Karen DeSoto Traces Philanthropy Roots

Karen DeSoto traces philanthropy roots back to early America.  Her belief that “philanthropy doesn’t have to be only the wealthy donating millions of dollars, but can also be regular citizens coming together to donate their time and energy for the advancement of the general good” is confirmed by the early settlers.

Karen is active in her community, working tirelessly for the advancement of rights, education and charity. She often donates her time to organizations like the Head Start Program of Jersey City, The Bayonne Youth Center, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Ray of Hope Foundation and so many others.

Philanthropy has a long-standing tradition in America, and many know the names of today’s elite donors, like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and Sir Richard Brandon, and names past like Rockefeller, Mellon, and Carnegie.

Philanthropy however, is the very bedrock of the american spirit. From the beginning there was a concept of “private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life” developed through what the early settlers called “Voluntary Associations.”

Early colonial society was built by volunteers. While still aboard the Mayflower just offshore in what would then be referred to as American waters, the Pilgrims declared that they “solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation.”

Karen DeSoto Traces Philanthropy

One of the first famous philanthropists in America was Benjamin Franklin, who was considered by many to be a “model of American values.”

He formed what is believed to be the first philanthropic organization (the Junto) which served as a think tank that met each Friday to discuss the news and events of the week. They would think up and vet philanthropic ideas, and Franklin would use his Philadelphia Gazette to test those ideas, mobilize citizen support,  recruit volunteers, and orchestrate fund raising.

The system proved to be very productive, and within just a few years it as the basis for the formation [in 1731] of the first subscription library. There were also a series of other associations formed, including a volunteer fire association and a fire insurance associations.

Based on this model, during the next few decades many institutions rose, including (1743-4) The American Philosophical Society , (1750) an”academy” which became the University of Pennsylvania, a hospital that was created through fundraising with a challenge grant in 1752, and even the paving of public streets, and subsequent patrolling on them, as well as the financing and construction of a civic meeting house, and many many others.

Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie 1913

In the late 1800’s Andrew Carnegie rose to become one of the leading philanthropists, with the belief that the rich should use their wealth to improve society, a notion he sighted in his article “The Gospel of Wealth”, published in 1889.

Andrew Carnegie was an immigrant who made his wealth in railroads, bridges, and oil derricks.  He expanded that wealth as a bond salesmen, raising money for American businesses from Europeans. He founded The Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for 480 million (13 billion at today’s valuation). Mr. Morgan renamed it U.S. Steel Corporation.

Mr. Carnegie went on to build Carnegie  Hall, and devoted the rest of his life building local libraries, investing in educational and scientific research, and founding many philanthropic organizations.

He founded the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, Carnegie Hero Fund, Carnegie Mellon University and, among others, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

By the 1900s philanthropic participation became very active. Just some of the associations founded include:

  • the American Red Cross (1900),
  • Goodwill (1902),
  • The General Education Board founded by John D. Rockefeller and chartered by Congress to aid U.S. education “without distinction of race, sex or creed” (1903),
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (1904),
  • National Lung Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, the first nationwide, voluntary health organization aimed at conquering a specific disease (1904),
  • The Explorers Club, founded in New York City to promote the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural, and biological sciences (1904),
  • The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1905),
  • Juilliard School of Music (1905),
  • The Russell Sage Foundation is formed for “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States” (1907),
  • Christmas Seals (1907),
  • Muir Woods National Monument created from 295 acres of redwood forest donated by Mr. and Mrs. William Kent (1907),
  • World Organization of the Scout Movement (1908),
  • Federated Jewish Charities (1908),
  • NAACP (1909),
  • Rockefeller Sanitary Commission (1909),
  • Milton Hershey School, a school and home for orphans established by Milton and Catherine Hersey (1909),
  • Boy Scouts of America (1910),
  • Girl Scouts of America (1912),
  • The Rockefeller Foundation to further “the well-being of mankind throughout the world,” became the most influential philanthropic institution of the 20th century with gift from John D, Rockefeller of $50 million (1913),
  •  National Park Service founded by Stephen Mather (1916),
  • Planned Parenthood opened by Margaret Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne, and an associate, Fania Mindell. Within a few days, they are jailed and the clinic is closed, but the movement lived on.

For more philanthropy history, view The History of Giving Time Line


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