Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports are created by recipients of research travel stipends and by many others who have conducted research at the RAC. The reports demonstrate the breadth of the RAC's archival holdings, particularly in the study of philanthropy and its effects. Read more about the history of philanthropy at resource.rockarch.org. Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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Frederick Gates and Philanthropic Timeliness

April 8, 2024

An embrace of perpetuity is often assumed to be one of the founding principles of modern American philanthropy. Yet while some of the pioneering figures in the field, such as Andrew Carnegie, explicitly and unreservedly championed the cause of perpetuity, the views of many others toward time-based considerations in philanthropy were more fluid and complex. This was certainly the case with Frederick Gates, the Baptist minister who served as John D. Rockefeller's chief philanthropic advisor, holding leadership positions in many of the Rockefeller foundations in their early, formative years. He can arguably claim to be more responsible than any other individual for crafting the animating theories that came to define 20th century American philanthropy.

Frederick T. Gates Papers; John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Papers; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation

The Institute of International Education: From Prima Donna Idealism to Parastatal Behemoth and Neoliberal Broker (1919–2003)

March 14, 2024

The Institute of International Education (IIE) administers the most prestigious awards for international education such as the Fulbright awards. IIE has dominated international education from 1919 to the present as an intermediary between states and private organizations. The Institute's combination of private administration and capital with the brand of the US government has characterized the shift from massive public spending and bold liberal internationalism in the postwar era to the neoliberalism of the late-twentieth century. In my dissertation, I argue that Americans came to rely on international students as proxies to end global conflicts, fortify the United States' geopolitical standing, advance capitalist economic development in the Global South, and keep US colleges financially afloat. The Carnegie Endowment and Rockefeller Foundation sponsored IIE to be the vanguard of international educational exchanges in the early twentieth century. After World War II, with the federal government and the Ford Foundation as new IIE partners, Carnegie and Rockefeller became wary of how this unchecked growth and IIE's administrative weakness would threaten the core missions of international liberalism. The internal documents available at the Rockefeller Archive Center from IIE, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and the Ford Foundation bely the optimism of IIE's published materials. The reports of students also depict the United States as a country aspiring to lead the postwar world but struggling with racial discrimination and a shifting national identity. 

Academic Research and Education; Commonwealth Fund; Institute of International Education; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial; Rockefeller Foundation

The Unusable Zoning Override Threat: Analyzing the State Urban Development Corporation’s Westchester Plans

February 15, 2024

This research report aims to explicate the tactics underpinning the State Urban Development Corporation's ill-fated efforts, between February 18, 1970 and 1973, to construct affordable housing in generally affluent, suburban Westchester County.  Designed to cut through federal and local municipal red tape that disincentivized private industry from entering the affordable housing field, Governor Nelson Rockefeller hoped that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) could play a pivotal role in solving the state's housing crisis.  The UDC bore the unique power to override local zoning codes. It thus became immediately controversial, inducing the corporation's first president, the (in)famous Bostonian urban planner Edward Logue, to emphasize the UDC's ability to work with local municipal officials to construct much-needed housing, often through a locally-managed subsidiary corporation.  When the UDC entered Westchester County on February 18, 1970, hoping to expand its operations to the state's suburbs, these tactics proved ineffective in the face of the county's traditionally decentralized politics, municipal and county officials' long history of support for restrictive zoning and single-family residential construction, and the weakening political position of the county's once-powerful Republican Party.  Additionally, widespread protests against state-led public works projects in the late 1960s sapped local support for Governor Rockefeller's administration just before the UDC entered the county.  Combined, these factors conspired to enable affluent, white Westchester residents and officials to stall out the UDC until they could form a coalition of state legislators to pass a bill eliminating the UDC's zoning override powers, effectively ending state-level efforts to construct affordable housing.

Cary Reich Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Rockefeller Family; Urban and Suburban; Warren T. Lindquist Papers

Prison Plastic Surgery: The Biopolitics of Appearance and Crime in New York’s Civil Rights Era

