- Historic Sites
The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
My intimate, confidential relationships with Mr. John D. Rockefeller in New York City began in September, 1891.
In connection with the founding of the University of Chicago I had become well acquainted with Mr. Rockefeller. In March of 1891, he told me that the pressure of appeals for philanthropic causes on his time and strength had become too great to be borne; that he was unable to give away money with satisfaction without inquiry as to the worthiness of the cause; that these inquiries were now consuming more of his time and energy than his business, and indeed injuring his health, and that either he must shift the burden to other shoulders, or he must cease giving entirely.
He invited me to come to New York and assist him in his benevolent work by taking the interviews and inquiries and reporting results for his action. I accepted Mr. Rockefeller’s invitation, and after consultation at home informed him that I would report to him in New York, ready for duty, in September following.
Soon after I entered Mr. Rockefeller’s private office in New York, the question of medical instruction under the auspices of the University of Chicago came up for decision. The president of the university, Dr. William Rainey Harper, wanted a medical school dedicated to the regular practice only. Mr. Rockefeller was unyielding in his insistence that the university should be associated only with a medical institution founded by the university itself, representing no school of medicine, but purely scientific in its research and instruction.
Mr. Rockefeller intimated at the time that he would be prepared to foster such an institution as a department of the university. The difference of view between the Chicago authorities and Mr. Rockefeller proved to be irreconcilable. The university proceeded to absorb Rush Medical College, then representing the regular school only, and the subject was dropped. Thus early, however, had Mr. Rockefeller disclosed his interest in medicine as a science as distinguished from medicine as a school.
Thus the matter rested for four years. But in the summer of 1897 I prepared and transmitted to Mr. Rockefeller, who was as usual spending his summer in Cleveland, a memorandum earnestly recommending the founding by him in America of an institution for scientific medical research on the general lines of the work of Koch in Berlin and the Pasteur Institut in Paris.
Mr. Rockefeller entertained the suggestion hospitably, as indeed I had anticipated, and encouraged further and detailed inquiry. It was in this way that my name became associated with the origin of the great Institute of Medicine Research subsequently founded, and so munificently endowed and equipped by Mr. Rockefeller.
In the latter half (1884-1888) of my pastorate in Minneapolis, there had been in my congregation several practicing physicians as well as the usual quota of faith healers, Christian Scientists, and medical nondescripts, each not unwilling to have an encouraging word here and there from the pastor. I was actively canvassed, however, only by the homeopaths. They not only put me on the mailing list of their central propaganda in St. Louis, but they insisted on my reading Dr. Hanneman’s great masterpiece known as The New Testament of Homeopathy .
Homeopathy was simply a reaction and protest against the powerful and injurious drugs often administered by the regular practices. Moreover, it was impossible in any community to discover with the naked eye any statistical advantage to either school.
To me the inference was obvious that neither school was having much effect on the health of the community, and that if there existed a science of medicine, that science was not being taught or practiced in America.
I used to meet occasionally the ablest and most prominent physician in Minneapolis, a man of the regular school, who sometimes had patients in my congregation. He described to me once with easy frankness the actual character of his practice.
He said that in ninety of every hundred of his calls, the patient would have recovered just as certainly and comfortably without him. Of the remaining ten he could make nine perhaps more comfortable and could throw certain protections about the patient, but the disease must run its course to recovery or fatality even with the most watchful care. There remained only the one case in a hundred perhaps in which medical science as commonly practiced among us knew how to effect a cure.
I may say here that I have ever since been in the habit of telling this story to physicians trained earlier than 1900, and without exception found it confirmed by their experience. And so, when I entered Mr. Rockefeller’s private office in 1893,1 had been for years convinced that medicine as generally taught and practiced in the United States was practically futile.
But I determined at length that I would find out what really lay in the minds of doctors in active practice. I would read the textbooks they studied. I found out that Osier’s Principles and Practices of Medicine was a textbook then taught in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. The book came into my hands at a fortunate moment. I spent a considerable part of the months of July and August following, with my family, in the Catskill Highlands, at Lake Liberty, in Sullivan County, New York, where I had leisure to give my undivided attention to Osier’s book.
I read the whole book without skipping any of it. I had been a sceptic before, as we have seen, regarding the value of medicine as currently practiced. This book confirmed my scepticism. For I found that the best medical practice did not, at that time, pretend to cure more than four or five diseases. It was nature, and in most instances nature unassisted, and not the doctor that cured disease.
Osler’s chapter on any particular disease would begin with the definition of the disease, and its extension throughout the world, the history of discovery about it, the revelations of innumerable post-mortems, the symptoms, cause and probable results of the disease, and the permanent complications and consequences likely to follow; but when he came to the vital point, namely, the treatment of the aforesaid disease, our author would almost invariably lapse into a mental attitude of doubt, scepticism, and hesitation. He would suggest that so and so had found this or that treatment to be efficacious but such had not been his own experience, but perhaps this or that might be found to be useful in some cases. To a layman like me, demanding cures, he had no word of comfort whatever.
Pasteur had indeed already established his germ theory, but I learned from Osier that few germs had as yet been identified and isolated. I made a list, and it was a very long one at that time—much longer that it is now —of the germs which we might reasonably hope to discover, but which as yet had never been identified with certainty, and I made a very much longer list of the infectious and contagious diseases for which no specific had been found.
When I laid down this book I had begun to realize how woefully neglected had been the scientific study of medicine in the United States.
Why this was so seemed clear. While other departments of science, such as astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology, etc., had been endowed very generously in colleges and universities, medicine, owing to the commercial organization of medical colleges, had rarely been endowed, and research had been left to shift for itself, dependent altogether on such chance time as a rare spirit, without facilities, might steal from his practice.
It became clear to me that medicine could hardly hope to become a science until medicine was endowed, and qualified men were enabled to give themselves to uninterrupted study and investigation, on ample salary, entirely independent of practice. To this end, it seemed to me an institute of medical research ought to be established in the United States. And here was an opportunity for Mr. Rockefeller to do an immense service to his country and perhaps the world.
