Happy birthday to Julius Rosenwald!

Posted on August 12th, 2015 by

Julius Rosenwald, circa 1915
Original photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress

Today, August 12th, would have been Julius Rosenwald’s 151st birthday, and coincidentally The Rosenwald Schools production received a “gift” today from the National Center for Jewish Film: some moving images of J.R. we hadn’t seen before in a 1914 film about the Agro-Joint, a program supported by Rosenwald that economically empowered Jews who were facing discrimination in Russia and other countries.

It was on this day in 1912 that Rosenwald first started becoming a prominent philanthropist. On his birthday of that year, he announced gifts totaling $687,500 to various Chicago institutions (the West Side Charities, the University of Chicago, a social workers “Country Club”) in a move that was reported on in newspapers across the country, including the two New York papers pictured below.

1. Front page, New-York Tribune, Aug 12, 1912, LOC
2. Page 7, The Sun, Aug 13, 1912, LOC

As part of his birthday gifts, J.R. also made a $25,000 donation to Tuskegee Institute for Booker T. Washington to disburse as he saw fit. That money ended up going towards the pilot program for the Rosenwald Schools, a school-building program that would last until 1930 and result in over 5,000 rural schools for African American chidren.

At the outset of his career as a philanthropist (which began, unlike some other notable figures, while he was still heavily involved with Sears operations) Rosenwald seems to already have the clear philosophy of giving that would govern his philanthropy until he died. As he says in The Sun article above: “I do not believe in the practice of giving money away after death. I believe in seeing the money that is not necessary being used for the help and betterment of others. It is a great satisfaction… We should give while we live and not when we are gone.”

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