, still standing, opposite the residence of the president of the college at Grinnell and this he and his brother Dr. Gershom H. Hill have purchased with the intention of presenting it as a gift to the school. He and his brother also founded the Hill prize for excellence in extemporaneous address in Grinnell College and they have been repeatedly assured that the competition for this prize constitutes the most popular event at commencement. Following his father's example in giving the first dollar to a college, he made the earliest gift to aid in the establishment of Yankton College, founded by the Dakota Band, who in that state planted the seeds of Christian citizenship and civilization. This dollar was found in the desk of the college president after after his death with a statement as to where it came from. For some years pastoral labors occupied his attention and throughout his life he has been a teacher, not always in the school room or in the pulpit for at other times his teaching has been done from the lecture platform. He was one of four clergymen who in 1891 were selected to make addresses and to found societies of Christian Endeavor in England. He established the society at old Boston, England, and the same year was created Doctor of Divinity by his alma mater, being the first of her graduates on whom she conferred this honor. From the beginning of the United Society of Christian Endeavor he has been one of its trustees and he was one of four who secured control of the Golden Rule, a religious paper, making it the recognized official organ of the Christian Endeavor Society. In the effort now being made to raise two hundred thousand dollars for a Christian Endeavor headquarters building in Boston Dr. Hill has agreed to give the last fifteen thousand dollars.

In acknowledgment of this generous gift the following was presented him: "The executive committee of the board of trustees of the United States Christian Endeavor desires to express and put on record their hearty appreciation of the generous gift of fifteen thousand dollars, the largest gift yet made, for the new Headquarters building by one of their own number, Rev. James L. Hill, D. D. They unite in wishing for the donor the Scriptural benediction. 'The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.' "

In recent years Dr. Hill has become widely known through his appearance on the lecture platform and is regarded as one of the most attractive speakers sent out by the Central Lyceum Bureau. He has made addresses in all of the capitals of New England and in almost all of the states of the Union. In 1878 he was selected to deliver the Election Sermon before the governor and legislature of Massachusetts. Some of his lectures he has delivered more than a hundred times. His lectures, adapted to the times, treat of social life, travel and reform. Among his most popular addresses are those given under the subjects: How to be at Home at Home; Team Work; Cupid; Success a Duty; How we Struck Each Other; Europe and I; The Spirit of '61; and The Worst Boys in Town. At all places wherever he has spoken he has found favor with his audiences and the opinions of the press in different cities are unanimous in their support of him as "a brilliant speaker, who clothes his ideas in simple descriptive language that even a child may grasp and comprehend." "There is a certain magnetism about him which attracts his listeners and carries them with him. . . . Pleasantry and wit constituted features of his lectures and the people were not only pleased with his manner of delivery but also with his rounded periods and illustrations and best of all his noble sentiments." His writings perhaps cover even wider range. He is the author of various volumes and pamphlets, including The Growth of Government, which was published by vote of the legislature of Massachusetts; Modern Methods of Christian Nurture; Boys in the Late War; Decade of History; Woman and Satan; The Problem of Spiritual Awakenings; The 'Superlative Vacation; Seven Sorts of Successful Sunday Evening Services; and Historic Pilgrimages. His leaflets and newspaper articles are very numerous and his fugitive pieces that have been gathered fill seven hundred and fifty pages, as large as an atlas.

In 1878 Dr. Hill was united in marriage to Miss Lucy B. Dunham, the only daughter of the chaplain of the Massachusetts senate. In his travels he has been collecting with much painstaking care and considerable expense a large number of curios and valuable relics which are 'to be the nucleus of a museum which he intends, to give to Grinnell College. This already includes some articles that cannot be duplicated either in North or South America. He also possesses the most valuable collection in existence bearing on the earliest religious history of Iowa, including the letters inviting "the immortal eleven" to this state to establish the work of their church within the boundaries of the commonwealth. More than one half of the members of the Iowa Band contributed to the treasures touching early Iowa history which are in Dr. Hill's keeping.

From:
History of Poweshiek County, Iowa
A Record of settlement, organization
progress and achievement
By: Prof. L. F. Parker
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1911


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