- Historic Sites
The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
Roughly, the disease belted the globe and all countries and islands within thirty degrees on each side of the equator. Ten hundred million of the seventeen hundred million inhabitants of the globe lived within the area of possible infection, the amount of infection being dependent on the density of population, the nature of the soil, and the habits of the people.
After due consideration we determined to organize a new and world-wide agency to attack this and other curable or preventable disease, and to promote universal health. It seemed best to make this new organization a subordinate agency of the Rockefeller Foundation. Accordingly, I drew up, and at its next meeting presented to the foundation, a preamble and resolutions which were duly adopted, and the work of the International Health Commission was duly organized under them.
A great part of the more heavily infected areas of the world belonged to the British Empire. Clearly our first work would be to enlist the English government.
Fortunately, Walter Page was our ambassador to England. He knew all about the hookworm, was highly influential with Earl Grey and other members of the cabinet, and quite ready to lend us his influence. I suggested to Dr. Rose to get through Page, if possible, a chance to demonstrate before the English cabinet. This was done. These enlightened statesmen quickly perceived the service the International Health Commission, with the vast financial resources of the Rockefeller Foundation behind it, was likely to be to the British Empire, and they gave Dr. Rose every possible encouragement.
All other countries concerned followed in due time the English example. I cannot burden these pages with the details of the work, or how widely it has taken on other diseases like yellow fever and malaria, or how far it has endowed hospitals, medicine, and medical research in many parts of the world. My last reports are that it has operated among some 62 peoples or more and has proved to be the most widespread and perhaps the most important work of the Rockefeller Foundation.
The resolutions establishing the International Health Commission were drawn up in 1913. I wrote to Mr. Rockefeller, Sr., at the time as follows: “You have doubtless seen the preamble and resolutions—for public and private use—which I drew up for the extension of the Sanitary Commission to a world-wide work by the Foundation. I think this by far the most needful and important, as well as the most extensive public benefaction ever undertaken by man, and that it will have in the end permanent and highly beneficent results for the whole human race.”
In my letter to Mr. Rockefeller of June 5, 1905, I out-lined a series of specific trusts for the promotion of civilization, each with its independent charter, board of trustees, and endowment.
This idea of several independent foundations was later laid aside for a time for a single central holding company which was to finance annually all the other organizations, and thus necessarily to subject them to its general supervision. We were to call this the Rockefeller Foundation and to secure a charter from Congress, thus giving it a national character and locating its principal office nominally in the District of Columbia.
Its charter was to be perpetual, subject only to repeal by Congress. We thought repeal by Congress would be difficult if not practically impossible. The Congressional charter as planned by us was to permit limitless capital, to be national and international in scope, with its board of trustees to be wholly self-perpetuating and authorized to do anything whatever, anywhere in the world, within the legal definition of philanthropy as interpreted by our courts.
It was true that such a charter would confer vast powers, but if they were abused it could be revoked. It is true that no government at any time had conferred on corporations privileges so limitless, even for philanthropic purposes. But on the other hand, no fortune so great as Mr. Rockefeller’s had ever before been accumulated by a private person, nor had any philanthropist ever arisen with aims so comprehensive in scope.
What we proposed, moreover, conferred on Mr. Rockefeller personally nothing which he did not already possess. As a private American citizen he could use his means in any amount anywhere in the world for any lawful purpose. Indeed, the charter, in so far as he used it, would restrict his liberty rather than enlarge it, for it would take away from himself altogether, and place in the hands of an independent and self-perpetuating board, the distribution of the funds contributed to it.
A bill chartering the Rockefeller Foundation was introduced into Congress in 1910 and attracted wide public attention. There was general public approval. Many old friends wrote congratulatory letters.
I cannot more succinctly outline the origin and purpose of the foundation than I did in a memorandum made at the time.