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Article 8: Ford's Fund for the Republic: a 1950s-era foundation as educator.

Historians have recently opened up a reconsideration of the 1950s. Long characterized as a time of stolid conformity and Cold War conservatism, the era is increasingly seen in more variegated terms (Dudziak 2000; Hutcheson, Gasman, and Sander-McMurtry 2011). Studies exploring a range of institutions, causes, and activities have illuminated ways the intellectual and social soil of postwar America gave root to both vocal challenges to illiberal views and censorship as well as to modes of "quiet activism" that paved the way for later full blown protests against entrenched racial and gender-based injustices (Dudziak 2000; Eisenmann 2005). The US's rise to prominence on the world stage after the war brought a new set of expectations and increased international and domestic scrutiny of the health of American democracy and basic civil liberties. This examination at times shed critical light on inconsistencies between professed ideals and daily practice (Dzubiak 2000).

The tension between competing ideals and values played out in nearly every sphere and institution of American life. Notably, higher education witnessed violations of academic freedom and the dismissal of faculty who refused to sign loyalty oaths (Schrecker 1986). Similarly, the foundation world was targeted as un-American and attacked. According to critics, foundations--the product of private enterprise--had either knowingly or unwittingly served the interests of enemies of the American way of life and capitalism (Brilliant 2001).

This essay considers foundation activity as an element of the intellectual and political ferment that historians have discerned in the Cold War 1950s. It focuses on the history of the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Republic (FFR), a short-lived enterprise established by the Ford Foundation in 1952. In the period from 1952 to 1959, FFR's relatively small but targeted grantmaking and the leverage afforded by its political supporters helped to defend free thought and expression in what were perilous times. Largely overshadowed in the history of US foundations by its gigantic parent, the better known Ford Foundation, which in the 1950s towered as the largest foundation in the country (and, indeed, likely in the world at the time), the FFR--a defender of values deeply rooted in US tradition and history (civil liberties, religious liberty, and academic freedom, prominently among them) has received little attention in scholarly writings in both the fields of philanthropic studies and educational history. Such an oversight is unfortunate, because the history of the FFR enriches our understanding of the context in which both philanthropic foundations, colleges and universities, as well as other intellectual enterprises functioned in the 1950s. Under the fiery leadership of former university educator Robert M. Hutchins, FFR became an ally not only to the academy but to all institutions that promoted free thought. As such, Hutchins's FFR conceptualized and embodied the role of foundation as educator.


FFR's history and its philanthropic mission to help preserve civil liberties and free inquiry during the Cold War 1950s are best understood within the broader history of US foundations and their historic connections to education and to intellectual life more generally (Curti and Nash 1965). The earliest US foundations, products of industrial wealth, emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In his 1889 essay "Wealth," steel magnate Andrew Carnegie articulated his bold vision--known today as the "gospel" of wealth--of a new type of scientific philanthropy. Carnegie outlined how endowed foundations might make charitable giving move efficiently and productively beyond mere relief to make inroads toward social amelioration. Six years later, in 1905, he endowed the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. By the chartering of a second Carnegie-funded philanthropy, Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911, and Standard Oil's John D. Rockefeller's foundation in 1913, the modern foundation Carnegie described in 1889 had not only come into reality but had solidified its standing as a new paradigm for philanthropic giving in the US, one that promised to harness the ideals of science and expertise to grantmaking (Lagemann 1988).

In line with a tradition of voluntarism and in the absence of a centralized government presence in education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the country's early foundations--notably the giants Carnegie and Rockefeller--exerted a profound influence on education, acting in the name of the public good. As scholars have documented, foundations were instrumental in discipline-building, systematizing the professions, spearheading experiments to broaden access, building libraries and academic campuses, and defining educational standards (Lagemann 1988; Walton and Gasman 2008). The scope and impact of these contributions of private power for public purposes--a modern chapter in a philanthropic tradition that had been transplanted from England and taken root in colonial times--led noted scholar Merle Curti, in two now classic essays, appearing in 1957 and 1958 respectively, to identify philanthropy as "one of the major aspects and keys to US social and cultural development," and the "index and agent" of American culture (1957; 352; 1958; 424).

