The Spokesman of the City's Conscience
"He so stirred the very soul of our responsibility for social living that we felt he had
come to break the old city's sleep of habit or

-- Miss Edith Campbell


Frank Nelson loved the city, and was moved by its swift, tumultuous life; hence, he was able to stir it. No mere reformer or "up-lifter" who sees only ugliness and sordidness can effect very far-reaching changes, and retain his faith. Mr. Nelson succeeded in both. He came to Cincinnati under the high compulsion of a mission, and relinquished his work on the same high plane of faith and vision. To have retained such conviction over a period of forty years in the sort of work which was his testifies to a quality of realism that is at once impressive and authoritative. He knew the vice and corruption that lurked the streets, and yet he reiterated to the end that "there is a glory in the city seen in the faces of men and women, boys and girls, which is the immortal soul growing clean, and entering into paradise." Something of that glory he created. Christ Church is located in Ward Six, formerly Ward Eight, and there also Mr. Nelson had his residence at 311 Pike Street. One of the boys who grew up in the district and is now a successful business man declares that this ward would be entirely different today if it had not been for Frank Nelson and the work carried on in Christ Church. But this clergyman's work and influence spread far outside his parish and beyond his ward.

By many Catholics, Jews, and Protestants Frank Nelson was acknowledged as "the flaming sword of the Charter Movement"; the man who so interpreted the Community Chest that "he made it a platform upon which every man could stand"; and in the minds of some of them he so o'er-leaped sectarian differences that they considered him their minister. His was a position as unique as it was remarkable considering the fact that he held no title or high-ranking office such as Bishop. This minister quickened the conscience of Cincinnati, and brought into full bloom vague, half-formed ideals. Many looked upon him as the spokesman of the city's conscience.

Mr. Nelson did not grow up in an age of radical and revolutionary economic and social programs. He was not a student of such philosophies, yet he had in his heart that particular treasure, namely an affection for people, for the fortunate and no less for the poor and the dispossessed. Without this love for the common man, these philosophies are never translated into the natural order of things nor ever become more than intellectual pronouncements. He was neither a mystic nor a reformer, but a citizen who was deeply cognizant of religious faith as laying upon him and upon everyone a compulsive service. This mighty conviction he expressed in varying ways as we shall see, but never in more arresting words than in a sermon which he preached on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Presbyterian Church of The Covenant from the text, "Ye shall not see my face except your brother be with you." Though delivered in 1916, this sermon was recalled twenty-three years later on the occasion of Mr. Nelson's retirement as a consummate expression of his faith and convictions, namely that we are not isolated individuals each to be saved by means of self-centered piety, but only through practicing religion in fellowship with one another.

A study of his annual reports indicates that from his St. George's days he was dominated by the vision of the Church as having a mission to the city. As early as 1903 he outlined the conditions that confront Christian people, and the relation of the Church to them:

The city of today is the point of concentration of the forces that are making the character, and determining the standards of our time. So complex is our modern civilization that it is not possible to separate the individual in our estimation of his standards and character from the conditions by which he is surrounded, and in which he lives. For they vitally influence his point of view, his ideals, his efforts to attain them. A boy who grows up in an atmosphere of openly accepted corruption will inevitably lack sensitiveness of moral perception. Our young men and women, our boys and girls are subjected to a moral pressure that is extremely difficult to resist. What is the duty of the Church? The moral welfare of these young people is its intimate concern. It may, and it must, bring to bear a counter pressure of high individual moral standards and ideals. It may, and it must, hold up before them faith in purity and honesty, and persuade them to receive it. But that is not enough. It must utter its word of protest against the rule of the Boss, not because it wishes to enter the arena of politics, not because it differs from him on political questions, not even because he is the denial of democracy, but because he maintains his power of corrupting manhood and womanhood by protecting and fostering vice in order that they may be his allies. It must utter its protest against the dictum, "Whatever pays is right," not because it wishes to dictate business methods, or to set itself up as an authority on economics, but because it finds this corruption in business demoralizing to standards and character. It must utter its protest against overcrowded and unsanitary tenement houses, not because it considers its function to be the censorship of buildings, but because such conditions breed immorality among the boys and girls. The individual message alone is made ineffective by the constant pressure of these conditions. To make that message effective, the conditions must be changed. And it is peculiarly the work of a church, situated as is Christ Church, to say and do what it can to make them intolerable to the conscience of a Christian city. I have said all this because I want you to see clearly the place in the pulpit and church of such preaching and work as we have tried to give and do. We must go forward with increasing energy and purpose, and that whether the results seem great or small. We may, and must, at least sow the seed in the faith that God will inevitably bring it to the harvest.