This idea took possession of me. The more I thought of it the more interested I became. I knew nothing of the cost of research; I did not realize its enormous difficulty, the only thing I saw was the overwhelming need and infinite promise, world-wide, universal, eternal. Filled with these thoughts and enthusiasms, I returned from my vacation on July 24, 1897.
I brought my Osier into the office at 26 Broadway, and there I dictated for Mr. Rockefeller’s eye a memorandum. It enumerated the infectious diseases and pointed out how few of the germs had yet been discovered and how great the field of discovery, how few specifics had yet been found and how appalling was the unremedied suffering. It pointed to the usefulness of the Koch Institut in Berlin and the success of the Pasteur Institut in Paris. Pasteur’s inquiries on anthrax and on the diseases of fermentation had saved for the French nation a sum far in excess of the entire cost of the Franco-German War.
Even if the proposed institute should fail to discover anything, the mere fact that he, Mr. Rockefeller, had established such an institute of research, if he were content to do so, would result in other institutes of a similar kind, or at least other funds for research being established, until research in this country would be conducted on a great scale and out of the multitudes of workers we might be sure in the end of abundant rewards, even though those rewards did not come directly from the institute which he might found.
Being preoccupied with other things, I introduced to Mr. Rockefeller a legal friend of mine, Mr. Starr J. Murphy, of Montclair, as qualified, though personally unacquainted with medicine, to make extensive inquiries of medical men in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston respecting the feasibility of the proposed institute. The conclusions of the medical men were disappointing. Instead of the institute I advocated they suggested that Mr. Rockefeller give a small sum, I think it was $20,000 per year for ten years, to selected individual laboratory workers in various parts of the country. The plan proved utterly futile.
It was not until after several years of the complete failure of their system of scattered subventions that the medical gentlemen ventured timidly to organize an institute of research and give it a local habitation and a name. Several competent research workers were found in America, but perhaps more were drawn from Europe. Dr. Simon Flexner was placed in charge and under his direction the institute was from the first highly useful and successful.
I hope it may never be forgotten that it is to Dr. William H. Welch that we owe the priceless suggestion that Dr. Flexner be made the director of the institute. The nomination was made in 1903 at the founding of the institute, Dr. Flexner being then forty years of age, at the maturity of his powers and already famous for important and successful research. These two gentlemen, Doctors Flexner and Welch, men of the highest attainments and widest acquaintance in research in this country and Europe, organized the institute, selecting in collaboration the first board of scientific directors and the original staff.
Dr. Flexner immediately developed administrative ability of the highest order, while at the same time pursuing his researches with as much zeal and success as if they had been his sole pursuit. It is nothing but simple truth to say that the Rockefeller Institute has not been less fortunate in its great administrator than in its great founder.
One day I chanced to be walking down Broadway with President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard. We were talking about the Rockefeller Institute and I ventured to confess to him that to me the institute was the most interesting thing in the world. “Nothing,” said I, “is to me so exciting, so fascinating as the work the institute is doing.”
Dr. Eliot stopped short in the street and turned to me and said with emphasis and emotion, “I myself feel precisely so. The Rockefeller Institute is to me the most interesting thing in this world.”
That statement from him is significant. Of course, Dr. Eliot could know little, if anything, of the technique of the work. Certainly it was not the technique that interested him; it was those great, underlying, general considerations which give peculiar value to medical research and which make an irresistable appeal to a layman, even though he can know nothing of the technicalities of the daily experimentation.
Do not smile if I say that I often think of the institute as a sort of theological seminary. But if there be over us all the Sum of All, and that Sum conscious—a conscious, intelligent Being—and if that Being has any favorites on this little planet, I must believe that those favorites are made up of that ever-enlarging group of men and women who are most intimately and in very truth studying Him and His ways with men.
That is the work of the institute. In these sacred rooms He is whispering His secrets. To these men He is opening up the mysterious depths of His Being. There have been times when, as I have looked through these microscopes, I have been stricken with speechless awe. I have felt that I was gazing with unhallowed eyes into the secret places of the Most High.
I say if God looks down on this world and has any favorites, it must be the men who are studying Him, who are working every day, with limited intelligence and in the darkness—for clouds and darkness are round about Him—and feeling their way into His heart.
As medical research goes on, therefore, it will find out and promulgate, as an unforeseen by-product of its work, new moral laws and new social laws—new definitions of what is right and wrong in our relations with each other. Medical research will educate the human conscience in new directions and point out new duties. It will make us sensitive to new moral distinctions. It will teach nobler conceptions of our social relations and of the God who is over us all. Work may be doing in the institute far more important than we dream, for the ethics and the religion of the future. Theology is already being reconstructed in the light of science, and that reconstruction is one of the most important of the services which scientific research is performing for humanity.
The University of Chicago (financed largely by Mr. Rockefeller) opened in the fall of 1892, one year after my removal to New York. Dr. Harper’s plans for the university were magnificent, indeed almost limitless in scope, and ever expanding. They involved, however, some valuable reforms in higher education.
Our charter, drawn by ourselves, had provided for limitless expansion, but I need not say that it did not of itself finance limitless expansion. It was no objection to Dr. Harper’s scheme of university organization that when, if ever, it could be put into full operation, funds would be required for campus, buildings, apparatus, and endowment, far in excess of those of any other American university of the time.
To this, Mr. Rockefeller did not object. The plans evoked approval in educational circles, and gave Dr. Harper just occasion for pride. They were boldly but well conceived, and with some changes have worked well. The whole Northwest, irrespective of creed, was looking to the new institution for educational leadership. If we were broad and hospitable, the field of the university would become limitless in possibility.
And then, too, in Chicago itself there soon sprang up an interest among men of wealth and in the organs of public sentiment that filled us with satisfaction and hope. Gifts began to pour in from wholly unexpected quarters; prospective students by the hundreds began to make inquiries. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Dr. Harper found it impossible to keep within the extremely modest limit of the meager funds of the university. Nor could his restless spirit wait during long and slow years to see his plan in complete operation.
