They Changed the World. What Will You Do?
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Mary McLeod Bethune used her stature and intellect to dedicate her life to improving educational opportunities, particularly for women, and serving as a civil rights activist. She founded a school for five little girls, and never refused to educate a child whose parents could not afford the tuition. It took over 100 years, but this school evolved into Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune served as President of Bethune-Cookman College for forty years and served three United States Presidential administrations. Bethune’s commitment to education and equality never wavered.
Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop (1831-1883)
Despite not having children of her own, Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop bequeathed her entire estate to found the Kamehameha Schools. Pauahi Bishop was the largest private landowner in Hawaii, and her legacy has grown into a $6 billion endowment that supports the largest independent pre-K to 12 school in the United States. Her gift subsidizes 90% of the cost for every student’s education, in addition to providing $17 million annually for college financial aid for Native Hawaiians.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
While Carnegie is immediately recognized for his success in the steel industry, it is less known that he determined rather early in his career that he would stop working and devote the rest of his life to philanthropy. He held firm convictions about the responsibilities of wealth and published articles and speeches offering guidance on how to most effectively use money to benefit society. In one of his most famous essays, “The Gospel of Wealth” published in 1899, Carnegie urged individuals to distribute their money during their lifetime. He also ranked the best options for philanthropic contributions, listing universities and public libraries as the top two ways one could positively impact society. Carnegie was self-educated, and his commitment to public libraries stemmed from his childhood experience of not being able to afford to borrow books from the local library. Fortunately for us, he benefited from the generosity of a local individual who opened his library for working boys, and Carnegie chose to return the favor by helping establish over 2,500 public libraries around the world. Despite his best efforts, Carnegie could not distribute his fortune so he endowed eight organizations, including a gift of approximately $135 million to establish the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was responsible for distributing his wealth after his death.
George Eastman (1854-1932)
“What you do in your working hours determines what you have. What you do in your leisure hours determines that you are,” was Eastman’s rationale for his philanthropic giving. He preferred anonymous giving, and felt a duty to make the world “a better place for the community to work and live in” by supporting health, recreation, and artistic development. He also recognized that he could attract loyal employees by supporting the local communities in which Kodak factories were located, and he was ahead of his time regarding employee benefits Kodak offered. After struggling with dental health personally, Eastman opened numerous dental clinics around the world where Kodak operated. Eastman translated his personal passions into philanthropy by founding dental centers around the world, the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester Philharmonic, building the Cambridge campus for MIT, and donating approximately half of his fortune the University of Rochester.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Although Franklin’s constant commitment to voluntary association and philanthropy easily makes him a Founder of American Philanthropy, this aspect of his work is rarely recognized. He found the association of men was the most powerful way to influence society, and founded a mutual aid society to benefit the community (the Junto Club), the first subscription library (The Library Company of Philadelphia), the first volunteer fire department (Union Fire Company), pioneered a matching grant concept to raise money for a city hospital (the Pennsylvania Hospital), and an educational academy, which became the University of Pennsylvania. In death, Franklin also taught us a lesson because he established a trust that outlived its defined purpose causing us to question gift restrictions and life spans for foundations.
Mary Elizabeth Garrett (1853-1915)
Ever visited a female physician? If so, thank Mary Elizabeth Garrett who believed that “opportunities for research, investigation and teaching of Medical Science in its various branches shall be open to women.” Garrett endowed the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with a conditional gift that insisted women be admitted on equal terms of men, moreover, she insisted on a more challenging curriculum and higher admissions standards for all students. Aside from her tremendous impact on the quality of medical education in America, Garrett engaged in a lifelong quest to provide women with equal educational opportunities. She established the Bryn Mawr School for Girls, financially supported Bryn Mawr College, and was active in suffragist movement.
Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932)
One of the wealthiest retail merchants of the early 20th century, Rosenwald sincerely believed his fortune should be shared with others. He championed racial equality, supported education, and created controversy by insisting perpetual endowments could be dangerous. True to his beliefs, Rosenwald stipulated that his foundation, The Rosenwald Fund, sunset within a generation after his death.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774-1821)
Believing that education was important to all – not just those who could afford it – Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton championed religious education as a foundation for a better life. Seton became a Roman Catholic in 1805, and was ostracized by most of her family and friends. She relocated to Maryland to begin a new life and, in 1810, opened the first free Catholic school in the United States. Although this was not the first Catholic School, Seton and her Sisters of Charity are regarded as the founders of the parochial school system in the United States.
James Smithson (1765-1829)
Smithson made a simple gift “for the establishment of an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” that founded what we currently know as the Smithsonian Institute. However, the British nobleman would have never imagined how his gift would inspire debates about the roles of government and philanthropy in America. It was questioned whether Congress had the power to accept a bequest, whether it was beneath the dignity of the United States to accept gifts from foreigners, whether government management of such a gift could pose a threat to democracy, and ultimately, the question arose of how the money should be spent. During this debate, Smithson’s bequest was invested in state securities that were lost, so Congress eventually refunded the amount of the bequest and founded the Institute we enjoy.
Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915)
Washington was charged with building an educational institution from the ground up – literally. The state legislature authorized the formation of Tuskegee Institute with no land or facilities, which required the young president to spend much of his time fundraising. Washington developed a simple and direct philosophy, “My experience and observation have convinced me that persistent asking outright for money from the rich does not, as a rule, procure help. I have proceeded on the principle that… making known the facts regarding Tuskegee, and especially the facts regarding the work of its graduates, has been more effective than outright begging.” In addition to his successes as an African-American leader and educator, Washington’s discussion of a logical, persuasive process for fundraising was a great philanthropic contribution.
John Winthrop (1588-1649)
Winthrop shared a vision for community aboard the Arabella, the flagship of the fleet that brought a colony of settlers to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. He challenged settlers to work together and to act in the best interest of their neighbors to build a strong community. His philosophy of community, shared in his essay A Model of Christian Charity was fundamental not only to survival for early settlers, but also to the understanding of philanthropy in America.