Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932

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Businessman and philanthropist. Born, Springfield, IL, 1862. President, Rosenwald and Weil, 1885-1906. Vice-president and treasurer, Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1910-1925; president and chairman of the board, 1925-1932. Founder, Julius Rosenwald Fund, 1917. Founder, Museum of Science and Industry, 1929. Trustee, University of Chicago, Tuskegee Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, Hull House, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Baron de Hirsch Fund.

From the description of Papers, 1905-1963 (inclusive), 1905-1933 (bulk). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52250108

Julius Rosenwald was born on August 12, 1862, to Samuel and Augusta Rosenwald, both Jewish immigrants, in Springfield, Illinois. Rosenwald was educated in the public schools in Springfield, and in 1879 he began his business career with Hammerslough Brothers, wholesale clothiers in New York City.

In 1885, Rosenwald came to Chicago to become president of Rosenwald & Weil, a retail men’s clothing store. After Sears, Roebuck & Company moved its headquarters to Chicago in 1893, Rosenwald was asked to become its vice president. He served Sears, Roebuck successively as vice president (1895-1910), president (1910-1925), and chairman of the board (1925-1932). Under his leadership, Sears developed its lucrative nationwide mail-order business, established savings and profit-sharing plans for employees, and became America’s largest retailer. On April 8, 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta Nusbaum of Chicago; the couple had five children. Rosenwald died on January 6, 1932.

Rosenwald’s success as a businessman and executive was matched by his many accomplishments as an influential philanthropist and humanitarian. He played a leading role in many progressive social reform organizations in Chicago and became the first president of the combined Jewish Charities of Chicago. In 1917, he created the Julius Rosenwald Fund to support the “well-being of mankind.” He supported the work of Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute and established YMCAs and YWCAs to serve African American communities in cities across the United States. He funded the creation of thousands of schools for rural African Americans in the South. He contributed $6 million to support Russian Jews settling in southern Russia and Palestine. He established one of the first urban housing projects on Chicago’s South Side, and he founded the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Rosenwald summarized his philosophy of philanthropy quite simply: “What I want to do is try and cure the things that seem wrong.” He set out on this task with abundant wealth derived from his leadership of Sears, Roebuck & Company, a strong social conscience, and the practical zeal and organizing ability of an eminently successful American businessman.

The things Rosenwald saw as wrong in American society were many and varied, but he focused his prime interest on African Americans support for education and research, medical care, better government, and support for Jewish charities and institutions. Rosenwald’s career as a public benefactor extended over three decades and was carried on after his death by the Rosenwald Fund. The termination of the activities of the Rosenwald Fund in 1948 was planned by Rosenwald before he died, since he felt strongly that each generation must accept responsibility for the problems of its own time.

Throughout this vast body of papers are found records of the beginnings and the subsequent implementation of the many causes that Julius Rosenwald championed. Rosenwald consistently sought the advice and counsel of many informed public figures. He corresponded with Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, Mary McDowell, Abraham Flexner, Herbert Hoover, Felix Frankfurter, and many others. But of equal interest and importance are the informative letters of minor figures who wrote to Rosenwald either to solicit his assistance or to give him guidance. This correspondence is arranged under a lengthy array of names of organizations that illustrate the scope of Rosenwald’s involvement and the potential use of his papers as a primary historical source: American Civic Association, Atlanta School of Social Work, Belgian Relief Fund, Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, Chicago Bureau of Public Efficiency, Georgia Commission on Interracial Cooperation, Conference of Jewish Social Workers, Family Welfare Association, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Illinois Society for Mental Health, Immigrants Protective League, Voluntary Parenthood League, among many others. Of course, the amount of documentation under each of these names varies with the degree of Rosenwald’s interest and commitment.

The papers bear the stamp of the man, the methods he used in dispensing some sixty million dollars of his fortune, and the goals that he hoped this money would attain. He applied his philanthropy to pioneering efforts in order to stimulate action and eventual responsibility by those more directly concerned. The fundamental social problems of a burgeoning urban population are the central theme of many of his activities, and consequently he supported agencies and groups that worked on such problems as birth control, old age security, the training of social workers, and juvenile delinquency. The record of Rosenwald’s involvement with social problems, reflecting both his attitudes and the needs presented by individuals and organizations, offers a unique historical perspective of social conditions. The data sent to Rosenwald in support of requests is of interest, especially when it is accompanied by the personal views and evaluations of keen observers of the social scene. Yet many of the individual pieces of correspondence or memoranda are often less than dramatic. Most of what was written is matter-of-fact and unadorned. Rosenwald handled these requests efficiently through aides and occasionally by himself since, as he once commented, he found giving away money much more difficult than accumulation. Included in the correspondence is the internal exchange of commentary and instructions that flowed between Rosenwald and the men who helped him reach his decisions.