In fact, immediately after he became president, Dr. Harper began the organization of the university on a scale of expenditure that would require several more millions from Mr. Rockefeller at once if debt and deficit were to be avoided. Perhaps Dr. Harper preferred not to estimate in advance too accurately, but to leave much financing for the future. It must be admitted that his resistance was small and his temptations great.
But Mr. Rockefeller’s keen and experienced eye saw the drift with apprehension. Moreover, he was receiving, as he told me, private warnings of Dr. Harper’s financial commitments from friends in Chicago. He saw himself being forced to do in Dr. Harper’s time and way what he had proposed to do only in his own time and way.
Within less than nine months after Dr. Harper became president, Mr. Rockefeller took me into his confidence. He said that he was filled with anxiety lest Chicago should “lie down” on him. Contracts were being made involving vast permanent expenditures for which there had been made no provision whatever. Was it expected that he would furnish the needed funds?
He wished me to labor with Dr. Harper, to try to restrain him, and to make him face the financial facts, and the debts and deficits sure to come.
Yet at the very same time Mr. Rockefeller consented to the choice of a few of the best experts in the country as heads of departments at the then unheard of salary of $7,000 per year, for they could not be secured for less, and he confided to me as a secret not to be disclosed that he would pay any necessary deficit up to $40,000 for the first year. It was clear thus early that in Mr. Rockefeller’s mind pride in the institution and interest in its vast promise were struggling with his very natural purpose to be the master of his philanthropy and not its servant.
Dr. Harper had entered on his active duties as president in October, 1891. By the next February it was evident that the $75,000 that would be available for the expenses of the first year would be insufficient. The trustees limited the expenses for professors’ salaries to $100,000 and themselves subscribed the extra $25,000 on the spot. But this did not cover other necessary expenses which in every institution must amount to more than the sum of all the salaries. A hundred thousand annually in salaries means in every college an annual outgo of more than two hundred thousand. Moreover, there was at Chicago everything to buy new—apparatus, libraries, illustrative material.
I went to Chicago late in January, 1892, to look into the situation, and wrote back at once that I was “utterly appalled” at the inadequacy of the provision now in sight to take care of the work thrust upon the institution the first year; that it was certain to open in the fall with 1,000 to 2,000 students, for whose instruction no adequate preparation could be made on present funds. I spent many days in Chicago preparing my report. It called immediately for two millions of additional endowment to bring in a hundred thousand additional income per year. This extra income would be needed the first year.
Mr. Rockefeller consented to give one million of this for endowment, together with $50,000 additional for current expenses the first year. He said in his letter of gift that it was a “thank offering to Almighty God for restored health.” I have good reason to think this gratuitous statement, publicly made, partook, to use a late word, of camouflage. It concealed the unwelcome fact that the gift had been forced by the unexpected embarrassments of the university. That he felt so was evident by his warning to me at the time that he would not again give under any compulsion or plea of necessity.
Dr. Harper and Dr. Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, with the trustees, raised a million for buildings in Chicago during May, June, and July of 1892, and the time was ripe and circumstances favorable for Mr. Rockefeller to add the second of the two millions that my report had called for earlier in the year. So I presented the matter to Mr. Rockefeller on my own initiative in September and again in October, and the million was duly sent to the university in coupon bonds as a Christmas gift.
But the gift made provision only for what was already permanently involved in the university budget, and Mr. Rockefeller not only cut off and retained the coupons of the first six months, but required Dr. Harper to sign a written guarantee that not more than $20,000 should be added for professors’ salaries.
But to avoid deficits was to Dr. Harper utterly impossible. He was an ardent optimist. Invariably and against his own experience he both overestimated resources and underestimated expenditures. His professors were constantly demanding and forcing upon him vast financial claims, and were often able to plead his own previous promises and committals.
Mr. Rockefeller suppressed whatever disappointment he had, gave freely even though under compulsion, and acted throughout in the public interest with great selfrestraint. The fact was that the university had disclosed a greater field, a wider promise, and required far greater and more immediate expenditures than anyone had dreamed in order to fulfill a destiny now manifest to all.
It remains for me to show in justice to both that from the first the temperamental difference between Mr. Rockefeller and Dr. Harper made it impossible for them to work in open, frank and cordial co-operation, such as Mr. Rockefeller desired, toward the common end of building a great university.
Both men were committed to the enterprise, both were as disinterested in it as was humanly possible, both were men of inflexible purpose, but they were of opposite temperaments. Mr. Rockefeller had written Dr. Harper in trying to persuade him to become president of the university in the following words, among others less significant: “I confidently expect we will add funds from time to time to those already pledged to place it [the university] on the most favored basis financially.”
These are perhaps the most pregnant and important words ever uttered in the history of the University of Chicago. Considering their context and purpose, they certainly did effectually commit Mr. Rockefeller to Dr. Harper’s dream of a great university at Chicago. This sentence it was, no doubt, that decided Dr. Harper to resign his work at Yale and undertake the presidency at Chicago.
But the two men each interpreted these words according to his own temperament, and the two were unfortunately temperamental opposites; and these differences were accentuated by experiences and pursuits of life as diverse as possible, and also by great differences in age.
Mr. Rockefeller was a man in middle life. Dr. Harper was hardly more than a youth. Mr. Rockefeller had been a businessman from his teens. Dr. Harper was a teacher and was without business experience. Mr. Rockefeller had perhaps had a wider experience in executive relations than any other man in America. Dr. Harper was almost without administrative experience.
When Mr. Rockefeller wrote the crucial sentence we are discussing, he had evidently resolved to found, if he could, a great university at Chicago, but he intended to do so by making occasional and limited gifts, feeling his way along with care and making possible a slow, solid, and healthy growth. In finance he expected it to be a model of economy, thrift and skill. He supposed every forward step would be discussed and financed in advance with all the factors accurately estimated.