Again and again he thundered, "The conditions must be made intolerable to the conscience of a Christian city," and the spirit of the times rolled back the sterile answer, "It can't be done in Cincinnati." But he shook himself like a lion and took up the battle.

The fight for honest municipal government in Cincinnati was a mighty one and the story of it is fairly well known, but a few pertinent facts are essential as a background to Mr. Nelson's part in it. For more than thirty years George B. Cox controlled the city by all the devices known to the wily, astute politician. Few presumed to run for any office on the Republican ticket without his approval. Unburdened by shame, he declared, "I am the Boss of Cincinnati ... I've got the best system of government in this country. If I didn't think my system was the best, I would consider that I was a failure in life." He openly derided reformers. Lincoln Steffens had surveyed and written up the city as he had many others and declared it under the dominance of "the most vicious political gang in any city." Few inroads were made on Cox's preserves until after his death in 1916. At the close of World War I, the city began to reap the bitterest and most evil results of its contentment with benevolent despotism, and in 1922 found itself verging on bankruptcy. Aroused citizens were determined not only that Cincinnati should have an efficient, economical government but also that its reputation as a sink of iniquity should be erased.

When the Republican organization perceived that an investigation was inescapable, it determined to name the investigators! The Republican Executive and Advisory Committee appointed a survey committee to devise a plan to solve the city's and county's most pressing administrative and financial problems. A distinguished group was selected; among the members were Frank H. Nelson, George H. Warrington, Charles P. Taft, and other eminent citizens some twenty-one in number. This committee engaged Dr. Lent D. Upson of the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, who with a large staff of specialists proceeded to turn the city and county governments inside out. The Upson Report furnished the ammunition for what turned out to be nothing short of a revolution.

A City Charter Committee had been organized which, after the Upson Committee reported, proposed an amendment to the city's home rule charter embodying the city manager plan of municipal government and a small council of nine elected at large by proportional representation. In the fall of 1924 the critical issue was submitted to the electorate, and a significant victory won. "This new movement, its representatives youthful, clear-eyed, energetic and determined, took its place in the books of our history as the first reform enterprise of any permanence in a great city of the United States."[9] In this crusade of civic warriors Frank Nelson ranked as "a flaming sword," to use the colorful phrase of his friend Mr. Ralph Holterhoff. He was a constant worker in planting the first seeds of the moral rightness of the cause, the crusader whose faith clarified the fundamental religious background inherent in good government. During the initial campaign of 1924, Mr. Nelson, preaching this gospel from his pulpit, carried his parish with him into the righteous cause, and he literally toured the city wards as well. When the City Charter Committee was given permanent form, following the sweeping victory of November 1924, it is significant that the organization meeting was held in the Parish House of Christ Church. Among the speakers were Mr. Nelson, Charles P. Taft, John R. Schindel, and Henry Bentley, who was known as "the Commander of the legions that gave a city a new body and a new soul," all of them leaders in the campaign, and members and vestrymen of Christ Church. Another parishioner, Ralph Holterhoff, was, almost single-handed, responsible for financing the Committee's work for its next fifteen years.