Concern for justice was the essence of Rosenwald’s great interest in African Americans. This interest began shortly before the first World War when he met Booker T. Washington and became a trustee of the Tuskegee Institute. While best known for his assistance African American rural education in the South, he devoted many of his benefactions to the problems of African American health and working conditions through such organizations as: the Urban League, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the project that, he said, gave him greater personal satisfaction than all his other philanthropies, the building of African American Y.M.C.A.’s. The record of Rosenwald’s search for an understanding of African American life and his attempt to apply his resources to solving social problems makes these papers a particularly illuminating source. He explained his emphasis on aid to African American education quite simply when he said that while white colleges might expect continually growing support, “[so] very few persons are interested in the education of the Negro that I have deemed it wiser to concentrate my efforts in that direction.”

Beyond his aid to the socially marginalized, Rosenwald had a strong sense of the needs of scholarship and learning. The University of Chicago was the recipient of the largest portion of his gifts to higher education, yet he also gave sizable gifts to Harvard University, characteristically including money for publication fund and research assistance for Professor Felix Frankfurter. Among his many contributions to the University of Chicago were his early support of the Graduate School of Social Service Administration, and his subsidy of several works by Sophonisba P. Breckinridge on public service administration and housing. Learned societies and professional groups such as the Institute of Pacific Relations, the Council of Foreign Affairs, and the American Association of Museums were also his beneficiaries.

While many of the social problems to which Rosenwald applied his philanthropy have been transformed by an increasingly complex society, as he knew they would, the principles that guided his giving remain as one of his most lasting memorials. Rosenwald repeatedly decreed that his giving was intended to attack fundamental causes of human distress rather than to be a mere palliative and was to be used to support experiments in social improvement which could and should be taken over by the community.

Other public benefactors and trusts have surpassed the amount of money, that Julius Rosenwald gave to helping others. But few can match the wisdom and effectiveness with which Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund met the problems of their own day. The full measure of his contributions can be seen in his papers.