But to Dr. Harper, on the other hand, such a policy was temperamentally impossible. Notwithstanding immense and repeated gifts and every caution and precaution, each year of Dr. Harper’s active presidency, from 1892 to his disabling illness in 1904, was a year of increasing debt and deficit.
Nothing but his clear vision of the public interest could have sustained Mr. Rockefeller in those trying years. He saw students entering the university in numbers increasing annually by hundreds. While he was painfully aware that the budgets annually presented to us in advance were not the least restrained on expenditures, he knew that after all there was little waste. And so Mr. Rockefeller was patient.
But not too patient. When in 1904 he thought the time had come for the trustees to assume authoritative and complete control of the finances and live up to the budgets and not transgress them, the threatened blow fell and there was no faltering. The trustees themselves were convinced that the hour had struck and were from that time as zealous as we were for complete financial reform. Dr. Harper fully realized that the conflict with Mr. Rockefeller, always a friendly conflict, was over, and it was he who had lost. For after an overnight private conference with his father, Mr. John, Jr., formally announced the next day, to the reassembled board, the discontinuance of further endowment gifts from his father until the university could show a clean balance sheet.
There was no break at any time in the friendly social relations between the Rockefellers and the Harpers.
Dr. Harper died in January, 1906. At the time of his death, the university had no pension system. Mr. Rockefeller had indeed established a trust fund for Dr. Harper personally, of $75,000, some years before. This fund now went to the widow. In addition, Mr. Rockefeller now gave the university a fund of $200,000, the income to go to Mrs. Harper for life. Mr. Rockefeller also built, almost wholly with his own contribution of $650,000, the Harper Memorial Library.
It was only after the university, under the skillful financial management of the new president, Dr. Judson, had lived within its budget for two years, that Mr. Rockefeller began to renew his gifts for endowment. Early in 1906 he gave more than a million for endowment, and before the close of the year, had added to his total contributions more than three millions, nearly all for endowment.
By 1910 Mr. Rockefeller’s gifts to the University of Chicago had totaled some 33 millions.
A newspaper sensation over “tainted money” enlivened the spring of 1905. Originating in a false alarm, it subsided when the truth came out and ended in the chagrin of most of the excited participants. Though the public interest was short-lived, the episode left some permanent results. It gave the ethics of philanthropy a new, serious, and recurrent question; it enriched literature with a deathless phrase; it reversed the Standard Oil Company’s policy of silence; but alas! it postponed for a decade a world of service to missions by Mr. Rockefeller’s great fortune.
The true story, untold hitherto, is instructive. For some weeks Mr. Rockefeller was a national storm center and the tempest was to me a never-to-be-forgotten personal experience.
Two decades ago and more, when my story begins, the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions at Boston, like the Baptist board of the same city, and indeed like every other foreign board known to me, had sent abroad many more missionary preachers, teachers, doctors, and nurses than they could equip for efficient work.
All the boards were in great need of lands, buildings, and equipment for schools, colleges, hospitals, and missionary compounds. The Baptists in their extremity had found a perennial fountain of bounty, yielding many hundreds of thousands, in Mr. Rockefeller’s clearer survey of missionary needs and his ample purse. If the Congregational secretaries in Boston, hard bestead for money, envied the easy opulence of their Baptist brethren across the street with whom they often lunched, who shall blame them?
But how could they hope to reach a man who, besides being a Baptist, was a total stranger to them and reputed to be elusive and difficult of approach? They mused on these things. It was understood that Mrs. Rockefeller in her girlhood had been a Congregationalist; might she not cherish tender memories? Her sister, Miss Lucy Spelman, a member of the Rockefeller domestic circle, was a communicant of a New York Congregational church. Might not here be a providential opening?
In due time, therefore, Miss Spelman’s pastor, himself a member of the Boston Congregational Board, laden with its burdens and kindled with its hopes, tactfully approached the sweet and kindly Miss Spelman. She could hardly do less than pass the appeal on to Mrs. Rockefeller, and that excellent lady brought it to the domestic breakfast table where in family conclave such matters were usually discussed.
So far the well-laid Boston plans had worked without a hitch. The center of the citadel had been penetrated. But Mr. Rockefeller was not to be enticed by domestic persuasion, if persuasion there was, out of his denominational rut. The application was declined by Mr. Rockefeller, without the usual course of referring it to his staff.
I was sorry to learn some months later that these tactful overtures had failed. It is necessary to say at this point that to me sectarianism had long been laid aside. We had withdrawn from our Baptist connections and were members of no denomination, but sympathetic with all. Mr. Rockefeller’s fortune was too great to be confined to a single denominational channel, or to his own country. So the rebuff of the Congregational secretaries was to my mind regrettable.
However, the Boston friends, while cast down, were not destroyed. One Saturday afternoon, some months later at my home in Montclair, I received a message from the Congregational pastor in Montclair, Mr. Bradford. Would I be sure to be at church the next morning? The chief foreign secretary of their Boston board was to occupy the pulpit to present Congregational foreign missions. The secretary, he said, had asked in advance that he might meet me after the service and arrange a personal conference.
Glad to have the question reopened, the program was accepted by me as arranged by the secretary. The conference took place at my home on Sunday afternoon and was shared by Mr. Murphy, who was a Congregationalist and then associated with me in Mr. Rockefeller’s office. We welcomed the secretary most cordially and he immediately opened up his budget of needs not possible to be met, he urged, by appeal to Congregational pastors and churches.
The original sum needed, he explained, for material equipment had been in round numbers $200,000. By unsparing use of the knife they had cut this down to $160,000. Would not Mr. Rockefeller give this sum in this emergency for grounds, buildings, and equipment absolutely essential?
The budget which he had brought with him involved many items in both hemispheres. We discussed every item exhaustively and, at the end of several hours, Mr. Murphy and I were able to cut out of the budget about $60,000 which was to be spent in merely sectarian rivalry, as we thought. This left $100,000, and for this sum we promised to support a letter of appeal from the secretary to Mr. Rockefeller who was then sojourning at Lakewood.