Repeatedly throughout successive years Mr. Nelson spoke at Charter rallies, giving a series of remarkably effective addresses which assisted immeasurably in sustaining the zest and interest of citizens in the reform ideal. As Mr. Murray Seasongood has said, "The technique of good local government has been developed by study, but the will to bring about good local government has not been infused into the residents of our cities." Toward that will and fusion in the city of Cincinnati, men are agreed that Frank Nelson's moral and spiritual contribution was enormous. Leaders declare that in routing the forces of corrupt government from their strongholds, his was the most powerful voice raised in the city. His trenchant words, his statesmanlike ability spurred the lagging energies and fired men's spirits to greater effort; he gave the necessary courage and drive and inspiration to carry through and maintain the reform movement. "It is the man of ideals and faith," Frank Nelson reiterated, "who has more courage than any politician. We shall set our faces steadfastly to the victory not only for good government and efficiency, but for the morality and the righteousness and the power of faith in this community." In the opinion of Mr. Ralph Holterhoff, the treasurer of the City Charter organization, Mr. Nelson, by his extensive contacts with all classes of citizens, radiating not only through his parish but throughout the entire fabric of Cincinnati's economic and social life, aroused the people with more success than any other individual. He literally mustered thousands of recruits who became zealous apostles and voters for the cause, although many had not voted for years because they felt nothing could be done about the existing evils. During the recurring campaigns for councilmen, Mr. Nelson was at the beck and call of the organization, giving extravagantly of his time and vitality at many rallies, particularly at the opening meeting of campaigns, where he either was the keynote speaker or took such part as expressed the religious convictions that lay behind the movement. "Hearing him," wrote Alfred Segal, a newspaper columnist, "people felt that good government was more than a matter of efficiency and economy. It had to do with civic self-respect and social morale and bright ideals."

Because the issue was clearly moral, this minister did not hesitate to use his pulpit and his parish organization to further the cause. It is a tribute to his church that he met with only minor criticism. He carried his people with him because he enabled them to perceive the relationship between religion and politics. Of course he met with criticism from those who felt that a clergyman should remain aloof from politics, yet at the same time he was genuinely admired and respected by those who did not agree with him. Several of his bitterest political critics, such as, for example, James Garfield Stewart, and Doc Hagen, a ward politician, were not lacking in keen appreciation of his position. And on other civic issues where he made no concealment of his opinions he was, according to Herbert Bigelow, the minister of The People's Church and a former city councilman, "never a trimmer, and those who have seen him in tight places never saw him crawl."

Though the Cincinnati Community Chest is not in politics, it has definitely influenced the course of good government because of the character of the people who carry on the work of the numerous social agencies which it comprises. In 1913, these agencies were organized into a Council, and Frank Nelson's vision, enthusiasm and tireless efforts were determining factors in welding together the diverse religious and racial groups engaged in social service throughout the city. Through this Council, multiple activities were coordinated, and Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant welfare agencies were kindled with new spirit and power which resulted in greater efficiency and an increased opportunity for reaching larger numbers of people. As a consequence, the majority of the social welfare enterprises were able to make a united financial appeal, and since 1919 have continued together without a break in the ranks. Charles P. Taft says of the Cincinnati Community Chest:

The executive direction and social vision of C. M. Bookman, and the spiritual leadership of Reverend Frank H. Nelson have given to the campaign and year-round organizations of volunteers a most distinctive quality. It is not that we raise each year an amount greater per capita than most other cities, although we do that; but it seems to one attending our gatherings that all the men and women of good will in our community have come together and that their spirits are welded together in a great cause, the education of the whole city to the highest standards of health, character, and welfare.[10]

The welding together was again the work of many civic-minded men and women, and Frank Nelson was the fire which fused the different parts into a unity. "He made the Community Chest a platform upon which every man could stand," says C. M. Bookman, the Executive Secretary. His work in the formative years of the Council, particularly in the raising of funds for the first three years, was of untold value. As the Council achieved coherence and a consciousness of its identity, he went on to the larger work of conveying to the city the idea that in this cause the people of Cincinnati could be supremely united, above politics, and beyond racial and religious prejudices. It was his ability to interpret the spiritual basis of this work that made it a common platform. As a result, contributors felt their gifts to have a downright significance. "It is," he said, "God's way of making cities good in spite of themselves."