As Curti penned these articles, hoping to galvanize scholarly interest in philanthropy, he was well aware of the chilling impact McCarthyism had had on the academy and on recent Congressional scrutiny of what critics perceived as a left-leaning foundation world (Curti and Nash 1965). Foundations, about which little systematic knowledge then existed, had been the subject of two Congressional investigations: the Cox Commission (1952-53) and the Reese Commission (1954). In the eyes of defenders, foundations generally benefitted US society. In the eyes of Congressional investigators, foundations needed to be studied closely and held more accountable, especially if, as critics contended, tax-favored money was being channeled to leftist research and "subversive" progressive educational approaches. From the vantage point of more than one critic, the FFR was a prominent offender (Dodd 1954).


The contours of FFR's history--the thrust of its grantmaking and the passions of the men who administered the fund, most notably Robert M. Hutchins--must be understood within the context of the pathway forged by the early US foundations, particularly the giants Carnegie and Rockefeller--and the reality that foundations are not static: they evolve, change course, respond to shifting demands of the environment, and often take on a life that extends beyond the lifetime and the concerns of the original donor (Walton and Gasman 2008). In order to understand how the Fund for the Republic came to be, and assumed its distinctive character as a champion of civil liberties and an eager supporter of organizations, programs, and groups ready to challenge affronts to basic democratic principles during the 1950s, one must begin instead with the history of its parent, the Ford Foundation, which belonged to a second wave of foundation establishment that came in the 1930s. During this decade, the Mellon (est. 1930), Kellogg (est. 1930), and Sloan (est. 1934) foundations--named after their donors--joined the early pioneers, Carnegie and Rockefeller, as actors on the national stage, including in higher education (Andrews 1956). But it was the FFR's parent, the Ford Foundation founded in 1936, that was perhaps the most controversial general purpose foundation to be chartered in this era, as many observers considered this philanthropic enterprise as nothing less than a "tax dodge."

The Ford Motor Corporation was then a privately-held business, run by eight members of the Ford family. The foundation, started with an initial gift of $25,000 from Edsel Ford, was a legal maneuver to preserve family wealth in anticipation of enormous estate taxes to be paid at Henry Sr.'s passing (MacDonald 1989). The Foundation's sweeping mission to "receive and administer funds for scientific, educational, and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare" notwithstanding, Ford remained a sleepy Michigan family foundation in the 1940s (Ford Foundation). With Henry Sr.'s health declining and plans for the imminent transfer of wealth weighing more heavily on the family, patriarch Henry Ford's grandson Henry II, solicited the help of friend William "Ping" Ferry, the bright, left-leaning, irreverent son of a conservative Packard auto executive who commanded the relevant public relations savvy to prepare a preliminary report to outline a possible course of action for the Ford Foundation.

Henry II was prescient in understanding the need for a blueprint to guide Ford's giving. With Edsel's death in 1943 and Henry Sr.'s death in 1947, the Foundation owned nearly 84% of the Ford Motor company. It was in the next pivotal decade that the Ford Foundation--by then a "behemoth," even compared to Carnegie and Rockefeller--forged its identity in the philanthropic world (MacDonald 1989, 3).

Like the Rockefeller and Carnegie philanthropies, Ford looked to education, especially higher education, as an area for its large-scale grant-making aspirations. But if Ford's challenge of finding a distinctive pathway to influence rested in part in its late rise on the national stage of philanthropic activity, the newcomer's challenge also rested in hitting its stride given the growing complexity of higher education and the political landscape in which it functioned. The war experience had brought a large-scale infusion of federal patronage that transformed the academic research enterprise, especially big science. Further, the postwar years saw the academy struggle with meeting the needs of GIs, the demands of and for more democratic access, inflation, and the need to bolster infrastructure (Thelin 2011).

