Women in Philanthropy: Mrs. Russell Sage (Margaret Olivia Slocum)

John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard)



Case Study Sector


One of four cases—on Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Elizabeth "Betty" Bottomley Noyce, Madam C.J. Walker, and Mrs. Russell Sage (Margaret Olivia Slocum)—that provide essential histories of the lives and philanthropic motivations and choices of some of the most significant women philanthropists in American history. The cases provide useful material for those looking to enliven historical philanthropy courses with biographical materials. At the same time, they serve as points of comparison for understanding contemporary philanthropy.

As the daughter of a well-off merchant, Margaret Olivia Slocum was able to take advantage of the best education that Troy, New York had to offer. After finishing school, she entered the field of teaching to pursue her goal of reforming and strengthening the state of education, especially for young girls. Her early interest in reform and community service was somewhat stunted when she married millionaire and financier Russell Sage. With little desire to help those who were "not helping themselves," Russell did not see philanthropy as a wise venue for his fortune. After Russell Sage's death in 1907, she took the tremendous fortune left to her and channeled the money and her energy into those causes she saw most pressing. Dedicated to social betterment, she founded the Russell Sage Foundation with a considerable portion of her husband's money. Although named in the memory of her husband, the Foundation remains strong today due to the philanthropic vision and dedication of Mrs. Russell Sage.



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