Frank Nelson believed so thoroughly in the work of the social agencies that the financial drives became a crusade, an adventure in human relationships. He took off his coat, so to speak, and plunged into the drives as one of the solicitors. The calls assigned him were the general run as well as the difficult cases. He canvassed people of modest means whom he didn't know as well as the large donors. As the calling was done by two men soliciting together, he often found himself teamed with a man whose occupation contrasted sharply with his own, once being paired with a distiller! In the personal interviews his was not the milk and honey approach, and he often became quite indignant if some did not give according to their means. On one occasion he called with Mr. William J. Shroder on a man who headed a large corporation but who refused to give commensurately, using as an excuse the fact that the directors were away. Mr. Nelson's feelings blazed forth and he blurted out, "You run this corporation, and you can do as you please," and with that he strode out of the room leaving his calmer friend to secure a gift of [USD]500.00. Sham irritated him beyond measure. Again, at headquarters one day Maurice Pollak was holding forth in vivid language on the subject of people who refused to contribute, and he did not notice Mr. Nelson coming in behind him. When he suddenly stopped in some embarrassment, Mr. Nelson exclaimed, "Go ahead, Maurice, you are saying just what I feel but can't express so well." As he was a man of intense fervor, it is probable that he was better at interpreting the inner significance of the cause than in soliciting contributions. In 1922 he was elected the General Chairman of the drive, and from 1916 to 1939 was a director of the Chest.

As the years went by, Mr. Nelson became something of an "institution" in Cincinnati, and his popularity made him "fashionable" to the superficial-minded. Yet there was something decidedly spontaneous in the acclaim with which he was once greeted by over one thousand canvassers at a campaign dinner in the suburban city of Norwood. To a man the great audience rose when he stood to speak, and applauded with genuine emotion this Christian minister who represented Cincinnati as they wanted it to be. Always sensitive to the reactions of a throng, he poured forth such utterance as made them see the Community Chest as a great moral force, not as just a financial campaign. Their consciences were quickened by his graphic portrayal of their desires for righteousness and decency and fair opportunity.

He was always one of the speakers held in reserve for the crucial last days of the campaigns, and at the large daily luncheons held in the Hotel Gibson for the canvassers he was at his best. The following sentences from a newspaper report of one such address are typical:

You know what this Community Chest has done for this great city, how it has been, as the old seer said long ago, the river of life, flowing through the streets of the city, keeping it clean, refreshing it, strengthening it, heartening it, so that the tree of life, bearing all manner of fruits, through all the year, could grow upon its brink and spread forth its branches to shelter and give new vigor and hope to the inhabitants of the city. That river of life which we call social service is more vital, more important and more needed for the steady maintenance of the morale, well-being, and good life of the whole community than the Ohio River is, believe me.

By the power of simple, forceful speech, strengthened by his great love for people and his belief in them, he enabled Cincinnati to see beyond the horizon, to dream dreams; and by his uncommon labor some of these dreams became actualities. He looked at the city's welfare from the religious viewpoint, and in so doing commended religion to the religiously indifferent. He saw the practical value of spiritual things and the spiritual value of practical things. When, for example, he addressed the National Conference for Social Workers at Denver in 1925 and propounded the theme of Immortality, the audience was at first aghast, and then enthralled. He maintained that they had nothing to work for unless it was for eternity; that their business was concerned with souls, and that the souls of the feeble-minded were as much heirs of immortality as those of others more fortunate, and that no man has the right to condemn or stand in judgment. It was a bold speech to such an audience, and held their rapt attention; it was perhaps the more stimulating because it had been preceded by the scholarly and very formal address of the president of the conference. It was this occasion that produced a choice story which Mr. Nelson loved to tell on himself. At the close of the long evening two men were overheard commenting on the speeches. One of them remarked, "The first man was over my head, and the second just plumb crazy."