One strategy for established foundations to maintain their relevance and visibility as leaders in higher education--as federal money became a force in funding student aid and the dramatic expansion of public colleges and universities--was to find areas where government was less involved. Notably, private grants played a large role in bolstering the competitiveness and the diversity of established US private institutions-- which many regarded as an asset and strength for the US compared to other national systems (Freeland 1992). A number of foundations sought to reinvigorate private liberal arts colleges, contribute to US efforts in rebuilding Germany, expand educational opportunity, and enlarge research capability at both public and private universities, especially in the social sciences. From the perspective of foundation leaders, funding for universities, but more particularly aid to a small cluster of elite research universities, was integral to promoting and maintaining a prosperous economy, cultivating expertise, supporting US foreign policy, fostering social betterment, and deepening our understanding of human behavior (Curti and Nash 1965; Walton and Gasman 2008). The challenge before the extraordinarily well-endowed Ford Foundation was how to define, pursue, and fund its mission in this landscape and the set of possibilities and limitations it posed.


Henry Ford II was a savvy businessman and a pragmatic heir who relied on expert advisors to help him set the Ford Foundation on its course. In the late 1940s, he appointed San Francisco attorney H. Rowan Gaither, a member of the Rand Corporation's board of directors, to head a committee charged with providing guidance as to how Ford might best pursue its philanthropic mission to improve society and best spend its ample funds. By one account, Gaither traveled over 250,000 miles and his committee conducted over 1,000 interviews before producing a twenty volume report in 1949. Commonly known as the Gaither Report, the bold document encouraged Ford's transformation from a regional grantmaker to a powerful international foundation and targeted broad areas around which Ford grantmaking might cohere, most relevant here being efforts to support education in a democratic society (Bender and Smith 2008).

The man named to head the newly envisioned Ford Foundation was Paul Hoffman, a former Marshall Plan administrator and accomplished executive at Studebaker. Hoffman, a millionaire, was well-connected to the moneyed and powerful but also to a wide range of philanthropic and voluntary organizations. As one historian has described, Hoffman belonged to "a string of organizations often associated with tradition, patriotism, and conservatism: the Rotary Club, the Masons, Republican Party, National Council of the Boy Scouts of America and ten exclusive clubs" (Ward 2001, 45).

Under Hoffman, Ford grappled with clarifying and articulating its funding priorities for the post-war years. But in order to keep the IRS at bay, the newly revitalized Ford Foundation needed to spend--and it did. Ford's grantmaking totaled about $60 million in the first two years under Hoffman. Not surprisingly, there was no dearth of people ready to propose ideas about how Ford might spend its money. In a 1972 interview, Henry Ford's advisor "Bing" Ferry, who would later join Hutchins in the Ford spin-off, FFR, recalled that he was "dazzled" (Ward 2001, 43) by the heady atmosphere at Ford during those early years: It was a blend of intense intellectualism and a fervent belief that "with enough money they could eradicate the world's evils" (Ward 2001, 43), but there was also a good dash of ego and self-interest at play among the officers. For his part, Ferry thought foundations had fostered "corruption" in "universities and ... individuals" (Ward 2001, 51). In his eyes, foundations "ought to ... kick the sh-t out of those seats of power, fix up the supine press and the supine church, and so on." As Ferry's biographer James Ward explained, Ferry believed foundations should direct their power and wealth to "areas that had been disregarded." To Ferry's mind, the "protection of rights, civil liberties, [and] free speech" were paramount rather than social science or business administration, areas that were attracting funding (Ward 2001, 46). According to Ward, in Ferry's mindset "even education," a traditional recipient of philanthropic attention in the US going back to Andrew Carnegie's day, and an area the Ford Foundation would indeed aim to influence, "was secondary" (Ward 2001, 46).

In organizing its extensive grantmaking through program areas, Ford established three funds related to education in different ways: The Fund for the Advancement of Education, the Fund for Adult Education, and the Fund for the Republic. The last enterprise--the type of philanthropy Ferry advocated, was a legal maneuver to buffer the Ford Foundation from the political criticism grantmaking in support of civil liberties and civil rights portended to bring.

While parent Ford's heavy investment in higher education centered on disciplinary or collaborative innovations in the behavioral sciences, carefully avoiding the term "social science" (both to avoid confusion with "socialism" and to emphasize the study of the individual rather than the collective), Ford's strategic off-shoot, the FFR, which had its own board and only a brief intended lifespan (of up to twenty-five years), would be able to take a more activist stance, focusing on freedom and education and challenging the 1950s assaults on freedom and civil liberties.