It became my duty to write a private letter favoring the secretary’s appeal. This letter afforded me a long-coveted opportunity to try to open up Mr. Rockefeller’s philanthropy, which had hitherto been too closely confined to his own country and his own denomination, to all countries of the world and to all worthy religions and humanitarian agencies everywhere. It was this motive that governed the character and contents of the letter.
In a few days we received instructions from Mr. Rockefeller to forward to the Boston secretaries a check for the $100,000.
This gift was an act of great significance, at the time too little understood. In mere size it was probably the largest single gift from a living donor ever received for current use by the Boston board in its century of appeal. It was made not by a Congregationalist but by a Close Communion Baptist, to the Congregational Foreign Mission Board. It ran right athwart denominational lines, then an unheard-of thing. The donor was a celebrated man whose name was a household word. The public curiosity about him was intense then as now.
Besides this, to those who had eyes to see, the gift carried obvious and fascinating suggestions. Mr. Rockefeller, having broken through the denominational hedge, might now quite possibly extend his bounty to worthy missionary organizations of all other denominations. Who could say but this gift might not open up a new era for American missions? What breadth of well-being for humanity might not be forecast from this prodigious fortune?
Mr. Rockefeller’s gifts were never by ourselves publicly announced. When asked their sum total, as we very often were, we declined to make an estimate. We obeyed the injunction not to let the left hand know what the right hand doeth. But I shall not deny that secretly I looked with eagerness for the Boston announcement of this gift.
In particular, I wished to see how it would strike the other denominations—whether it would set them to thinking and how clearly they would interpret its significance. I scanned the headlines every morning, but in vain. The days lengthened into weeks. At last someone sent me a little bit of a periodical published monthly by the Boston board.
In it I was startled to find a paragraph of two or three lines, containing no words of thanks but saying that the secretaries had received “with surprise ” a check for $100,000 from John D. Rockefeller. The secretaries had sedulously concealed their appeal for this gift by announcing that they had received it “with surprise.” They had thus stated, almost in words, that Mr. Rockefeller, for his own purposes, had thrust a vast gift unasked and undesired on the missionary board of another denomination. The paragraph was loaded with dynamite.
No sooner had the little monthly reached its readers than the horizon resounded with denunciations of Mr. Rockefeller and with passionate demands that the check be instantly returned. The first and most powerful detonation came from the Reverend Dr. Washington Gladden, of Columbus, Ohio.
Dr. Gladden was quite deservedly the most prominent and influential Congregational preacher in America. He was a fearless, righteous man, with quick sympathies and jealous apprehensions, not without qualities of the economist and the statesman. He was at that time the moderator of the National Council of Congregational Churches.
Eloquent, sincere, versatile, and able, he had acquired influence far beyond his denominational horizon, and now, well advanced in years, had become a national figure. In the American pulpit he had long been foremost in public hostility to the Standard Oil Trust. Dr. Gladden now led the assault and gave it direction and character. He came out with a bitter attack on Mr. Rockefeller personally, on his business practices, and especially the motives of his philanthropies.
His money was “tainted.” Was the voice of the church to be silenced? Was the Christian church to betray its Lord for thirty pieces of silver? Were Christianity and education to become partners with plunderers? Was the church of Christ to maintain its holy offices with predatory wealth? Let this unsought and undesired money be sent back to the sinister donor forthwith.
The phrase “tainted money” was a flash of genius. It caught the imagination of the public and instantly became the country-wide topic of the pulpit, press, and private conversation. Our metropolitan papers teemed with it. They featured it; they published columns from indignant letter writers; they reproduced clippings; they wrote editorials. A strong group of Congregational pastors in and around Boston united in a formal public protest addressed to the Congregational board. The money must be scornfully returned.
The controversy was not, however, altogether one-sided. Even tainted money given as charity had its defenders. There were those who argued that money was in itself a mere material thing and could have no moral quality. For charity one dollar will do as much as another and go as far.
Some drew the line at the legal title; Mr. Rockefeller’s ownership of his fortune was legally unchallenged. Some said it is impossible to discriminate between givers. Who shall presume to penetrate human motives and pronounce judgment on them? Judge not. When a man chooses to give money to a widely-known public charity like this, with no terms of self-exploitation attached, whose heaven-ordained duty is it to investigate his past life and present motives? It was before Zaccheus had promised restoration that Jesus accepted—nay invited—his hospitality.
But it must be said that good words for Mr. Rockefeller were few. Had he not thrust his unwelcome gift on the secretaries? Let the tainted money be returned. Such was the general verdict.
Compelled at length to break their silence, the terrified secretaries had not the moral courage to rectify their conduct. When commanded to send back the check, they could find words to reply only that they had already spent all the money. It was used up; it was gone beyond recall. This, of course, as should have been foreseen, only added to Congregational wrath, humiliation and chagrin.
Most of the hard words uttered against Mr. Rockefeller were no doubt sincere, but there were some which did not bear precisely the odor of sanctity. A celebrated New York pastor, well-known throughout the country and a man of great ability, delivered publicly in stately phrases his penetrating and righteous judgment against accepting Mr. Rockefeller’s tainted money. Yet it was not so very long before that this very man had visited me in person in Mr. Rockefeller’s private office to solicit funds for a special cause for which he stood before the country as champion. Many thousands of Mr. Rockefeller’s money had been turned over to him in person for his cause.
A leading Congregational pastor of New England, formerly a Baptist, a classmate of mine and an old acquaintance and friend of Mr. Rockefeller, felt constrained to join in the hue and cry. I remembered a letter of his to his friend, Mr. Rockefeller, pleading for a favorite cause quite out of the proper scope of general charity.
An aggravated case was that of an eminent Presbyterian divine, the head of an important interdenominational alliance. He had annually written Mr. Rockefeller for its support over his own signature, and with his own hand had endorsed the checks that had always been sent to him personally. He was a friend of Colonel S. C. T. Dodd, himself a Presbyterian, one of the best of men, who had given its legal organization to the Standard Oil Trust and had always since been its solicitor. Only just before the controversy the eminent divine, with his treasurer, had visited Colonel Dodd at 26 Broadway to get through him an introduction to Mr. Rockefeller whom they wished to solicit in person.
