Robert Crawford McQuilkin was born Feb. 16, 1886, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Robert Crawford and Lucy (Kirpatric) McQuilkin. His grandparents were all born in Ireland.
He had been brought to Sunday school by Pastor William Anderson of Philadelphia, who spotted him darting into a store when he was nine. When he was 12, he became a member of that Presbyterian Church, declaring he would be a minister. His teen years were filled with doubt, even though he was active among the church youth.
On June 1, 1900, his family was living in a rented house at 2354 North Opal Street, in Philadelphia, and his dad was working as a driver. His one older sister was working as a weaver (she was 16), and he was 14 and in school. His mother had given birth to seven children and had lost one child. The other four children were girls and younger than Robert.
On Apr. 15, 1910, Robert was 24 and still living at home with his parents and three sisters. The house was a rental at 1726 North Gratz Street in Philadelphia. He had his own construction and building shop.
On August 15, 1911, Robert McQuilkin entered a prayer room knelt down and surrendered his life to Christ. He gave up his sins, his doubts, his fiancée, his failures, his future, and decided that nothing else mattered except the Lord’s will.
In 1912, he took the job as an associate editor of the very popular Sunday School Times.
In Sep. 1912, he married Marguerite McCandless Lambie.
Robert helped start the Philadelphia meetings to copy the Keswick Conferences in England, and he remained a key speaker and leader in the movement.
In October, 1918, Robert applied for a passport to East Africa to do missionary work for seven years with the Africa Inland Mission. He was 32 and planning to take his wife and two young daughters. They were planning to set sail from the port of New York City on Nov. 10, 1918, on the City of Lahore. Since World War I had brought the draft to the United States, he also submitted a waiver for travel from the Selective Service. However, just before the ship was to be boarded, it caught fire while at anchor.
With the trip to Africa suddenly cancelled, Robert began to consider what God’s plans were for him to do. He made Charles Trumbull his mentor as he worked at The Sunday School Times, and he began to see the need to train young people for the ministry with an understanding of living the deeper spiritual life.
On Jan. 1, 1920, the couple was living at 16 Edgely Ave in Glenside, Pennsylvania in a house they owned with a mortgage. Robert was 34 and Marguerite was 31. They had two children and Robert’s sister, Helen, living with them. Robert was employed as a minister.
In January 1921, he applied for a passport to go to Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Salvador, and Costa Rica, leaving from New Orleans. He was working for the Latin America Evangelization Campaign.
In 1923, Robert became the first president of what became Columbia Bible College. This was a position he held until his death in 1952.
On Apr. 1, 1930, the couple was living at 1815 Gregg Street in Columbia, South Carolina, in a house they owned worth $6500. Robert was 44 and Marguerite was 41. They had three girls and a boy. Robert was a minister of a Presbyterian church.
He died of a heart attack on July 15, 1952, at the age of 66, in Ashville, North Carolina, but his home was at the Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina.
Please note that this article is in no way an endorsement of Columbia University either now or back at its beginning, nor is this an endorsement of Presbyterianism, or the personal beliefs of Robert McQuilkin. It is provided to illustrate the fact that although we may devise our own ways to be “wonderful” in the eyes of church people, God may direct us otherwise, if we are willing to follow.
Ancestry.com. North Carolina Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: North Carolina State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. North Carolina Death Certificates. Microfilm S.123. Rolls 19-242, 280, 313-682, 1040-1297. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Year: 1900; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 28, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll T623_ 1470; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 682.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Year: 1910; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 47, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll T624_1414; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 1215; Image: 421.
Ancestry.com. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Registration Location: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Roll 1907291; Draft Board: 2.
Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Passport for Robert Crawford Mcquilkin, issued Oct. 17, 1918.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1920; Census Place: Abington, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll T625_1604; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 67; Image: 96.
Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Passport for Robert C Mcquilkin issued on Dec. 21, 1921.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. Year: 1930; Census Place: Columbia, Richland, South Carolina; Roll 2210; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 4; Image: 146.0.
Columbia International University website: www.ciu.edu for photo and information about their school founder.
R.J. Morgan, On This Day. electronic ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997. “August 15.”