Henry Ford II backed the idea of the Fund for the Republic but urged caution, especially until the IRS had issued FFR's tax-exemption certificate (issued in 1954) and admonished Fund leaders not to jeopardize FFR's tax-exempt status by pushing the line between education and propaganda. He had the interests of family members and the bottom line of Ford Auto Dealers in mind. Hoffman was given the liberty to appoint his own board of directors: without a moment's hesitation he tapped Robert M. Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago. Having served as a UC trustee, Hoffman had a longstanding friendship with Hutchins. Neither Hoffman nor Hutchins was especially settled at Ford, and when Hoffman was fired and given responsibility to set up the FFR, Hutchins soon joined him.

By most accounts, the Fund for the Republic in its early years wobbled, or was not as radical in its funded projects and approach as it might have been. For example, a bibliography was developed, Harvard sociologist Samuel Stouffer's funded Communism, Conformity and Civil Liberties appeared, and Cornell's Clinton Rossiter wrote a book on communists in the US. But even some of FFR's early grants disappointed men like Ferry, who found books like Rossiter's too academic to have impact, a number of early grants and press releases--or even news of the FFR's mere existence--were sufficiently unsettling to some conservatives (a staunch opponent of the FFR being the American Legion) as to draw criticism in the national press (Ward 2001). For example, an early grant of $25,000 to the American Bar Association to "study the uses and abuses of Congressional investigating committees" was perceived by conservatives as an affront to the US Congress, and to entrepreneur Henry Ford, Sr.'s memory. After Hoffman's brief presidency, Clifford Case, a Republican from New Jersey, was persuaded to take over at FFR's helm. "Can we, by the means available to us as an 'educational' organization, alert the American people sufficiently to keep the balance on freedom's side?" Case asked (Quoted in Ward 2001, 28). Case oversaw FFR only briefly, resigning to run for the US Senate. It was his successor, educator Robert M. Hutchins, whose priorities, passion, and personality brought FFR to the national stage and entangled the Fund in controversy.


Appointed to the FFR presidency on May 25, 1954, Hutchins was already familiar to the public and press as a foundation man (he had served as an associate director of the young Ford Foundation), but he was far better known for his views on education, espoused in The Higher Learning (1936), and for his tenure as president and then chancellor of the University of Chicago (1929-1945; 1945-1951). Hutchins keenly, perhaps even viscerally, felt the peril confronting basic civil liberties and free inquiry and debate in 1950s America. He conceptualized his power as a philanthropic leader and the Fund's role in educational terms, aware that he belonged to a new generation of elites: a class of men (women foundation officers were still rare) who stood in university and foundation worlds, connected in some way to evangelical reform of an earlier era. From the beginning of Hutchins's leadership, the FFR bore the imprimatur of his zealous belief in the possibilities for the Fund to reach public opinion in ways the university did not. With Hutchins at the helm, the Fund became an aggressive defender of intellectual liberty (Hutchins 1956).


Born in 1899 to a family that valued education, Hutchins was deeply influenced by the models of leadership exemplified by his parents. His father, a minister, was then a professor at Oberlin and later president of Berea College in Kentucky, a director of the Danforth Foundation, and his mother was a graduate of Mount Holyoke. Hutchins began his college studies at Oberlin (1915-17), an institution whose connections to abolition he profoundly respected, and then after serving in the Oberlin ambulance corps in World War I, earned his A.B. from Yale College (1921) and embarked upon a teaching career (Hutchins 1956). Still in his twenties, he was tapped to become Secretary of Yale and at twenty-eight years old became dean of Yale Law School. After only two years, in 1929 he was hired to be president of the University of Chicago.

Hutchins is best known, even caricaturized, in the history of higher education as the man who fearlessly abolished intercollegiate football at the University of Chicago (1939), a collaborator of philosopher Mortimer J. Adler in developing the Great Books agenda, and an unwavering believer in permanent truths--indeed, a foil to the progressive educators among his contemporaries, notably John Dewey. But, what was equally true, and often forgotten, is that Hutchins, a complex personality and intellectual, was a vociferous champion of civil liberties and academic freedom. This orientation, evident during the Chicago years, carried over into his involvement with FFR and later its think-tank successor, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (Kelly 1981).

