Case Study of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, 1917 to 1948

Aspen Institute



Case Study Sector


The Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in 1917 with a charter granted by the state of Illinois establishing it as “a corporation not for profit” which was authorized “to receive and disburse funds for philanthropic causes.” Its formal purpose was commitment to “the well being of mankind.” Its endowment was made possible by the donations of its namesake, Julius Rosenwald, who was President and a major stockholder of Sears, Roebuck and Company in Chicago.
In 1915 Rosenwald explored possibilities and plans to transform his individual giving into a formal institutional setting, which culminated with the creation of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. It was distinctive among the emerging, major foundations of the era in that it was housed in Chicago—whereas most, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the General Education Board, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, had their headquarters in New York City.
The Julius Rosenwald Fund also was distinctive, perhaps unique, in its design to be a limited-life foundation that would exist for only one generation. It was scheduled to be dissolved and all its endowments appropriated to charitable projects by 1948. This feature was unusual in that it was in marked contrast to the historic Anglo-Saxon tradition of perpetual endowments. According to the final reports published in 1949, between 1917 and 1948 the Julius Rosenwald Fund made appropriations of $22,249,624 dollars to educational and charitable programs.
This case study is one of five presented in Time Is of the Essence: Foundations and the Policies of Limited Life and Endowment Spend-Down: the Julius Rosenwald Fund, 1917 to 1948; the General Education Board, 1903 to 1961; the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust; the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust; and the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation.



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