The Great Debate: Three Philanthropists in American History

To learn about the different philosophies of three renowned philanthropists.


Image source: John D. Rockefeller in 1885. From Wikimedia Commons. Original source: Rockefeller Archive Center.

PrintUp to 50 minutes (plus homework time for reading)

Students will:

  • Learn about three famous philanthropists (Jane Addams, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, Sr.)
  • Prepare and participate in a “debate” as a group, focusing on why their assigned philanthropist is the greatest and most influential philanthropist in the world

Biographical articles and pictures of Jane Addams, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, Sr. 

Prize(s) for the winning debate team


Grimm, Robert T. (2002). Notable American Philanthropists: Biographies of Giving and Serving. ABC-CLIO.

Other sources for biographical readings:

Jane Addams

Daniels, Patricia (2016, April 28). “Jane Addams: Social reformer and founder of Hull House.” About Education. Available at

The Nobel Foundation (1931). “Jane Addams – Biographical.” The Nobel Peace Prize 1931. Available at

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Gordon, John Steele. “John Rockefeller, Sr.” Philanthropy Roundtable. Available at

The Rockefeller Archive Center. (1997). “The Rockefellers: John D. Rockefeller, 1839-1937.” Available at

Andrew Carnegie

Lenkowsky, Leslie. “Andrew Carnegie.” The Philanthropy Hall of Fame. Philanthropy Roundtable. Available at

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “Andrew Carnegie.” Philanthropy Roadmap. Available at

  1. Before the day of the debate, assign readings about the three philanthropists to all students; ask them to take notes about each and be able to explain the different philanthropic philosophies of each.

  2. After the students read the materials, put them into three groups (the Addams group, Carnegie group, and Rockefeller group). Print a picture of each philanthropist to put in front of each group when they debate.

  3. As a group, ask the students to create questions to ask the other groups and to come up with strong arguments as to why their philanthropist is the best. 

  4. Begin the debate. As the instructor, you are the moderator of the three philanthropists and will guide the debate. Whichever group presents the strongest argument and exhibits the best knowledge of the different philosophies gets a prize.