After this man had appeared among Mr. Rockefeller’s public maligners, he had nothing better to reply to Colonel Dodd’s immediate and sharp arraignment than that he had never asked or received any money from Mr. Rockefeller, and that he had only intended to introduce his treasurer and let him do the talking. Colonel Dodd was shown his annual letters of appeal. They bore his signature and the answering checks all bore his autograph endorsement.
As the storm continued from day to day, I looked with increasing impatience for the secretaries to come out and tell the truth. But at last my patience gave way. I took the matter to Dr. Bradford. I told him that I intended to make a complete public exposure of the facts for the Associated Press. He begged for time to write to Boston. I agreed to wait two or three days for the result. Within the allotted time the New York dailies in diminished headlines stated that “it was understood in Boston that the Rockefeller gift had been solicited.”
Even this feeble and belated acknowledgement had potency enough to bring sudden calm to the elements, so exactly had the whirlwind been pivoted on the “surprise.” All the excited orators, letter writers, and editors subsided at once into the silence of chagrin.
While the tempest was at its height I wrote to Mr. Rockefeller defending Dr. Gladden, and asserting that he and most of his followers, however misguided, were sincere and honest men, pointing out that silence under attack had always been regarded by the public as evidence of guilt and often rightly; that no company, however great, could afford to defy the public opinion of the nation, even when that opinion was misinformed and mistaken; and that such storms as these might be expected with increasing violence, unless the Standard Oil Company ceased to imitate the ostrich.
I wrote with considerable warmth, and Mr. Rockefeller replied with corresponding coolness. But at the close of the letter he asked me to see Mr. Archbold, at that time the head of the trust. I did, and it transpired at that interview that Mr. Rockefeller had sent my letter to Mr. Archbold with one from himself, in which he had frankly yielded the whole question. In a few days Mr. J. I. C. Clarke, a well-known newspaperman, was openly installed in the Standard Company’s office as publicity agent and the great corporation has never returned to its former policy.
Some months later, at the meeting of the triennial National Conference of Congregational Churches, a languid public attention was briefly turned back to the tainted money controversy. Dr. Gladden, president of the council, publicly reviewed with great power, eloquence, and passion the whole question, mainly attacking the conduct of the secretaries. But the council refused to be excited. Resolutions both for and against accepting questionable money were alike laid on the table and, to use the descriptive word of Dr. Gladden, the whole issue was “dodged.” Even the attempt to rebuke the secretaries for soliciting Mr. Rockefeller was side-stepped.
As for Mr. Rockefeller personally, there was not a member of the council but felt in his heart a secret sympathy for the innocent victim of his own largeminded generosity. Dr. Gladden himself withdrew his aspersion of Mr. Rockefeller’s motives: “Mr. Rockefeller had not thrust his offering on the Board ... If this fact had been clearly stated at the outset the attitude of many minds would have been different.”
I think the controversy in the end did Mr. Rockefeller more good than harm. But it hurt missions. All the great missionary boards, except the Baptist, were frightened off. All continued for many years to do their work with meager resources and in a crippled way. Of the minor boards, two or three dared to come to us, always armed with a resolution of their boards of control unanimously approving and directing the appeal. To all such Mr. Rockefeller gave freely. But it was fully ten years before the greater foreign boards were ready to co-operate with Mr. Rockefeller’s philanthropic foundations which had been by that time established, and to accept their great gifts for medicine and education in foreign lands.
Up to 1902, when we sold out Mr. Rockefeller’s great iron mining and transportation companies, my time and energy had been so engrossed with Mr. Rockefeller’s business interests and current benevolence as to leave me little time for the working out of any plans of world benefaction.
I did, indeed, use my leisure in reading and study, and perhaps I could not have hastened matters much even if I had been more free. I was studying civilization, its origin and history, trying to analyze it, separate it into its elements, and find out as best I might in what human progress really consists and in what ways progress is to be promoted.
For the study of world philanthropies, Mr. Rockefeller’s office was an excellent laboratory. For we received appeals daily from every sort of agency of human progress and well-being, not only in the United States but in all civilized foreign lands. Not only so, but we were favored with the views and often the elaborate plans of distinguished social reformers and dreamers the world over. These letters and appeals passed through my hands and it was my duty to study them, to inquire about them, to reflect on them, and to encourage such of them as I thought worthy by favorable report to Mr. Rockefeller.
Along with these studies and reflections I was confronted with Mr. Rockefeller’s fortune. He continued, as do all men, in the habits and feelings of earlier life. He did not seem to realize, as I sometimes thought, the immensity of his fortune. He was a born money-maker, and a born money-saver. But even had it not been so, even if he had become alarmed at his colossal and every year more colossal accumulation, it was no longer in his power, from the time I first knew him, to prevent or hinder the incoming flood.
And what oppressed me was not merely that Mr. Rockefeller was being inundated with money. I trembled as I witnessed the unreasoning popular resentment at Mr. Rockefeller’s riches, to the mass of the people a national menace.
It was not, however, the unreasoning public prejudice against Mr. Rockefeller but what was to be the destiny of his vast fortune that chiefly troubled me. Was it to be handed on to posterity as other great fortunes have been handed down by their possessors, with scandalous results to their descendants and powerful tendencies to social demoralization? I saw no other course but for Mr. Rockefeller and his son to form a series of great corporate philanthropies for forwarding civilization in all its elements in this land and in all lands; philanthropies, if possible, limitless in time and amount, broad in scope, and self-perpetuating.
I knew very well that Mr. Rockefeller’s mind would not work on mere abstract theories. He required concrete practical suggestions and I set about framing them.
It was not until 1905 that I ventured with many misgivings to approach Mr. Rockefeller with the question of the use and disposition to be made of his fortune. It might be urged that I was trespassing on a domain in which I had no proper business. But to myself it was very intimately my business, for I had come clearly to see that unless Mr. Rockefeller were to make some such disposition of his fortune, or a great part of it, my life was doing more harm than good.
