Rosenwald, Julius

Through his practice of philanthropy, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) utilized his fame and fortune for the benefit of humankind. Rosenwald's career culminated in his presidency of Sears, Roebuck and Company. He used his fortune to create programs targeting the inequality and education of Jewish and African-American populations. His creation of the Julius Rosenwald Fund as a self-expiring entity, ending in the term of his life, raised interesting questions for philanthropy.

Biographical Highlights

Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) utilized his fame and fortune for the benefit of humankind through his practice of philanthropy. His fortune was amassed during his career which culminated in his presidency of Sears, Roebuck and Company. It was used to create programs targeting the inequality and education of Jewish and African-American populations. He is credited with donating more than $65 million to various causes including creating settlements for Jews in Russia, the construction of over 5,000 schools for blacks in the South and for building twenty-five Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) buildings and three Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) buildings dedicated to African Americans. His creation of the Julius Rosenwald Fund as a self-expiring entity, ending in the term of his life, raised interesting questions for philanthropy.

Historic Roots

Julius Rosenwald, the second of six children, was born to Samuel and Augusta Rosenwald on August 12, 1862, in Springfield, Illinois. The family home was located across the street from Abraham Lincoln's home. In addition to schooling, Julius's childhood activities included attending to customers in his father's clothing business, carrying luggage for travelers, and pumping the organ at a local church. He expressed an interest in sales at a young age. Even at the unveiling of the Springfield monument erected in memory of Abraham Lincoln on October 15, 1874, Rosenwald sold a commemorative pamphlet, "The Illustrated Description of the Lincoln Monument" (Werner 1939, 9).

In addition to learning business skills, Rosenwald felt a strong presence of charity in his life from a young age. His Jewish upbringing ingrained in him charitable traditions of giving. Traditions of voluntary giving, called tzedakah, were regularly observed both in childhood and adulthood. His mother participated in the Ladies' Benevolent Society, whose service activities included sewing garments for unemployed persons during the winter season. He attended Chicago Sinai Congregation for religious services which he accredited for the development of his vision for humanity (Mann 1935, 170).

He arrived in New York City on March 15, 1879, after completing his second year of high school. Seeking to gain training and experience in the clothing trade, Rosenwald lived with his uncle, Edward Hammerslough. His uncle was the owner of Hammerslough Bros., a wholesale clothing manufacturer located in New York. While Julius Rosenwald completed his apprenticeship, he built friendships with men who, one day, would become government and community leaders. Among them was Henry Goldman, future leader of Goldman, Sachs and Company. Rosenwald returned to Chicago in 1885 as the president of Rosenwald and Weil, a small clothing manufacturing company. He married Augusta Nusbaum of New York, on April 8, 1890. Their union produced five children. His business continued to prosper and he began supplying merchandise to Sears, Roebuck and Company, then a growing mail-order catalogue company. This relationship expanded in 1895 when Rosenwald had the opportunity to become a quarter-owner in the company, serving as its vice-president and treasurer.

The successful business relationship between Richard Sears, co-founder and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Julius Rosenwald capitalized on the business knowledge of each man. Sears was responsible for advertising and marketing ingenuity in the nationally distributed catalogue. Rosenwald formalized the business practices in the warehouse and guaranteed high levels of customer satisfaction. The investment proved to be highly lucrative with total annual sales increasing from $1,273,924 to $8,505,577 between 1897 and 1899 (Werner 1939, 65). By 1914, the company made gross sales upwards of one-hundred million dollars. "Fortune smiled on me in a big way and no one was more surprised than I was myself," Rosenwald constantly admitted (Rosenwald 1929, 12).

Julius and Augusta Rosenwald participated in regular charitable giving during their accumulation of wealth. Appreciating the commitment of Jane Addams, they were fervent supporters of her famous Chicago settlement house, the Hull House, during the early 1900s. They also contributed to Jewish communities both locally and internationally aiding thousands of impoverished Jewish refugees. Though Julius Rosenwald never identified with the Zionist movement, he did contribute to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He concerned himself with uniting local Jewish efforts to found the Federation of Jewish Charities of Chicago.

Though he was Jewish, a large portion of Rosenwald's philanthropic gifts were directed toward the betterment of education for African Americans. A revelation occurred to Julius Rosenwald in 1910 after reading An American Citizen, the Life of William H. Baldwin by John Graham Brooks. Baldwin, a man of wealth, advocated on behalf of Southern blacks and for educational opportunities.

Baldwin supported the work of Dr. Booker T. Washington, a prominent African-American educator in the South. After reading Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery, Rosenwald agreed with the mission of gaining practical education for African Americans. He began a friendship with Washington and supported his efforts with advocacy and financial support.

Hence, the Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in 1917 for the "well-being of mankind" with a beginning capital of ten million dollars. The Fund undertook a four-pronged initiative with regards to educating African Americans in the South: school-building, library-building, teacher education, and development of opportunities in higher education for blacks. The school building program sought to construct adequate buildings utilizing the fund money as a stimulus for projects; the local governments and residents were responsible for raising the remainder of the funds to build the schools. Overall, 5,357 schools were built as a result of Rosenwald's program. The Fund concerned itself with individual educational opportunities offering $437,612 in support for some 400 fellows including authors James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay; French physicist and Nobel Prize winner Jean Perrin; and singer Marian Anderson.

