Harkness circa 1912
|Born||Edward Stephen Harkness
January 22, 1874
|Died||January 29, 1940(aged 66)|
|Resting place||Woodlawn Cemetery|
|Education||St. Paul's School
Columbia Law School
|Net worth||US$155 million (1940)|
|Parent(s)||Stephen V. Harkness
Anna M. Richardson (Harkness)
|Relatives||Charles W. Harkness, brother
Lamon V. Harkness half brother
Edward Stephen Harkness (January 22, 1874 – January 29, 1940) was an American philanthropist. Given privately and through his family's Commonwealth Foundation, Harkness' gifts to private hospitals, art museums, and educational institutions in the Northeastern United States were among the largest of the early twentieth century. His principal benefactors were the Columbia University, Yale University, Harvard University, Phillips Exeter Academy, St. Paul's School, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Harkness inherited his fortune from his father, Stephen V. Harkness, whose wealth was established by an early investment in Standard Oil, and his brother, Charles W. Harkness. In 1918, he was ranked the 6th-richest person in the United States by Forbes magazine's first "Rich List", behind John D. Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, George Fisher Baker, and William Rockefeller.
Harkness was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one of four sons of Anna M. Harkness and Stephen V. Harkness, a harness-maker who invested in and was one of the five founding partners in the forerunner of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller's oil company. Stephen Harkness died when Edward was fourteen, leaving his wife and oldest son, Charles, to manage the estate. Harkness attended St. Paul's School and Yale College, Class of 1897 and Columbia Law School. Harkness, his brother Charles, and cousin William were members of Wolf's Head Society at Yale.
After graduating, Edward Harkness married Mary Stillman, daughter of wealthy New York attorney Thomas E. Stillman, in 1904. Mary's maternal grandfather was George Greenman, a shipbuilder in Mystic, Connecticut, who founded George Greenman & Co. Harkness' mother gave the couple an new Italian Renaissance mansion on the Upper East Side as a wedding present. As the building's architect, Harkness chose his classmate James Gamble Rogers, who would later design many of his philanthropic building projects. The home, at 75th Street and 5th Avenue and now known as the Edward S. Harkness House, became the headquarters of Harkness' Commonwealth Fund after Mary's death.
Harkness briefly served as a railroad director for the Southern Pacific Railroad, but within several years decided to become a full-time philanthropist. He began making gifts to the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1912, and that same year was appointed to the museum's Board of Trustees.
Harkness' older brother Charles died in 1916 at age 55, leaving Edward more than US$80 million, much of it in Standard Oil stock. Charles had continued to invest substantiall in Standard Oil as manager of the family fortune, and his brother's estate made Harkness the third-largest stakeholder in Standard Oil.
Harkness made charitable gifts totaling more than $129 million, the equivalent of $2 billion in 2005 dollars. His philanthropic peers John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie gave respectively $550 million and $350 million.
Harkness and his mother, Anna, gave substantial sums to several important non-profit enterprises. They refashioned Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Anna Harkness gave funds for the hospital's Harkness Pavilion in memory of her husband. Harkness was a major benefactor of the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harkness In addition to donations to the Decorative Arts Department, the Museum's initial Ancient Egyptian art collection was a gift from Harkness. He bought the complete Tomb of Perneb for the Met and helped purchase the Carnarvon Collection of Egyptian artifacts. He also donated the Met's unofficial mascot, a blue decorative hippo from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom 12, is known as "William".
In 1917, a year after Charles' death Anna Harkness donated $3 million to Yale University to build the Memorial Quadrangle student dormitory in Charles' memory. In 1918, Anna Harkness established the Commonwealth Fund with an initial gift of $10 million, and Harkness was made its president.
Harkness and his wife made many contributions to educational buildings, including St Salvator's Hall at the University of St. Andrews; Harkness Chapel and Harkness Dormitory at Connecticut College; Butler Library at Columbia University as well as the original portions of the Columbia University Medical Center and the undergraduate dormitories at Brown University and Connecticut College - all of these were built through his philanthropy or that of his wife, Mary.
Between 1926 and 1930, Harkness made major donations to Yale and Harvard to establish residential college systems at each school. Harkness admired the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge in England and proposed to Yale President James Rowland Angell that he would fund a smiliar system for Yale's undergraduate college to relieve overcrowding and improve social intimacy. When the Yale Corporation failed to accept Harkness' offer by 1928, Harkness went to Harvard with a smiliar offer. Harvard's president, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, quickly acceded, and eight houses for Harvard College were completed by 1931 with a $10 million gift from Harkness. Dismayed, Yale administrators appealed to Harkness to reconsider his offer, and in 1930 he agreed to give Yale $11 million for nine residential colleges of its own. Harkness persuaded Yale to retain his friend James Gamble Rogers as the colleges' architect. He also made the gifts that established the Yale School of Drama and erected its theatre.
Around the same time as his Yale-Harvard philanthropy, Harkness' sought to reform the pedagogical techniques of the country's elite boarding schools. At Phillips Exeter Academy, he sought to innovate beyond rote learning by introducing the Harkness table method of instruction. Through further gifts, the method spread to St. Paul’s, The Lawrenceville School, and Kingswood-Oxford School. Harkness also made gifts to Taft School, Hill School and Phillips Academy.
He established the Harkness Fellowships and founded the Pilgrim Trust in the UK in 1930 with an endowment of just over two million pounds, "prompted by his admiration for what Great Britain had done in the 1914-18 war and, by his ties of affection for the land from which he drew his descent." The current priorities of the trust are preservation, places of worship, and social welfare.
Edward and Mary Harkness had a number of homes in addition to Harkness House in New York. They spent summers at their Eolia mansion on Long Island Sound in Waterford, Connecticut, near where Mary had visited her grandparents in the summers. The home and 230 acres (93 ha) of gardens and grounds are now maintained by Connecticut as Harkness Memorial State Park. They also owned another house on Long Island in Manhasset, New York on 186 acres called Weekend, designed by architect James Gamble Rogers, plus houses in North Carolina and California, and a camp in the Adirondacks. They also spent time at the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia and Yeamans Hall outside of Charleston, SC - another James Gamble Rogers golf and winter community.
In popular culture
In the popular culture, Harkness, along with another wealthy neighbor, Edward Crowninshield Hammond, were the inspiration for Eugene O'Neill's off-stage character "Harker", the "Standard Oil millionaire", in Long Day's Journey into Night, and on-stage figure "T. Stedman Harder" in A Moon for the Misbegotten.
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- The Pilgrim Trust website
- 'Edward S. Harkness, 1874-1940', Richard F. Niebling, Phillips Exeter Bulletin, Fall 1982 (PDF)
- The Commonwealth Fund website
- The Edward S. Harkness eye institute at Columbia