So at last I broke my silence. The Rockefeller philanthropies have become world-wide and world-famous for their efficiency. If I were asked to make an estimate of the aggregate benefactions to date of the two Rockefellers—father and son—I could not venture a guess of less than a thousand million dollars, and under the present direction of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his great and varied staff, the outflow of annual benefaction is ever broadening and enlarging.
A study of the Rockefeller benefactions will show that they form a comprehensive and carefully studied plan, comprising quite precisely the elements of civilization as analyzed by distinguished authors. Professor William C. Morey, for illustration, in his summary of the elements of civilization reduced them to six. These consisted of progress in (1) the Means of Subsistence; (2) Government and Law; (3) Language and Literature; (4) Philosophy and Science; (5) Art and Refinement; (6) Morality and Religion. To these I venture to add two more. They are (7) Health and Hygiene; and (8) Reproduction and Eugenics. The Rockefeller philanthropies at home and abroad will be found to fall quite consciously and precisely into these eight categories of civilization.
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.
The picture was one of chaos. Most of these institutions had been located in a soil which could not sustain them as colleges; in spots they were injuriously crowded together. They were scattered haphazard over the landscape like wind-carried seeds. The hopeful feature of the situation was that there were enough suitably located colleges and universities, about a fourth of the whole number, which could be formed by careful selection into a system of higher education, and this system, carefully nourished, would prove adequate. These were the considerations which framed my letter of gift. I quote the substance of the letter, emphasizing the decisive words.
“The income to be distributed to such institutions of learning, at such times, in such amounts, for such purposes and under such conditions as the Board may deem best adapted to promote a comprehensive system of higher education in the United States .”
The key word was the word system .
Thus began the work of the General Education Board for the colleges and universities of the United States. Mr. Rockefeller has contributed about $140,000,000 to the board, of which some $20,000,000 was for medicine. The direct service which the board has performed can be roughly appraised by a study of the annual reports. But all such estimates must be underestimates, for the indirect service to education has been immeasurable. The board has appropriated over $50,000,000 to higher education, including technical and professional schools, on terms invited by its beneficiaries, which have brought to them over $200,000,000. Lands, buildings, equipment, and bequests have everywhere followed independently.
A gratifying introduction to this chapter about the origin and progress of our hookworm work is afforded by some words of Dr. Charles W. Eliot, in a private letter to me, written near the climax of this work in the South.
“On the whole the evidence seems to show that the campaign of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission against the hookworm disease is the most effective campaign against a widespread disabling disease which medical science and philanthropy ever combined to conduct. Although the mortality is not so great from this disease as from smallpox, cholera, diphtheria and the bubonic plague, yet the human misery and disability it causes are probably greater in the long run than any which those somewhat spasmodic or periodic plagues occasion.”
The first popular knowledge of the hookworm in the United States was afforded by the humorous and sarcastic announcement of the daily papers one morning that a doctor in North Carolina had discovered the “lazy Bug” in the intestines of the people of the South. Of course the yarn was received with high indignation in the always sensitive South, and a smile of amused incredulity everywhere else.
Later, I saw a more serious statement to the effect that an expert on intestinal parasites, Stiles by name, employed by the government, had discovered a blood sucking parasite in the intestines of humans, producing anaemia and other physical disqualifications, and that this infection was frequent in many parts of the South. This was followed by indignant denials from southern physicians and declared to be a libel on the South. But Dr. Stiles was not to be intimidated or put down. He offered conclusive proofs. He showed the worms, disclosed their hooks, and exhibited visually the complete cycle of their life history from the egg. Intelligent and effective magazine articles began to appear, and these I read with deep interest.
My imagination began to play around the alleged devastation and suffering caused by this disease. I consulted Dr. Flexner. He had known Dr. Stiles personally many years, for Stiles had lectured regularly at Hopkins.
The hookworm was well-known, he said, in Europe, and Dr. Stiles was not the first to discover it in the United States. But Dr. Stiles had been the first man in our country to effectively call public attention to it, to visualize its probably distribution, and to disclose its manifold disabling results. Dr. Flexner vouched for Dr. Stiles’s ability and scientific attainments.
At my request, Dr. Flexner arranged with Dr. Stiles to give me a private demonstration in my office in New York. This demonstration was entirely conclusive as to the fact of the disease. In answer to my questions, Dr. Stiles thought there were perhaps two million cases in the South, but admitted that this was a mere guess; nor had he yet surveyed the various areas of special infection, or formed a plan of eradication, or an estimate of the cost. It was agreed that he should study further and report on all the larger aspects of the problem.
These studies consumed much valuable time, but at length he was able to report that his estimate of two million cases was not exaggerated. It proved in the sequel to be an understatement. He thought that the eradication in the United States would cost half a million dollars. It did cost nearly two millions.
I was now ready to present the matter to the Messrs. Rockefeller, Senior and Junior. They recognized the high importance of the subject and committed themselves to the needed funds for a campaign of extermination of the hookworm in the United States.
But the South was still sensitive and angry. We could do nothing effective without cordial southern co-operation. A board of administration composed mainly of distinguished and influential southern men must be organized.
I could easily name such a board, but would they accept membership in the face of a hostile South? I made a tentative list of the men we needed and made my plans for enlisting them. Fortunately, there was about to be held at the hospitable mansion of Mr. George Foster Peabody, at Lake George, a conference of several days, on southern education, to be attended by most of the very men on my list. I arranged with Dr. Stiles to be our guest at Lake George at the time of this conference, and to bring all the equipment for his demonstration. It was easy to persuade Mr. Peabody to set aside an evening for the stereopticon lecture of Dr. Stiles.
