Short Biography

(From Council for Secular Humanism)

The Birth & Youth of Robert G. Ingersoll

Robert Ingersoll was born August 11, 1833, the youngest of five children of John and Mary Ingersoll. John Ingersoll was a Presbyterian minister. He was a man who believed, in the words of Elbert Hubbard, that “that which was pleasant was not wholly good.” By all accounts a stern, uncompromising parson, John Ingersoll preached abolitionist sermons so fiery that congregations often dismissed him. Dresden’s was no exception; the Ingersolls left this area before Robert was four months old. Mary Ingersoll died at thirty-one, when Robert was one and one-half years of age. Reverend Ingersoll and the five children continued to wander. During Robert’s childhood, the family lived in various communities in New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Robert Ingersoll received little formal schooling. He last saw the inside of a conventional schoolroom as a youth of fifteen while his family was residing in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Later, he would say that his real education began while he was waiting at a cobbler’s shop, when he chanced to pick up a book of the poetry of Robert Burns.

At last the family came to settle in Illinois. In this state Robert Green Ingersoll, now a young man, determined to seek his fortune. He had some of his father’s gift for oratory, but had seen enough of the frontier preacher’s life. He apprenticed himself to two lawyers, one after another, and in that way qualified himself for the practice of law.