There are many reasons to give to charity: convictions of religious faith, values of service to others, and even plain old greed. Charities can serve the public good, but they can also serve personal interests at the same time. In the twentieth century, some affluent Americans turned to philanthropy with mixed motivations. Faith and values mattered to them, but so too did maintaining control over their fortunes, and burnishing their public images. Giving with one hand allowed them to take with the other.
In this episode of Stories from the Stacks, scholar of religion Andrew Jungclaus, PhD candidate at Columbia University, discusses the development of major secular charities in the twentieth-century United States, and the private motivations that drove their wealthy and powerful founders to build philanthropic institutions. Jungclaus suggests that before the 1930s, American philanthropy had a small-scale, church-based orientation, and that the “secular behemoths” of modern American charity, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, Eli Lilly Endowment, and Henry Luce Foundation, grew in part out of a reaction against the increasing involvement of the state in wealth redistribution and the provision social services.
Using Hagley Library collections, including the Pew family records, Jungclaus discovered that early life experiences exerted powerful influence over the ways philanthropists understood the purpose and meaning of charitable giving. J. Howard Pew was raised a Presbyterian, and personally oversaw the support of denominational organs, including magazines. Henry Luce was raised the son of missionaries to China, and dedicated part of his philanthropic activity to Chinese issues. Establishing charities allowed the oil, publishing, and pharmaceuticals magnates to protect part of their fortunes from taxation, and direct its expenditure toward favored projects.
To support his use of Hagley Library collections, Jungclaus received a Henry Belin du Pont Research Grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interview by Ben Spohn. Produced by Gregory Hargreaves.
Image: William G. McGowan giving two thumbs up at Excellence in Service meeting, 1986, 2000239_00046, Group A, Box 1, MCI Communications Corporation photographs & audiovisual materials (Accession 2000.239), Audiovisual Collections & Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807