The evening came and the effect was overwhelming. The southern guests immediately recognized the mysterious “ground itch” of their barefoot boyhood. But their amazement knew no bounds when Stiles disclosed the previous life history of the cause of the ground itch, from the egg in the soil to the minute worm in the sole of the foot, and then its after history in the blood, until at last it fastened its poisoned fangs in the lining of the intestines, where, increasing in number year by year so long as the victim went barefoot, whether child or adult, it had sometimes reached the number of 5,000 in a single victim. The life cycle of a single worm had been demonstrated to be as long as twelve years.
The distinguished southern leaders present, whom I wanted on my board, were universally known throughout the South and stood among the most influential. They discussed the disabling effects of this disease, vital, educational, economic, moral, and social. They saw in its eradication a new hope for the South.
The world had recently been appalled by the destruction of life in the sinking of the Titanic . But at least ten Titanics full of children and youth were sunk by the fatal ravages of the hookworm every year, to say nothing of the nearly complete disablement of many times the number. Every man I wanted on my board instantly accepted, heedless of the southern criticism sure to come. It could not last long and in time would change to gratitude.
We organized with circumspection so as not to affront southern sensibilities more than necessary. The headquarters should not be in New York, but in the neutral territory of the national capital. We would drop the word hookworm and all special reference to the South from the name of our board, and call it the United States Sanitary Commission.
Dr. Stiles had thought half a million dollars would be needed, and this Mr. Rockefeller had promised me before the Lake George meeting. But to startle the South we fixed on a million, with Mr. Rockefeller’s consent, and got the word into the headlines, and also published the names of the eminent southern leaders on our board. We chose a southern man, Dr. Wickliffe Rose, as executive secretary, a most fortunate choice and the beginning of what has proved to be a great career.
North Carolina was chosen by us as the field of our first great demonstration. Here in the sand hill region the disease was very prevalent and destructive. The state leaders were fearless and able men, and we won them all and so set to work with free hands.
With great skill and tact Dr. Rose enlisted all the influential forces—men and women alike—in all the infected counties of the state. We ourselves, in North Carolina alone, successfully treated over 600,000 cases. The work was thoroughly systematized, the workers were trained scientifically, health boards were organized in every county, public funds were voted, and popular interest became intense and universal.
Meanwhile the other infected states of the South began to call for Dr. Rose and his work. In due course, every county of every state was surveyed, organizations were perfected wherever necessary, health boards were organized, and all practicing physicians were trained in the cause and cure of the disease. After seven years of intense labor, Dr. Rose and his organization, then covering the entire South, had so far exterminated the hookworm there as practically to leave the disease in local hands. His further extensive health work in the South not being mainly concerned with the hookworm belongs to other pages.
But of the hookworm campaign which forms the title of this chapter, the years in the South were not the end but the beginning. The hookworm campaign became world-wide.
The eggs of the hookworm, always deposited on the soil, could not survive heavy or continuous frost. This necessarily limited the disease to the frost line, about thirty degrees of latitude on each side of the equator. It was highly probable that within the frost limits the disease belted the globe.
After consulting Mr. Rockefeller, I wrote Dr. Rose, whose headquarters had remained at Washington, requesting him to make a survey of the prevalence of the disease throughout the world, and for this purpose to use, so far as he could, the diplomatic agencies both of our own country and of all foreign countries with which we were diplomatically connected. Every agency was enlisted in the service and he reported at length the complete confirmation of our fears.
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.
“Mr. Rockefeller has always said that he held his wealth simply as a trustee for humanity. As such trustee he has been a large and continuously increasing giver to nearly every form of philanthropy at home and abroad. He is advancing in years. He must provide for that personal release from trusteeship which time will render inevitable. He must place a portion of his remaining fortune in a trusteeship which shall be endowed by law with the same liberty of action in aiding philanthropy at home and abroad as he has himself personally exercised hitherto.
“In other words, it will be necessary to incorporate a fund which, passing on from generation to generation, may do for the philanthropies of each generation, so long as organized society shall exist, what he has tried personally to do in his own life for the philanthropies of his own generation . . .
“It is true that there are lines of philanthropy which must be permanent, and we may safely treat them as such. Education will improve in method, while it must be permanent in essence. Scientific and philosophical research, with new directions and ever improving methods, will be permanent. Medical research will undoubtedly be permanent. Indeed, all the elements of civilization are, as we hope, permanent. But while this is true, there will be convenience and safety in establishing at least one great fund so flexible and elastic as to meet the varying needs of advancing humanity from decade to decade, from generation to generation, from century to century, as those needs shall disclose themselves to wise and thoughtful men then living.”
Our bill easily passed the House, but hung fire in the Senate for discreditable reasons I will not rehearse. We preferred to withdraw our bill after it had passed the House, rather than yield personal and local advantages to certain Senators and their party leaders, secretly demanded. We presented it to the legislature of New York where, with all its powers and privileges unimpaired, it was readily passed without amendment.
The administration of the foundation, while not wholly faultless, has been marked by circumspection, insight, and wisdom. It has merited and received general praise. I cannot forebear reproducing here an editorial which appeared in the London Times in its issue of September 12, 1921.
“The United States has no more effective ambassadors than the representatives of the Rockefeller Foundation, who, year after year, afford their guidance and help in the great fight against disease. The foundation itself, as the report of its work during 1920 shows, is an inspiration. Planned on international lines and possessed of great resources, it has come to occupy a position of universal trust.
“Wherever the struggle with the enemies of our species is most severe, there its assistance is given freely, no matter under what flag the victims of pestilence may live. More than that, preparations to ward off disease, to prevent its coming, and to destroy its breeding places are part of the work of this body.
“Last year we recorded a gift of one million pounds to our own University College Hospital. Canada has recently benefited by a sum no less munificent. At the same time surveys have been carried out in West Indian islands and other British possessions with the object of attacking the dreaded hookworm disease. Nor is our country alone in fee to the foundation. France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, the smaller nations of Europe and China, have all received assistance.
“The foundation, indeed, is one of the strong places of the new commonwealth of science. In addition it reveals the depth and sincerity of American good will towards ourselves and all peoples. Not with words of comfort only, but with rich and lasting benefit have these emissaries of the New World set out upon their great mission.”