The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


The General Education Board was organized in 1902. Its purpose was at the first very limited and entirely sectional. It aimed at that time simply to promote primary education for white and black in the South without distinction of creed. Its very modest program was illustrated by Mr. Rockefeller’s pledge at its birth of $100,000 per year for a period of ten years.

Mr. Edwin M. Shepard, however, had been retained to draw up the charter, and an extraordinary charter it was that he drew. Instead of confining the powers of the organization to the limited work then contemplated, he drew a perpetual charter which within the United States conferred on the board authority to hold limitless capital and to do anything whatever which could be construed to be directly or even remotely educational. Congress alone could grant such privileges, and even Congress could do so only in its special jurisdiction over the District of Columbia. To Congress therefore we applied.

It was extremely fortunate for us that Senator Winthrop Aldrich, the father of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was then the leading man in Congress. He took the bill into his own hospitable hands and put it through in record time. The board was duly incorporated by Congress, January 12, 1903.

But it was still some years before the infant organization came to self-consciousness and to a realizing sense of its mission and destiny. However, with our pledge of $100,000 a year and our narrow aims in behalf of southern education only, we set to work.

Our first important action was to make a thorough survey of educational conditions in the South and to choose, of the many things we might undertake, the one which would give us the greatest leverage of uplift over the widest territory. I was made chairman of a committee to make the survey.

After months of inquiry shared by Dr. Buttrick, who had been made secretary of the board, I reported in a carefully prepared paper that our most fruitful work would be the multiplication of high schools throughout all the states of the South. It was true that this would cost many millions for new grounds and buildings alone, if successful on the scale contemplated. But nearly all the necessary funds, we contended, the South would itself furnish. What the South needed was only information, initiative, and leadership. This we could furnish. The rest would do itself.

There existed at that time in every state a state university. Our plan proposed that in every state university a chair of education be created. The incumbent was to be named and his duties defined by us, subject to university approval. We were to pay his salary and. expenses in full. This officer was not to teach but to ascertain, by careful survey and as rapidly as possible, the name and location of every community in the state needing, and capable of founding and supporting, a high school.

These places he was to visit in turn. He would come as an officer of the university, laden with its wisdom and its moral authority. Our agency in the matter was not to be exploited or mentioned. He would call a public meeting or meetings. He would urge the paramount value of a high school in that community. He would give stereopticon views of attractive and well-planned buildings in other similar communities with accurate statements of cost and calculations of added tax. He would point out the increase in the value of property the high school would bring and the new families it would attract to the community. He would describe in detail the methods of procedure and answer courteously and fully any objections.

The plan proved efficient beyond our most sanguine anticipations. All the southern states, without exception, called for these professors of secondary education. Under their leadership the South had established in 1922 more than 1,600 new high schools at a cost of over $46,000,000, all raised by local taxation.

So fully has the need of high schools been supplied that for some years now our professors of education have been able to give their entire attention to enlarging the scope and improving the instruction in the high schools. This addition of over 1,600 high schools has stimulated the entire educational system of the South beyond the power of imagination to encompass. There is no school in the South of any kind, from the kindergarten to the university, that has not felt the new impulse to education given by the multiplication of the high schools.

Mr. Rockefeller, in June, 1905, pledged $10,000,000 to the General Education Board.

The quarter-century between 1880 and 1905 had shifted the emphasis of education in the United States from the preparatory schools to the colleges. The number of public high schools aiming to fit young men and women for college had not only increased, but had actually multiplied manifold throughout the country. These students, so prepared, now thronged the colleges and universities and threw the emphasis of financial need on the higher education. It was under these circumstances that Mr. Rockefeller had made his gift of ten million and had asked me to draw up the formal letter of gift designating the purposes to which the funds were to be devoted.

I had no hesitation in dedicating the fund wholly to the higher education. By this time I had become pretty well acquainted with most of the 400 institutions of our country, chartered and called colleges or universities, and I understood the governing factors of their growth and influence.