When Hutchins left Chicago and joined the Ford Foundation in 1951, Henry Ford II was still a hands-on member of the donor family. He relied on advisors like Bing Ferry to provide a concise review of all proposals and had a direct hand in approving grants. Restless with convention, Ferry at one point had encouraged Henry to resign, remove the family name from the foundation, and break apart the endowment. As Ferry's biographer has noted, the bulk of the Ford's grants were relatively uncontroversial and made in traditional areas--for example, grants to raise faculty salaries or support hospitals. Any discussion of funding to confront the pressing political issues facing the country--issues of racism or fetters on civil liberties, for instance--made Henry wary. Sharing a sense that it was exactly in these areas that philanthropic endeavor was most justified and needed, Ferry and Hutchins, sharing similar sensibilities, tried to "move the onus of all this unpopularity from Pasadena [where the Ford Foundation was then located], from the Ford name, to some other place." Hutchins "began referring to this aborning as the Fund for the Republic" (Quoted in Ward 2001, 48).

In August of 1951, Hutchins and Ferry produced a two-page memo proposing "A Fund for Democratic Freedoms." They were aware that this might be troubling for Ford dealers and the Foundation, but believed firmly that "In the long run it will bring more credit to the Ford name than the easy and innocuous course of making impressive contributions to established activities" (Quoted in Kelly 1981, 19).

What had been a dream for Hutchins and Ferry materialized in 1952 with an initial appropriation of $1,000,000 to the new Fund for the Republic by the Ford Foundation. Its mandate was shaped by the political milieu in the US: "support activities directed toward the elimination of restrictions on freedom of thought, inquiry and expression in the United States, and the development of policies and procedures best adapted to protect these rights" (Quoted in FFP Finding Aid).

Under Hutchins's leadership, the FFR was a lightning rod for anti-intellectualism and discontent with New Deal politics, socially progressive initiatives, and any reform geared toward interracial relations or challenges to segregation. Critics on the right, among them the Hearst Press, American Legion, and the secret organization of Minute Women of the USA, denounced FFR as the unpatriotic devil incarnate or condemned FFR as a misguided liberal experiment playing into the hands of the Communists. From another direction, criticism came from some university-based intellectuals and members of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom--notably former Communist NYU philosopher Sidney Hook (Ward 2001; Kelly 1981).

For its part, the Fund and Hutchins himself, accused of being a Communist sympathizer, always underscored that FFR was anti-Communist but emphasized the need for rational discussion in all spheres of life, including examining any domestic presence of Communist influences. Whereas critics saw the FFR as diverging from Henry Sr.'s entrepreneurial values and undercutting the system of American capitalism that had made the Ford motor company possible, some onlookers found FFR leadership especially apt Fred Hechinger, then of the New York Herald Tribune, observed, "To the Communist it must come as a particularly harsh blow that the defense of freedom here is taken up by the very agents he likes to caricature as the enslavers ... a fund of one of the biggest of businesses" (Quoted in Reeves 1965, 198).

Unlike the activities of its better known parent, the Ford Foundation, or the country's other major endowed foundations, notably the Rockefeller and Carnegie philanthropies, the Fund identified nonprofits and campuses which needed targeted funds and generally tried to work quietly but purposefully, under the radar of right-wing public scrutiny as far as possible; but, that said, FFR and Hutchins were not afraid to engage controversy.

Though far less studied than mainstream foundation activity, a tradition of activist foundation activity, of which FFR was a good 1950s example, had developed in tandem with twentieth century social movements to address inequalities of race, class, and gender--for example, the Twentieth Century Fund, the Garland Fund, the Taconic Foundation, and the Field Foundation. The FFR was kindred to these funds, but rose to greater national prominence in part because of its vocal intellectual executive, Hutchins, whose actions were shaped by the moment but also by a broader view of America's educational needs. FFR activity was not traditional support for bricks and mortar with which we have come to associate foundations but rather philanthropy for public understanding and education.

