Rockefeller Brothers Fund Timeline

1940s: Beginning at the Brink of War

In its first decade, the Fund’s largest combined giving was to war relief and reconstruction worldwide.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) began in 1944 as an interracial organization for the joint benefit of twenty-seven private African American colleges.

After World War II, the Cold War prompted the Fund to focus on democratic education in areas of strategic importance. Support for the Near East College Association, Inc., began in 1946 and continued into the mid-1950s.

1960s: Tradition and Tumult

Against a backdrop of political protest and social upheaval, the 1960s saw the RBF increase its endowment and make between $6 and $8 million in grants each year.

In 1961, the Fund began to address the incomplete inclusion of women in American life, particularly in higher education.

In 1961, the RBF designated $1 million for Spelman College and the Atlanta University Center, which enabled the construction of a new Fine Arts Building at Spelman and land acquisition for Clark, Morehouse, and Morris Brown colleges.

Beginning in 1961, the RBF made grants to support the African Scholarship Program of American Universities, which selected and placed African undergraduates in American universities, providing logistical help and financial support for their education.

1970s: Decade of Disquiet

Despite intergenerational conflicts, the Fund responded to the concerns of the era with programs in equal opportunity, urban problems, U.S. Southern development, the environment, and fostering the health of the private sector.

After a six-month staff study in 1972-73, the RBF adopted New York City’s public education system as an area of concern for the first time, recognizing that strong schools were crucial to attracting and retaining residents and providing future access to jobs.

Established in 1974 to preserve and make accessible the records of the Rockefeller family, its philanthropic institutions, and other organizations the family has created, the RAC has grown to become the premier research facility for the history of philanthropy.

1980s: Global Interdependence

The 1980s saw the Fund focusing on issues at home and abroad in the areas of agricultural reform, post-apartheid democracy in South Africa, and nuclear non-proliferation. In New York City, it worked on the social toll of AIDS, affordable housing, sustainable urban development, and public education.

In the 1980s, the RBF made grants to the Institute’s new educational advising program in China and to arts programs it acquired after a merger with Arts International.

1990s: Changing Geopolitics and Civil Society

The 1990s witnessed the fall of two seemingly entrenched political orders: Communist regimes in the Eastern bloc and apartheid in South Africa. These seismic geopolitical shifts both invited the Fund’s response and reaffirmed its existing involvement in both regions.

After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, the RBF began focusing on improving basic education for children and adults in South Africa as a bottom-up approach to development that would enable the people who had been most disadvantaged by apartheid to participate in transforming and building a new society.

In 1990, the Fund decided to focus on teachers as the best means for improving the U.S. educational system. It designed a program to encourage outstanding minority college students to enter graduate teacher education programs.

In 1994, the RBF made a grant to the Public Education Association to support a parent organizing and training effort in East New York, seeking to foster increased civic responsibility for school improvement in New York City.