Civic roles proved of high importance to Rosenwald. Within his home of Chicago, he co-founded the Municipal Voters League. His participation on the Chicago Planning Commission aided in development of the city. The University of Chicago recognized his gifts of nearly $4.5 million with a position on the board of trustees for the university. He gained further national recognition with his appointment to the Council of National Defense Advisory Committee by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Inspired by the museums of Munich and Vienna during a trip abroad, Rosenwald offered $3 million dollars to build an industrial museum in Chicago, today known as the Museum of Science and Industry. Though attempts were made to immortalize him by placing the museum in his name, Rosenwald refused. A successful career as a businessman, philanthropist and civil servant ended with his passing on January 6, 1932.


The philanthropic activities of Julius Rosenwald sought to empower recipients instead of creating a sense of dependency in them. It was uncustomary for him to provide the entire capital needed to complete his projects; he would, however, offer twenty to fifty percent of the overall cost and encourage recipients to raise the remaining amount needed for the completion of the project. In this manner, his giving habits engendered a form of community-building often times across lines of race and class.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Julius Rosenwald was often one of the toughest critics of the philanthropic sector; and he adopted a stern philosophy regarding the roles of foundations in administering and donating funds. Rosenwald disagreed with limiting the uses of capital and the amount of interest available for expenditure. Such activity places unnecessary constraints on those who attempt to work for the good of humankind. He envisioned possibilities of social problem-solving with access to unlimited investments of foundations that act as "unofficial administrators of public welfare on a vast scale" (Rosenwald 1929, 13).

Key Related Ideas

He believed that "the fortunes which men have made in this day and age should be employed by them in the support of such educational, benevolent or humanitarian enterprises as will benefit their contemporaries - them and their children, no more" (Ibid., 12). This trend away from perpetuity, or unending trusts, is one issue for which he commonly advocated on two grounds. Firstly, the current generation knows its problems and is best able to determine appropriate investments to solve such problems. Secondly, the problems of tomorrow may be resolved within the next generation, therefore the "dead hands of the past," wealth holders who determine the future use of their capital, have no place in foundations. Future generations are capable of determining their own needs and remedies.

Rosenwald's personal philosophy caused his creation of a self-expiring foundation which was to go out of existence following his death. Such conditions required that all capital, both principle and interest, be exhausted within a "reasonable period of time" (Embree 1949, 31). After spending a total of $22,244,174 since 1917, the Julius Rosenwald Fund went out of existence in 1948.

Important People Related to the Topic

Booker T. Washington (1858-1915) was raised the son of a slave mother and went on to create the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Washington sought to expand educational opportunities to African Americans in the South. His work with Rosenwald served as the foundation for The Rosenwald Fund's educational initiatives to assist blacks.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

Historically Black Colleges and Universities are those institutions whose mission is to further the education of African Americans and which were established before 1964. Among those many that are considered HBCUs are Alabama A & M University, Bethune-Cookman College, Fisk University, Florida A & M University, Howard University, Kentucky State University, Morehouse College, Selma University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University, and University of the District of Columbia.

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (previously, Jewish Charities of Chicago) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving "as the central communal organization of the Chicago-area Jewish community. JUF/ JF are dedicated to the survival and welfare of the Jewish people and to the benefit and progress of mankind" (

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, was created by Julius Rosenwald as America's first museum dedicated to public science education or, in his words, "industrial enlightenment." Since its beginnings in 1933, the Museum has become the largest of its kind in the Western hemisphere. The depth of its collections and interactive nature of many of its exhibits have made it one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions. For information on its exhibits, history, maps, and more, visit its Web site at

Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) is, collectively, one of the largest community service organizations in the United States. By 2002, it counted over 2400 local clubs across America and the world. A national Web site provides links to local Ys and information on the organization's history, resources, employment opportunities, and more (at The YMCA mission is "to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all." Rosenwald made large challenge grant contributions for the building of YMCAs in black communities; these Ys proved to be integral to providing coherence to the community during the Civil Rights movement.

The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism." The YWCA has been involved in social justice issues and addressing societal problems since its inception in 1858. Two of its largest programs are violence prevention and childcare services. The YWCA of the U.S.A. Web site, at, provides access to local clubs, an extensive history of the organization, and explanation of its programs.

Related Web Sites

The previous section lists the Web sites for a number of the organizations supported by Rosenwald during his lifetime.

Most of the Rosenwald Schools created in the earlier twentieth century were abandoned following federal and state desegregation efforts. Those that are still standing have been placed on "America's Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places" list provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2002. Visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation Web site at

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Embree, Edwin R. and Julia Waxman. Investment in People: The Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishing, 1949.

Jarrette, Alfred Q. Julius Rosenwald: Son of a Jewish Immigrant, a Builder of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Benefactor of Mankind. Greenville: Southeastern University Press, 1979.

Mann, Louis L. "Julius Rosenwald." In Dictionary of American Biography, edited by Dumas Malone. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935.

Rosenwald, Julius. "The Burden of Wealth," The Saturday Evening Post (5 Jan 1929): 12-13, 136.

Werner, M.R. Julius Rosenwald: The Life of a Practical Humanitarian. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishing, 1939.

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.