Rather than large grants, the FFR's work was achieved through well-timed but relatively small grants and assistance to individuals--for example, helping to fund AAUP efforts to support the daily living expenses of faculty who refused to sign loyalty oaths--or by providing funding, incentives, publicity, and in-kind assistance to a vast array of progressive and educational nonprofit entities such as the American Bar, the Friends Service Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others. FFR moved quickly beyond early research on the internal threat of Communism to institutions to supporting activities and activism that helped to sustain a culture of intellectual freedom and curiosity and critical awareness of social conditions. As its 1955 annual report forcefully explained, FFR stood against "restrictions and assaults on academic freedom; due process and equal protection of the laws; the protection of the rights of minorities; censorship, boycotting, and blacklisting by groups; the principle of guilt by association and its application in the United States today" (Quoted in Daniel A. Poling to Paul G. Hoffman, 28 September, 1955, FFR Papers). In the FFR's history, then, we see a foundation helping to shape and preserve a milieu of intellectual openness--a freedom that was integral to democracy, to the university's vitality, and to civil society. In the conceptualization of its directors and grantmaking, FFR functioned as a public educator.

Although historians telling the story of the threat to the academy during this time have generally focused on faculty purges, court cases, and the AAUP (Schrecker 1986), it is worth underscoring that the FFR supported a number of projects to illuminate the role of the university in American society and to protect academic freedom and faculty autonomy from being eroded. Notably, in 1953, FFR gave Columbia University $40,000 for bicentennial activities related to the year-long theme of "Man's Right to Knowledge." FFR helped disseminate writings by Richard Hofstadter and Walter Metzger and Robert Maclver produced as part of Columbia's Academic Freedom Project, in 1955 FFR generously supported a study of the status of college teachers in Pennsylvania, Illinois and California, and also funded "Freedom to Read," a film which explored opposing points of view on book banning. In the 1958, FFR gave $10,000 to the Academic Freedom Fund and later support for living expenses of faculty who refused oath at the University of Arkansas identified by the AAUP (Walton 2014).

At heart, the Fund, largely reflecting Hutchins's bent of mind, perceived itself to be devoted to public service, to intellectual liberty, and to the education of the American public. As one close FFR colleague observed, Hutchins thought about FFR as a "university without borders" (Kelly 1981, 35).


The Fund gained another $14,000,000 from Henry Ford in 1953 to pursue its various projects, but FFR and Hutchins as its spokesperson drew the attention of B. Carroll Reece who re-opened recently completed Congressional investigations into tax-exempt foundations. Ostensibly the investigations were about whether foundation tax-exemptions were merited and about transparency (legitimate concerns since there was no regulation and few foundations ever issued reports), but concern seemed to explore a perception that wealth was being directed to left-leaning or Communist causes, the political sympathies of the scholars and academic programs that were funded. What had driven Carnegie's sponsorship of Gunnar Myrdal's American Dilemma (1944) or Rockefeller's funding of the Kinsey Institute (1940s)? Did these foundation-funded university projects serve the public good? Congressional action was fueled by both budgetary fear, a lack of any systematic knowledge about endowed foundations, and more important, concern by Reece and his sympathizers that the fight against political enemies must be fought on both the domestic and the international front.

Investigators focused their study on foundations with assets of $10 million or more. Officials of these foundations were asked to respond promptly to lengthy, detailed questionnaires about policies and procedures, about grants awarded and funding requests denied, and about the social background and affiliations of board members and recipients. Although foundations were being targeted both individually and as a sector, any shared sense of identity among them was only just coalescing. At the time, few foundations regularly published annual reports, maintained detailed records, or analyzed their grantmaking. There was no scholarly understanding of the extraordinarily diverse range and scope of foundation activity and there was no collective identity held by philanthropic actors (Brilliant 2001).

An earlier investigation of nonprofits--the Cox Commission (held in 1952-53)--had uncovered few abuses, but critics like B. Carroll Reese and Norman Dodd, Director of Research for the Reese Commission (held in 1954), asserted that foundations had undercut the values of the country's founding documents and principles and promoted socialism. It was asserted that foundation activity had opened up the possibility of a one-state government engineered without resistance because Progressive education had lulled the American public into unquestioning acceptance (Dodd 1954).