From the guide to the Rosenwald, Julius. Papers, 1905-1963, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Elias Tobenkin Papers TXRC99-A4., 1899-1963, (bulk 1917-1962) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Abraham Flexner Papers, 1865-1989, (bulk 1900-1959) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn McLean, Franklin C. Papers, 1881-1969 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Ayer, Edward Everett, 1841-1927. Papers, 1842-1934 (bulk 1880-1934). Newberry Library
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referencedIn Booker T. Washington Papers, 1853-1946, (bulk 1900-1915) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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referencedIn American Foundations Oral History Project, 1989-1993 Indiana University, Bloomington. Center for the Study of History and Memory
referencedIn Borglum, Gutzon, 1867-1941. Gutzon Borglum papers, 1895-1960 (bulk 1912-1941). Library of Congress
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referencedIn Anson Phelps Stokes family papers, 1761-1960, 1892-1958 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
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referencedIn Austin W. Curtis Papers, 1896-1971 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
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referencedIn Jerome New Frank papers, 1918-1972 (bulk 1929-1957) Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Jerome New Frank papers, 1918-1972 (bulk 1929-1957) Yale University Library
referencedIn Gilkey, Charles Whitney, 1882-1968. Papers, 1923-194 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
referencedIn McLean, Franklin C. (Franklin Chambers), 1888-. Papers, 1881-1968. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Warburg, Felix M. (Felix Moritz), 1871-1937. Papers, 1895-1937. American Jewish Archives
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referencedIn Friedlich, Ruth K. Ruth K. Friedlich papers, 1945-1951. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Raskob, John J. (John Jakob), 1879-1950. Papers, 1900-1956. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Julius Rosenwald Fund. Julius Rosenwald Fund records, 1917-1948. John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library. Special Collections & Archives
referencedIn Carter Godwin Woodson Papers, 1736-1974, (bulk 1915-1950) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915. Papers of Booker T. Washington: series 1-6, 1864-1960 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Brownlee, Frederick Leslie, 1883-1962. Papers. 1883-1962. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
referencedIn Woodson, Carter Godwin, 1875-1950. Carter G. Woodson collection of Negro papers and related documents, 1803-1936 (inclusive), 1830-1927 (bulk), [microform]. Yale University Library
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referencedIn Murphy, Darryl T. The impact of separate and unequal: Black education and the Rosenwald School concept in South Carolina : 2002 Dec. / Darryl T. Murphy. University of South Carolina, University Libraries
referencedIn Papers, 1900-1961 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Claude Barnett and the Associated Negro Press, 1976-1977 Indiana University, Bloomington. Center for the Study of History and Memory
referencedIn National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America. Colored Work Dept. Colored Work Department records, 1871-1946. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Ruth K. Friedlich papers, 1945-1951 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Abbott, Edith and Grace. Papers, 1870-1967 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949 Houghton Library
referencedIn Penn School Papers, 1862-2004 and undated, (bulk 1862-1978) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
creatorOf Rosenwald, Julius. Papers, 1905-1963 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932. Papers, 1905-1963 (inclusive), 1905-1933 (bulk). University of Chicago Library
referencedIn University of Chicago. Office of Public Relations. Records, 1924-1926 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Starr, Frederick. Papers, 1868-1935 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Papers of Paul J. Sachs, 1903-2005 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
referencedIn American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Countries collection: U.S.S.R. files, 1914-1976, 1914-1950 (bulk) Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Tobenkin, Elias, 1882-1963. Papers of Elias Tobenkin, 1899-1963 (bulk, 1917-1962). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Julius Rosenwald Fund. Archives. 1917-1948. Tulane University, Amistad Research Center
referencedIn Abbott, Edith, 1876-1957. Edith and Grace Abbott papers, 1870-1967 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
creatorOf Sherman, Lawrence Y., 1858-1939. Papers, 1871-1939 (bulk 1912-1920). Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Asher, Louis Eller, 1877-1948. Papers, 1894-1914 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Asher, Louis E.. Papers, 1894-1914 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Walter L. Fisher papers, 1871-1963, (bulk 1909-1920) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Flexner, Abraham, 1866-1959. Abraham Flexner papers, 1865-1989 (bulk 1900-1959). Library of Congress
referencedIn University of Chicago. Office of Public Relations. Records, 1924-1926. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Sabath, Adolph Joachim, 1866-1952. Papers, 1903-1952. American Jewish Archives
creatorOf Dillard, Avarene Lippincott. Papers of the Dillard family, 1717-1964. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Smalls, O'Neal. On Julius Rosenwald, 2003 Feb. 10 ; [typescript]. University of South Carolina, University Libraries
referencedIn Baron de Hirsch Fund Records, undated, 1819-1991 (bulk 1882-1935) American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn David A. Brown Papers., 1894-1959., 1930-1936. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Aaronsohn, Aaron, 1876-1919. Aaron Aaronsohn correspondence, 1917 Dec. 11. American Jewish Archives
creatorOf Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932. [Letter] 1922 January 26, Chicago [to] Alba B. Johnson, Philadelphia / Julius Rosenwald. Texas Tech University Libraries, Academic Library
referencedIn Fisher, Walter L. (Walter Lowrie), 1862-1935. Walter L. Fisher papers, 1879-1936 (bulk 1909-1919). Library of Congress
creatorOf Curtis, Austin W., 1911-. Austin W. Curtis papers, 1896-1971. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Gutzon Borglum Papers, 1895-1960, (bulk 1912-1941) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Brown, Charlotte Hawkins, 1883-1961. Papers, 1900-1961 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago records, 1853-1980. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915. Papers of Booker T. Washington: series 1-4, 1864-1960 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
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associatedWith Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Ayer, Edward Everett, 1841-1927. person
associatedWith Baron de Hirsch Fund (1891 - Present) person
correspondedWith Borglum, Gutzon, 1867-1941. person
associatedWith Brown, Charlotte Hawkins, 1883-1961. person
associatedWith Brown, David Abraham 1875-1958 person
associatedWith Brownlee, Frederick Leslie, 1883-1962. person
associatedWith Carver, George Washington, 1864?-1943. person
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associatedWith Fisher, Walter L. (Walter Lowrie), 1862-1935. person
associatedWith Fisk University corporateBody
correspondedWith Flexner, Abraham, 1866-1959. person
associatedWith Frank, Jerome, 1889-1957. person
associatedWith Friedlich, Ruth K person
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associatedWith Gilkey, Charles Whitney, 1882-1968. person
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
associatedWith Howard University. corporateBody
associatedWith Hull-House (Chicago, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory corporateBody
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associatedWith Longue Vue House and Gardens (New Orleans, La.) corporateBody
correspondedWith McKenzie, Fayette Avery, b. 1872. person
associatedWith McLean, Franklin C. (Franklin Chambers), 1888- person
associatedWith Murphy, Darryl T. person
associatedWith National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America. Colored Work Department. corporateBody
associatedWith National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America. Colored Work Dept. corporateBody
associatedWith New York (State). Office of the Lieutenant Governor (1928-1932 : Lehman) corporateBody
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associatedWith University of Chicago corporateBody
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correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
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associatedWith Weinstein, Elizabeth Gray Samuel. person
associatedWith Woodson, Carter Godwin, 1875-1950. person
associatedWith YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. corporateBody
associatedWith YMCA of the USA. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Springfield IL US
Highland Park IL US
Subject
Charities
African Americans--Charities
Philanthropists
Jews--Charities
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1862-08-12

Death 1932-01-06

Information

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