New York School of Philanthropy

Established in 1898, the New York School of Philanthropy was the first higher education program to train people for work in charitable fields.


The New York School of Philanthropy was the first higher education program to train people who wanted to work in the field of charity in the United States. It was established in 1898 with a six-week summer program that would be more similar to a workshop today than a college course. In 1904, it expanded to a full-year program and later to a two-year program. In 1919, the New York School of Philanthropy changed its name to the New York School of Social Work and today is called the Columbia University School of Social Work.

Historic Roots

The New York School of Philanthropy grew from the Charity Organization Society movement. The Baltimore Charity Organization Society began publishing and circulating records of actual work with real clients on the premise that people doing charity could learn by analyzing the work of one another. These publications were the only source of training and information as philanthropy was thought of more as a hobby than a job. Formal training in applied philanthropy started by the New York School of Philanthropy, then spread to other areas of the country, often under the name of social work. Thus, the fields of philanthropy and social work come from many of the same roots.


With a school to study philanthropy, the planning and evaluation of the effectiveness of helping actions became more focused upon.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The development of the New York School of Philanthropy was a big step in the effort of establishing the professionalism of almsgiving or charity. Having a formal study program helped validate the choice of a career in helping.

Ties to K-12 Social Studies

Sociology: Before the New York School of Philanthropy, the only training available for someone who wanted to work in charity was in sociology. Sociology studied the general laws governing human relationships but tried to stay very scientific and value-free with no emphasis on the skills needed to work with people in order to help them.

Geography: Just before the New York School of Philanthropy started in the United States in 1989 with a summer course, one was established in England in 1893 with a two-year program in philanthropic training. Like many movements, the professionalism of philanthropy began on the east coast in New York and spread to the rest of the country from there.

History: When Mary Richmond recommended the development of a professional training school in Philanthropy, she suggested a man run it. This was part of her effort to establish a new profession that would be respected, which would be more likely if a man was in charge as women were not viewed as professionals at that time.

Most professions were trained through apprenticeships. This emphasis on practical work rather than academics carried over to the School of Philanthropy. In class, students studied theory and research but they also learned methods of practice working in the field under supervision in local agencies.

Economics: Supporting oneself and family was very different when the School of Philanthropy emerged. Children worked in factories and on farms and many never attended school at all. Men frequently were maimed or killed working in factories and, if her husband died, there were no established safety nets for a woman to support her children alone.

Government: At the time, the government did not supply services such as food, money or homes for people in need at the time. This was all the work of charities. When the government became more involved in such helping, during the Great Depression, many felt this was not the role for the government and should stay entirely the work of charities. Some people still feel that way today.

Key Related Ideas

The Charity Organization Society consisted of charitable groups that used scientific philanthropy to cure distressed and deviant persons. More than just almsgiving, the ultimate goal of the Charity Organization Society was to restore the dignity of the recipient to as much self-sufficiency and responsibility as he could manage. They initiated the process of referring individuals to other agencies for more intensive services when needed. Through these referrals, the Charity Organization Society often became the central agency in the structure of social service programs in many communities. The Charity Organization Society would be aware of all the other social services available and become the primary source of information and referral for all the services in the area.

The Charity Organization Society movement is often contrasted with the settlement house movement which emphasized social reform rather than personal problems as the proper focus of charity.

Important People Related to the Topic

Mary Richmond (1861-1928) was instrumental in starting the New York School of Philanthropy. Richmond was the leader of the Baltimore Charity Organization Society and Director of the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City's Charity Organization Society department. She wrote Friendly Visiting Among the Poor (1899) and Social Diagnosis (1919).

Mary Richmond was known for protecting families and worked for prohibiting child labor, providing compulsory education, and protecting working women. She challenged people to evaluate if they had set plans in motion to make the children of the day better heads of tomorrow's families than their parents had been. Her focus on the person in their situation was unusual in the Charity Organization Societies and more similar to settlement house movements. She was concerned with the effects of heredity plus the environment and social reform because she felt the environment contributed to personal and family dysfunction.

Important Related Nonprofit Organizations

The Russell Sage Foundation in New York City was involved in helping to establish the New York School of Philanthropy. Also, many colleges and universities are till nonprofit organizations today.


Axinn, J. and Levin, H. (1992). Social Welfare: A history of the American response to need. White Plains: Longman.

Day, Phyllis J. (1997). A New History of Social Welfare. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Compton, B. R. (1980). Introduction to Social Welfare and Social Work. Homewood: The Dorsey Press.

Hefferman, J., Shuttlesworth, G., and Ambrosino, R. (1997). Social Work and Social Welfare. Minneapolis: West Publishing Company.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.