If perhaps the Reese Commission opened itself to wide ridicule for what critics saw as wasteful political shenanigans and hyperbolic headline-seeking rhetoric, the Commission's significance to understanding the history of philanthropy in the US remains important. The Commission was concerned with the serious question of wealth and power in a democracy. In addition, though the Commission masterfully distorted history and "fact," the inquiry was taken seriously by foundations, forcing more than one foundation to acknowledge better self-understanding and better public relations were needed.

The issue of whether a tax-exempt institution lives up to its charitable and educational goals and steers clear of any legal violations or proscribed behavior has been a tool of both the left and the right. In the mid 1940s, for instance, the Mayor of New York City used the "weapon" of threatening to strip the tax-exempt status of any educational institution that discriminated against students based on race, color, or religion ("Tax-Free Colleges Face City Scrutiny," January 21, 1946, New York Times). Reece's attention in the merits of the tax-exemption for nonprofits focused most sharply on Ford, and especially the Fund for the Republic. Carroll Reese in fact targeted the Fund, this "king-sized Civil Rights Congress," as he argued for the Congressional inquiry (Kelly 1981, 25). And, in noting Hutchins' leadership of FFR, he recalled Hutchins's tenure at the University of Chicago not for its educational debates but Hutchins's Chicago as the "only institution of higher learning in America which has been investigated five times for immoral or subversive activities" (Congressional Record, 83rd Congress, 1st session, 1953, vol. 99, p. 10195).


The Fund for the Republic had a short but fiery history, one that was intimately tied to the politics of this moment in US history, the history of foundations, and to the personalities involved--most prominently Robert Hutchins. Embedded in FFR's history are the social and political tensions of the immediate postwar decades, left and right views of the role of government, competing visions of basic liberties and rights, and debate about the role of wealth and elite leadership in American life. Here was a philanthropic fund working through other nonprofits to embolden and enable institutions in civil society; an effort to counter the type of thinking that led to McCarthyesque attacks on freedom; a liberal counterpart in the 1950s to a flurry of right-wing groups organizing to thwart the rising civil rights movement, oppose larger government programs, and challenge progressive ideology and scholarship.

FFR in its grantmaking and leadership appreciated the enabling power of money to underwrite reform, to make issues related to intellectual liberty visible in the press, and to attempt to shape public opinion. At its heart, FFR was a fund devoted to preserving civil liberties--a mission that was intimately connected with invigorating education, defined broadly, in a democracy. Much as Hutchins saw his engagement with other educational institutions earlier in his life--Oberlin, Yale, and the University of Chicago--Hutchins saw his role in FFR in intensely intellectual terms. The philanthropist was an educator.

But, as FFR insider Frank Kelly (1981) has described, the Fund for the Republic--born of foundation that still hoped to keep its distance from its controversial child--followed a rocky road, both on account of the political landscape--the snares of redbaiting--and tensions internal to the organization. What began in the early 1950s as a grantmaking enterprise to support grassroots activity and help preserve civil liberties by the decade's end had, with Hutchins still at the helm, segued into another educational experiment, a think-tank--the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI). As Kelly has discussed, CSDI was Hutchins's attempt to translate some of the inspiration for FFR to a new form, to create a community of scholars who would discuss core issues in a sustained, unfettered way. To Hutchins's mind, the Center held the potential to achieve a freer intellectual exchange than was the case in a conventional university setting. CSDI stood outside the university setting as one think tank amidst a grouping number, including several conservative bodies that had taken root in the 1950s, bankrolled by the likes of J. Howard Pew or J. Olin. But, with Hutchins's death in 1977, the Center had lost its animating leader; the philanthropic fund-turned-think tank experiment was absorbed as a conventional academic center by the University of California at Santa Barbara campus (Dzuback 1991; Kelly 1981; Ward 2001).

That the Fund for the Republic was only short-lived and was dwarfed in endowment by better known philanthropies does not detract from its importance to our understanding of the 1950s. Its history enriches our understanding of the variety of philanthropic enterprises that have worked on behalf of the public good and played a role in challenging affronts to intellectual freedom and civil liberties during this crucial period.

Andrea Walton

Indiana University Bloomington


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Title Annotation:Ford Foundation
Author:Walton, Andrea
Publication:American Educational History Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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