He not only made the Community Chest common ground for all, but he also enabled the churches to see it as their work, calling the social service organizations "sub-committees of the Church, doing for the churches the work that the churches want done and would have to do themselves if it were not for the Chest."

Frank Nelson's influence on the civic and political life of Cincinnati cannot be measured, but its power was evident and was revealed time and again through the contacts he had with civic leaders. A Roman Catholic priest said that many politicians went secretly to Mr. Nelson before expressing themselves on certain civic matters or endorsing certain projects. If some considered him officious, they could not have known his humility, much less his consuming passion for human beings. When he addressed public gatherings, one could gauge his power by watching the audience; as the sincerity of the man made his words convincing, even cynical faces "broke up," and the light shed by his stirring eloquence often brought tears.

Among the many tributes paid at the time of Mr. Nelson's death, was one given by the Reverend Jesse Halsey, the beloved former minister of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, who culled the phrase "An Unmitered Bishop," a title which is signally descriptive of the man by reason of the many civic causes to which he was spiritual advisor, and thus a father-in-God to diverse groups scattered over the seven hills and in the "bottoms." He actively furthered many humanitarian causes: the Juvenile Protective Association, the Anti-Tuberculosis League, the Branch Hospital, the Community Chest, the Council of Social Agencies, the Helen S. Trounstine Foundation, the Hospital Social Service, St. Michael's Convalescent Home, and many others. Now that he is gone, the long list of social enterprises ceases to be a mere string of activities and becomes a roll of drums.[11] His whole life seems to exemplify the words of the philosopher Bacon: "The nobler a soul is, the more objects of compassion it hath." His spirit breathed out upon men, and in his lifetime the city felt its beauty and greatness, drawing from his constancy the courage to endure. He protested impatiently against the nonsense often bandied about concerning the alleged immorality of city folk compared with country folk, and cited confuting evidence out of his pastoral experience to prove his conviction saying, "Heroes of these days are the poor people who live in our big cities."

One of the heroines of Cincinnati, though not one of the poor, was Helen S. Trounstine, a remarkable young woman of Jewish faith, who was responsible for making Mr. Nelson the first president of the Juvenile Protective Association. She was a pioneer in social service work, but her career was tragically cut short when she died at the early age of twenty-six. At her memorial service held in Christ Church Parish House January 21, 1917, Mr. Nelson made the principal address and some of his words indirectly reveal much of himself:

I remember the organization of the Juvenile Protective Association; I first met her then. I had never known her before and I said to myself: "Here is another person with an enthusiasm come to complicate my life." I tried to get out of it, but because I wanted to help little children (I built this parish house for the young people, making my people support it for their sake), and she knew it, with infinite patience and constant humor and courtesy she kept forcing me, until gradually she landed me in the Presidency of the Juvenile Protective Association, utterly ignorant of what I was to do or what was to be done. And with the same humor and patience she went ahead and did the work and made me and the board responsible for it -- made us stand behind her, until at last we were ashamed that our consciences were so dull and poor that we had not seen it long ago. And then we set out to do something.

According to the opinion of Miss Edith Campbell, who was thoroughly acquainted with his social work, though not a member of Christ Church, Frank Nelson's "doing" resulted in legislation for the Court of Domestic Relations which was to be in the future a real guardian for unfortunate children. His relationship with the Juvenile Protective Association is but another instance of the ways in which he not only ministered to the city and awoke its conscience, but also helped to foster understanding between church people and social workers. Possibly in no other city are there such close ties between churches and social agencies, and this relationship was Frank Nelson's achievement. He often attended the social workers' meetings of the Monday Evening Club; the conference of Charities and Philanthropies found a welcome center in his parish house. Thus he wove a pattern for social service that came to fruition in municipal and state laws, the kind of laws which give such work permanence and effectiveness.

