Ohio History Journal

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John D. Rockefeller's Philanthropy and

Problems in Fundraising at Cleveland's

Floating Bethel Mission and the Home for

Aged Colored People




In discussing attempts to organize charity and philanthropy in the late nine-

teenth and early twentieth centuries, historians have devoted much attention to

the institutions being organized-to the charity organization societies, to phi-

lanthropic clearing houses, or to the new foundations created by such wealthy,

public-spirited citizens as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Mrs.

Russell Sage-but have given little concern to the impact such organizing

campaigns had on contemporary charity work and existing social welfare in-

stitutions. Two institutions in Cleveland which were affected by local efforts

to organize philanthropy were the Floating Bethel Mission and the Home for

Aged Colored People. In the cases of both of these institutions, records lo-

cated in the Rockefeller Family Archives at the Rockefeller Archive Center in

Sleepy Hollow, New York, provide valuable information about how these in-

stitutions fared around the turn of the century. This material suggests some

of the problems associated with fundraising at a time when donors were care-

ful to give only to worthy projects, and when organizations were being estab-

lished to tell potential donors which projects were, and which were not, meri-


As the wealthiest Clevelander with a widely known reputation for giving,

John D. Rockefeller was a clear target for organizations and individuals seek-

ing financial support for a wide array of projects. From the time of his first

employment in a Cleveland mercantile house in 1855, Rockefeller had been

making donations to needy individuals and worthy charitable projects, giving

largely through his church.1 As his income grew with his success in the oil

business, so too did the flow of his charitable giving and his reputation as a

philanthropist.  It was not unusual for Clevelanders to look to the



Kenneth W. Rose has been the Assistant to the Director of the Rockefeller Archive Center in

Sleepy Hollow, New York, since July 1987. He earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from Case

Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he also served as a senior editorial assistant

for the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (1987).


1. Rockefeller's first personal ledger, "Ledger A," now preserved in the John D.

Rockefeller Papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center, records his earliest charitable gifts.