December 4, 2023

From 1920 to 1990, around 500,000 US incarcerees received free plastic surgery during their incarceration. The majority of the surgeries — which included facelifts, rhinoplasty, chin implants, blepharoplasties, breast implants, etc. — were performed for purely cosmetic reasons, under the broad banner of prisoner rehabilitation. The underlying notion was to assist marginalized individuals in assimilating into society by capitalizing on prevailing beauty biases. New York was an early prison plastic surgery pioneer, alongside other rehabilitative offerings, but these programs were not without controversy. Concerned, in 1968, Governor Nelson Rockefeller charged the Department of Crime Control Planning to investigate the long-term outcomes of various recidivism programs, a project that spanned five years and covered 231 methodologies. This research report outlines the early emphasis on prisoner beautification, and the broader shift in carceral policies from rehabilitative to punitive, based on a review of records in the Rockefeller Archive Center pertaining to correctional reform, access to healthcare, and civil rights issues. This report summarizes my preliminary findings from the archives, and adds additional context to my book, Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery In Prisons, (Prometheus Books, 2021), which explored the history of criminal reform through the lens of beauty and bias.  Using records, the majority unearthed from the Joint Commission on Correctional Manpower and Training in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records, along with records from the Bureau of Social Hygiene, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund archives, I discuss rehabilitative ideals and lookism, intermingled with political wrangling and efficacy in twentieth-century New York. My work deals with correctional healthcare and surgery, but more broadly, it is about the shift from a rehabilitative to a punitive approach to crime. As contemporary discourse returns to the importance of rehabilitation, the insights presented in this research will foster current conversations and enable us to learn from the past. 

Crime and Criminal Justice; Ford Foundation; Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records; Rockefeller Brothers Fund

The Why, the What, the How: Disney, the Population Council, and the Pre-Production of "Family Planning"

September 6, 2023

Family Planning, a short, animated film made by Walt Disney Productions in 1968, is a touchstone for historians of global population. Since Matthew Connelly's Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (2008) re-energized the field, the film has become a fixture in histories of population control; an irresistible opportunity to namecheck Donald Duck and inject some levity into otherwise sober accounts. Analysis has concentrated on salient features of the film: its construction of an ethnically generic "everyman," its consumerist message, and its coyness about contraception. It typically figures as one of the most significant products of a sustained effort to mobilize mass media in the service of international family planning.Our research mobilizes previously neglected lines of evidence, especially unpublished documents held by the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), to shed new light on hidden negotiations and contestations. In drawing from the materials at the RAC — and beyond — we aim to contribute to an increasingly concerted effort to embed questions about media and communication more centrally in histories of reproductive politics.

Film; Mass Communications; Population Council; Population and Reproductive Sciences

Pastoral Agriculture: John B. Griffing, Agricultural Missionaries, and Transnational Agricultural Development

August 9, 2023

This report examines the life and career of John B. Griffing to understand the larger transnational project of rural development in the twentieth century. Griffing had an eclectic career that took him to various parts of the United States, China, and Brazil. While Griffing's papers are scattered across multiple institutions and countries, collections from the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) were particularly useful in tracing the evolution of Griffing's ideas about rural development over time. At least two themes emerge when studying his career. The first is his views on religion and rural development. As the son of a small-town dairy farmer and grandson of a Methodist minister, Griffing found a way to blend these two influences by working as an "agricultural missionary" where he promoted agricultural improvement as a tool for spreading Christianity in China. His later work in Brazil focused less on proselytizing but he continued to champion the rural church as an effective center for agricultural change. The second theme is Griffing's emphasis on extension work and the importance of reaching rural youth through programs such as 4-H clubs. For Griffing, club work (which focused mostly on boys) was an effective way to cultivate a form of rugged masculinity, while also spreading new agricultural crops and practices to their parents. 

Agrarian and Rural; Agriculture; American International Association for Economic and Social Development; Religion; Rockefeller Family

Towards the Asian Cultural Council: Blanchette Rockefeller and Her Engagement with Asia, 1951-1986

July 20, 2023

On April 6, 1971, Blanchette Ferry Hooker Rockefeller delivered a formal talk to New York's Colony Club titled, "Amateur Collecting at Home and Abroad." Mrs. Rockefeller had visited Japan for the first time in 1951, where she spent six weeks in Tokyo with her husband, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who served as an unofficial cultural attaché to Douglas MacArthur's Japan Peace Commission. Like his mentor— former High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations, and first US Ambassador to Israel— Dr. James G. McDonald, Mr. Rockefeller spent most of his time as part of the commission interviewing political, economic, and cultural authorities to find ways of improving cultural relations between the two countries. As a result, John devised a model based on bilateral cultural exchange—a two-way street . Toward that end, he later planned and built a conference center, the International House of Japan, where scholars and public officials from Europe and the United States exchanged ideas with their Japanese counterparts. These luminaries included the likes of Arnold Toynbee and Eleanor Roosevelt. Rockefeller's  Japanese collaborator in that venture was an internationally minded journalist, Shigeharu Matsumoto. The Rockefellers and Matsumotos formed their own two-way relationship spanning the rest of their respective lives, as well as those of their children.While this study emphasizes the evolution of Blanchette Rockefeller's interest in Asia and the subsequent founding of the Asian Cultural Council, it bears understanding how such a study fits within the field of Asian cultural exchange during the twentieth century. 