Frank Nelson was a chivalrous individual who labored for what he thought was right; he championed numerous causes when many people were marshalled on the other side. It is in keeping with his character that he took a pronounced part in the creation of understanding and the removal of prejudices among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Years before the National Conference of Jews and Christians was organized, he practiced the principles of the inter-faith movement. At one time after presiding at a mass meeting in Music Hall held to protest the persecution of Jewish people in Europe, he wrote his friend, Dr. J. Louis Ransohoff: "I realize how dreadfully you must feel, and I would like to tell you that no matter how badly you feel as a Jew, I feel worse as a Christian because in the beginning Jews were persecuted in the name of Christ." On more than one occasion he preached in the Isaac M. Wise synagogue for his friend, Rabbi James G. Heller. In one such instance he spoke on his concept of the spiritual life, considering the great thing in man to be his soul, and pointing out that the journey is superior to the road in the realization of man's destiny. His candor won him the respect and admiration of many in all faiths, for they knew that he honored their opinions. No more dramatic incident illustrates his spirit than the one occurring in the inter-faith meeting at the Rockdale Temple Annex when he confessed his faith. Dr. Heller says there had been a great palaver of generalities by the two preceding speakers, and Mr. Nelson commenced his address by bluntly asking the audience if they wanted him to speak as he saw the truth, and they roared back, "Yes!" Thereupon he launched forth with the ringing declaration, "Let us be honest! I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!" He then proceeded to say that he would like all Jews to become Christians just as he knew the Jews and Roman Catholics desired universal allegiance to their faiths. With one or two exceptions, not a soul in that great audience resented his frankness. His ministry was that of one who lived day by day a life of good-will rather than of one who merely talked about it.

Some men considered that he reflected too much surprise at the degree of harmony already existing among the faiths, and that his expressions of pleasure at finding such unanimity thus raised doubts as to its reality. However, in his broad spirit and totally Christ-fashioned personality, he himself was at home with men of all faiths. In 1939, Mr. William J. Shroder, as Chairman of the Community Chest campaign, chose for the year's theme or slogan "The Unity of Religion and Democracy." So excellent a "sermon" did he preach on numerous occasions that Mr. Nelson jestingly told his friend that he must stay out of his parish!

On the rare occasions when Jews change their religion, they usually do so because of marriage. One such instance is of special interest. The daughter of a leading Jewish citizen married a Gentile, and since her rabbi would not perform the ceremony they turned to Frank Nelson, admiring as they did his faith and works. In a large sense he was rabbi and minister to all sorts and conditions of people. Dean Friedlander of the University Medical School, as he lay dying, said to a friend, "I have told my students how to treat the dying, but it is different when it comes to yourself. Frank Nelson has given me a hand." Again, another friend in his trouble found such sane religious counsel that, although a devout member of his synagogue, he declared, "It took a Christian minister to bring out my soul." He never hesitated to disagree or argue with his best friends, always maintaining that "works without faith" are not sufficient. Thus all who knew him welcomed him, and in their need turned to him with affection, confident of his understanding.

Mr. Nelson was one of the three founders of the Council of Protestant Churches. No small detail was above him, and with Jesse Halsey he rummaged through second-hand stores for furniture for the first office. With the ministers of other churches he worked in closest cooperation, and together they fought the Cox Gang, supported the Social Agencies, and many other activities to which the civic-minded and church-minded in Cincinnati gave unstintingly of their devotion. The Reverend John F. Herget, the distinguished former minister of another downtown church, the Ninth Street Baptist, says, "For twenty-five years we labored together and the passing years only added to my confidence in his intellectual and spiritual integrity. He was a real friend, and when my only son died, he was the first minister in Cincinnati to step through my doorway. I can never forget it. Do you wonder that I loved him and cherish his memory? We were very different in many ways but those differences never deprived us of mutual respect and deep affection." Without a doubt, ministers of all Protestant churches regarded him as the foremost clergyman in the city.

