The story of a little girl who left 57-cents for a new church is true. The little girl’s 57-cents did inspire the efforts that resulted in the purchase of property and construction of buildings, but did not actually purchase the property outright.
A first-hand account of it is in a sermon delivered December 1, 1912 by Russell H. Conwell, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Rev. Conwell said the little girl’s name was Hattie May Wiatt. She lived near a church where the Sunday School was very crowded and he told her that one day they would have buildings big enough to allow every one to attend who wanted to. Later, Hattie May Wiatt became sick and died. Rev. Conwell was asked to do the funeral and the girl’s mother told him that Hattie May had been saving money to help build a bigger church and gave him the little purse in which she had saved 57 cents. Rev. Conwell had the 57 cents turned into 57 pennies, told the congregation the story of little Hattie May and sold the pennies for a return of about $250. In addition, 54 of the original 57 pennies were returned to Rev. Conwell and he later put them up on display. This was in 1886 when 57 cents was no small savings account for a little girl from a poor family. Some of the members of the church formed what they called the Wiatt Mite Society which was dedicated to making Hattie May’s 57 cents grow as much as possible and to buy the property for the Primary Department of the Sunday school. A house nearby was purchased with the $250 that Hattie May’s 57 cents had produced and the rest is history. The first classes of Temple College, later Temple University, were held in that house. It was later sold to allow Temple College to move and the growth of Temple, along with the founding of the Good Samaritan Hospital (Now the Temple University Hospital) have been powerful testimonies to Hattie May Wiatt’s dream.