The Rosenwald Fund (also known as the Rosenwald Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and the Julius Rosenwald Foundation) was established in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald and his family for "the well-being of mankind."
Julius Rosenwald, an American clothier, became part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company in 1895, and eventually served as its president from 1908 to 1922, and chairman of its Board of Directors until his death in 1932. He became interested in social issues, especially education for African Americans in the rural South. He provided funding through Dr. Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), a historically black college (HBCU), to support improving education for black children prior to founding the fund.
Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, the Rosenwald Fund was designed to expend all of its funds for philanthropic purposes before a predetermined "sunset date." It donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities, and black institutions before funds were completely depleted in 1948.
The rural school building program for African-American children was one of the largest programs administered by the Rosenwald Fund. Over $4.4 million in matching funds stimulated construction of more than 5,000 one-room schools (and larger ones), as well as shops and teachers' homes, mostly in the South. These schools, constructed to models by architects of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), became known as "Rosenwald Schools." In some communities, surviving structures have been preserved and recognized as landmarks for their historical character and social significance.
The Rosenwald Fund also made grants directly to African-American artists, writers, researchers and intellectuals between 1928 and 1948. Civil rights leader Julian Bond, whose father received a Rosenwald fellowship, has called the list of grantees a "Who's Who of black America in the 1930s and 1940s." Hundreds of grants were disbursed to artists, writers and other cultural figures, many of whom became prominent or already were, including photographer Gordon Parks Jr., Elizabeth Catlett, poet Claude McKay, Dr. Charles Drew, Augusta Savage, anthropologist and dancer Katherine Dunham, writer Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and poet Langston Hughes. Fellowships of around $1,000 to $2,000 were given out yearly to applicants and were usually designed to be open-ended; the Foundation requested but did not require grantees to report back on what they accomplished with the support.
In 1929, the Rosenwald Fund funded a syphilis treatment pilot program in five Southern states. The Rosenwald project emphasized locating people with syphilis and treating them, during a time when syphilis was widespread in poor African-American communities. The Fund ended its involvement in 1932, due to lack of matching state funds (the Fund required jurisdictions to contribute to efforts to increase collaboration on solving problems). The federally funded Tuskegee syphilis study began later that year. It was a non-therapeutic study of progress of untreated disease, and took advantage of poor participants by not informing them fully of its constraints.
- Adams, Maurianne (2000). Strangers & Neighbors: Relations Between Blacks & Jews in the United States. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-5584-9236-3.
- Schulman, Daniel (2009). A Force for Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-8101-2588-9.
- Jones, James H. (1993). Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. New York: The Free Press. pp. 52–90. ISBN 0-02-916676-4.
- Perkins, Alfred. Edwin Rogers Embree: The Julius Rosenwald Fund, Foundation Philanthropy, and American Race Relations (Indiana UP, 2011) excerpt and text search