In 1901 Mr. Nelson was elected to membership in the Clergy Club of Cincinnati, an organization which is composed of many of the leading Protestant ministers. On the occasion of the club's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1919, Dr. Dwight M. Pratt, then of the Walnut Hills Congregational Church, wrote a witty and apt characterization of each member. The following is his superb sketch of Mr. Nelson:

NELSON: The Apollo of the Club, equally recognized as such whether in ecclesiastical robes and millinery or in outing negligee; the physical having its counterpart in athletic qualities of mind and heart; a broad-minded, tolerant Churchman, incapable of surrendering to the artificial in form and ceremony or to the pretentious in self-constituted human authority, even when sanctified by tradition and usage, and aware of its historic affinities to Rome. Fundamentally spiritual in his conceptions of the Church and of the Kingdom; quickly alert to elements in religion that are born of the flesh and vitiated by human pride; unsurpassed in the Club for his exalted conception of historic Christianity and of the glory and prestige of a spirit-filled and spirit-guided church, having a vision of church unity impossible of realization under the assumption and the exclusiveness of Episcopacy; a genial democrat in spite of aristocratic training and environment; intimately acquainted with the trend and quality of modern critical scholarship, and in sympathetic touch with the social movements of the day, in the church and outside of it; too thorough and vital, however, to make the mistake, more common in his church than any other, of substituting social Christianity for evangelistic, thus making the care, culture and comfort of the outer man more important than his spiritual redemption; a student of men and books; an observant traveller, a recent and scholarly resident of the ancient metropolis of the world:[12] a keen interpreter of the movements of history, ancient and modern; endowed as a preacher with homiletic skill and the spiritual art of making life seem large and the Kingdom of God the one supreme reality for man; and all this in spite of the fact that he is far from being Puritan; never showing the marks of an ascetic nor any tendency or inclination to self-martyrdom; as much in need of reform in some things as the time honored secretary of the Club; popular with men because in so many respects like them; popular also as a public speaker and on occasions where grace of speech and manner constitute an essential factor in the program; a conspicuous personality in a pageant, having the note of sincerity, sympathy and appeal that commands assemblies; a man whose promotion will always be in spite of high-churchmen and the favorites of Bishops; a man indispensable to the breadth and representative character of the Club.

There remains one other activity to be mentioned in Mr. Nelson's city-wide ministry. In 1930 Mayor Murray Seasongood appointed him to the Board of Directors of the University of Cincinnati, a board commonly known as the Trustees. It was a distinguished appointment, characteristic of Mayor Seasongood's primary emphasis on the welfare of the city, and indicative of the confidence placed by intellectual and civic leaders in Mr. Nelson's judgment and ability. The Board was made up of eight business men and lawyers and concerned itself mainly with the financial problems of the University. Mr. Nelson's approach was to the human element in each situation with which this Board had to deal. He served in this capacity for eight years, and became "an acute, piercing trustee." The University Medical School has oversight of the Cincinnati General Hospital, and Mr. Nelson was troubled by the large number of cases of tuberculosis among members of the staff and the nurses and interns. The hours were long, the pay poor, and living conditions deplorable. He was very active in his support of the efforts by the authorities to bring about improvement in these conditions.

He was chairman of the committee which interviewed candidates for the office of Dean of Woman, since many on the Board did not feel qualified to make such a selection. During the depression in the thirties when reduction of salaries and of department personnel became necessary, Mr. Nelson was instrumental in securing fair treatment for the individual teacher. He would ask if the teacher whose salary reduction was under consideration had a family and how many children. His colleagues considered him a very important agent in preserving morale during these difficult years, and the President and deans frequently sought his counsel.

