Through The Arch - Winter 2016 - page 8

In this rich 287-page book from Minnesota-based Afton Press,
Whipple’s story emerges in captivating images and detailed
text, from his boyhood days in Adams, New York, to his work as
churchman, educator and advocate for Native Americans.
“This man is just amazing,” says the book’s author Anne Beiser
Allen. “He’s one of my favorite people. …Whipple just fascinated
me. The more I got into it, the more interesting he became.”
Thanks to Allen’s three years of research,
And the Wilderness
Shall Blossom
flourishes with detail. It’s almost as if she walked in
Whipple’s shoes herself.
Henry Benjamin Whipple was born in 1822 in upstate Adams, New
York. From a close-knit family, young Henry grew up with three
sisters, two brothers, and devoted parents who offered words
and guidance that perhaps still ring true for parents today. “My
son,” wrote his father when young Henry was away at boarding
school, “you know I do not want to pinch you, but I want you to
learn that you do not know best.”
Whipple later attended Oberlin College, where his uncle was the
preparatory department’s principal and professor of math. But
in 1840, while away at Oberlin, Whipple became seriously ill and
went home before the end of his second year.
Not long after he returned, Whipple married Cornelia Wright, a
schoolmate from his small Adams town and the daughter of a
prominent local lawyer and surrogate judge. She was Whipple’s
partner from the onset, the first to bring him into the Episcopal
Church, along with her brother, and later, to raise six children
with him.
Finding his true “spiritual home” in the Episcopal Church, Whip-
ple was ordained in 1848 and served churches in New York and
Chicago before he was charged with heading to the Minnesota
frontier. Reluctant at first to serve in its relative wilds, Whipple
went on to become a fervent builder and creator throughout the
state—uplifting in every sense of the word. Not only did he phys-
ically and philosophically lead the beginnings and later expansion
of SSM, but Whipple also advocated for the poor and especially
the plight of the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, among other Native
American tribes.
In 1890, Cornelia Whipple died from injuries suffered in a railroad
accident. “He really was lost in that first year after Cornelia died,”
says Allen. “She kept an eye on his health, kept him from over-
working and would get him to Florida (his winter home) so he
could rest.” Later, Whipple married Evangeline Marrs Simpson,
widow of an East Coast industrialist.
While it was Cornelia’s insistence that St. Mary’s came to be, first
Whipple became so devoted to his work that for many years he
made regular missionary trips by cart or carriage, preaching in cabins,
schoolhouses, stores, saloons and Indian villages, anywhere he was
called and where people would listen. He also personally supported
several missionary clergy and gave financial gifts to various causes.
Described by Allen as a “warm and friendly man who took an interest
in people,” Whipple, she says, also possessed a beautiful voice
and innate charm, attributes that served him well when courting
potential contributors to help build the school.
They included a Dr. George Shattuck, an “old friend” of Whipple’s
who also was a prominent Boston philanthropist and Dean of the
Harvard Medical School. His financial gift built the first SSM boys’
grammar school in 1866, which would become Shattuck Hall.
“That was his center, really, Minnesota. The wilderness blossomed
in the course of his life, and he did a fair amount to encourage that
(growth or “blossoming”) with these schools,” Allen says.
Indeed, the blossoms of his first labors still bear good things as
Shattuck-St. Mary’s continues to thrive well into the 21st century—
adding chapters to its family history for the next generation.
Heather Gates is a freelance writer who resides in Faribault, Minnesota.
Good Deeds
Whipple knew when to call upon his “generous” friends in this
country and in Europe to raise money for his churches
and schools.
Here is an excerpted letter written on May 23, 1889, from
Whipple to railroad tycoon James J. Hill in St. Paul.
Honorable & dear Friend:
I have often wished I could show you the Oxford of the West. If I
say it there is no place in the United States that can show better
foundations. This year I must build a gymnasium, put in boilers
and engine(s?) for steam heating & electric light for our St. Mary’s
Hall at a cost of $15,000. If you can aid your old friend in this work
I shall be grateful...
Within days, Hill sent Whipple $1,000.
in the Whipples’ own enlarged home and then in a building of its
own in 1882, Evangeline also took a strong interest in its evolution as
well as overseeing Whipple’s health. The two women proved to be
distant yet strong allies of the school and of their husband.
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