He was a firm believer in academic freedom. When the Engineering College arranged lectures for business men, he gave the plan his hearty support, and occasionally came under fire because of certain radical speakers. He was frequently the choice of the University as its representative on public occasions in the city. At the Commencement of 1924, the University of Cincinnati bestowed upon Mr. Nelson the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, "as one who has ever striven to advance the government of the mind and spirit, and who by his own severe self-discipline and true humility has taught all of us to subdue ourselves to the imperishable laws of reason and faith."

When one considers the recognition which the entire city whole-heartedly and unreservedly accorded Mr. Nelson, it is a sorry commentary on the influence of politics that upon the expiration of his second term as a trustee of the University the new Republican Mayor, James Garfield Stewart, failed to reappoint him. He was deeply hurt, but there was satisfaction in the realization that it was because of his continued denunciation of party politics that the reappointment did not go through. He was a clergyman who never curried favor nor withheld opinion when forthrightness was the moral requisite. The people knew where he stood, and no office could silence him. To behave as a citizen is "to conduct oneself as pledged to some law of life." His faithful obedience was recognized on many occasions and in numerous ways. One such recognition was his place in a group of fifteen leading citizens selected by four Cincinnatians chosen at random by "The Cincinnati Post." He was described as "having given vision and voice to public service, and in the art of human relations a leader in many fields for many people."

Few public testimonials have awakened so spontaneous a response as that tendered Mr. Nelson on December 3, 1923, in honor of his twenty-five years of service to church and city. Originating among his own parishioners, the plan quickly developed into a city-wide observance. The committee on arrangements was expanded, and included the Reverend Doctor Francis J. Finn, Rabbi David Philipson, the Reverend John F. Herget, and the Right Reverend Boyd Vincent, as well as a large number of prominent laity outside Christ Church. When the evening arrived, one thousand one hundred people from all paths of life sat down to dinner in the Hotel Gibson. The President of the University, Dr. Frederick C. Hicks, presided. The Mayor, then George P. Carrell, cut short a vacation in order to be present and speak for the city, Mr. George D. Crabbs represented the Social Agencies, Dr. William S. Rainsford came on from New York to join in the acclaim. Mayor Carrell voiced a perfect tribute when he spoke of Mr. Nelson in these simple words: "Here is a true man. He loves his fellows. He does not recognize creed or color. Cincinnati is proud of him. Cincinnati loves him." At the conclusion of the speeches, Mr. Nelson, visibly affected, rose to speak. The tumultuous applause lasted five minutes. With characteristic humility he expressed his thanks, and then drew the attention of the audience to the central theme of any true public servant's work, namely, that "Faith creates; cynicism destroys." This enthusiastic testimonial was a moving demonstration of the place Frank Nelson filled in the hearts of his fellow-citizens, an exception to the rule that a prophet is without honor in his own city. There were two interesting side-lights to the occasion. On the morning of the dinner the Reverend Francis J. Finn, a particular friend, and the pastor of St. Francis Xavier's Roman Catholic Church, offered up the Holy Sacrifice with his Protestant friend as his special intention; and in the evening there stood among the waiters, but not of them, Detroit Williams, the colored sexton of Christ Church, who could not have been present but for Mr. Nelson's skillful arrangement.

Such was the spirit of Cincinnati's great Christian citizen. His humanity was all inclusive, his spirit discerning, and the city claimed him as its own, for he gave voice to its conscience and helped it find its soul.


[9] City Management Charles P. Taft, p.108 Farrar and Rineheart, 1933. Used by permission. Other statements on the Charter Movement are based upon the report of the Consultant Service of the National Municipal League entitled The Government of Cincinnati, 1924-1944.

[10] City Management C. P. Taft, p.30. Farrar and Rineheart. Used with permission.

[11] Adaptation of a thought expressed by Alexander Woollcott in While Rome Burns, p.7.

[12] Mr. Nelson twice spent a year in Rome on leave of absence.

the shepherd among his flock
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