Art; Asian Cultural Council; Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Rockefeller Family

America's Global Civil Religion: Making the UN Sacred in the Postwar US

June 21, 2023

The founding of the United Nations represented not only a new venue for international cooperation, but also an opportunity for re-thinking the place of America in the world. This report attends to the religious dimensions of that re-calibration, highlighting especially the role of the Rockefeller family in crafting a civil religion of the United Nations in the late 1940s. Drawing on long-standing aspects of American civic culture that placed the nation in sacred history, the religion of global community, presented to the American people in hymns, prayers, and community celebrations, was both deeply familiar and altogether new. Letters to the Rockefeller family from ordinary Americans, and the family's own administrative records, reveal both the popular appeal of this reformulated civil religion and the tremendous efforts exerted to bring it to life. In the end, it never quite became fully realized; "the flickering flame of the United Nations burn(ed) too low," in the words of Robert Bellah. But UN civil religion mattered all the same, as both a tool of Cold War nationalism and a springboard for new modes of spiritualized global consciousness.

Global; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Religion; Rockefeller Family

The 1963 Ford Foundation Program for Film Makers and the Networks of Experimental Cinema

May 12, 2023

In June 1963, the Ford Foundation's Humanities and the Arts program sent out a call for nominations for their Program for Film Makers. Nine months later, in March 1964, twelve American filmmakers received grants of 10,000 dollars "to enable a limited number of creative film makers to extend and deepen their artistic experience and productivity." The documents surrounding the creation and development of this one-time grant in support of experimental filmmaking reveal the challenges facing private foundations engaged with an evolving and diverse art form. Furthermore, they counter a representation of experimental filmmaking as individualistic and author-centered by uncovering networks of support among artists and the cultural milieu that sustained their works.

Film; Ford Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation

From Nelson Rockefeller to Eric Adams: The Evolving Politics of Crime and Punishment in New York

February 16, 2023

Despite calls for the "defunding" of the police and the reimagining of policing following the death of George Floyd in 2020, many New York politicians, in response to rising rates of violent crime, have begun to embrace "law and order."  All of this bears a great similarity to the politics of crime and punishment during the governorship of Nelson Rockefeller.  Examining several documents in the gubernatorial records of Nelson Rockefeller at the Rockefeller Archive Center, newspaper articles, and public opinion, this report documents the political response to violence and drug addiction in the 1960s and 1970s and compares it to the present, reviewing contrasting arguments of influential Black leaders and "white liberals." It concludes that the present crime context, much like the one during the Rockefeller-era, has divided the left and Black leadership while solidifying Republican commitment to "law and order." It argues that the history of the Rockefeller drug laws illustrates that these divisions and the legitimate fears of working- and middle-class minorities can produce haphazard policies that harm rather than save these communities.

African American Studies; Crime and Criminal Justice; Latino Studies; Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records

Six Roles of Philanthropy in John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s Response to the 1913-14 Colorado Coal Strike

January 20, 2023

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s understanding of labor issues prior to 1914 was shaped largely through his philanthropic and civic activities, including contributions to five liberal, Progressive-era organizations concerned with improving industrial conditions. Simply put, philanthropy provided his education.Following the tragic events in Colorado, especially the so-called Ludlow Massacre, JDR Jr. employed philanthropic giving, in combination with a variety of other strategies, to address the problems at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I), while also restoring the Rockefeller family's good name:  He used philanthropy to:Improve social and economic conditions in Colorado immediately following the strike;Involve the YMCA's industrial department as part of the company's expanded employee welfare programs;Express gratitude and demonstrate camaraderie with CF&I employees following his historic 1915 visit to Colorado;Promote the ideas of employee representation and personal relations in business; andEncourage research in the emerging fields of industrial relations and organizational behavior.    This research report highlights philanthropic aspects of JDR Jr.'s response to the strike and are based on a larger investigation that examined JDR Jr.'s efforts as milestone events in modern public relations and industrial relations as well as JDR Jr.'s emergence as a 20th century icon. Observations about his philanthropic strategy are discussed.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Papers; John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Papers; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller University

Blanchette Rockefeller, Engaged Leadership, and MoMA, 1949-1987

December 12, 2022

This essay aims to highlight Blanchette Rockefeller's leadership style, which emphasized artistic appreciation, collaborative leadership, and institution building. As both a prominent donor to the museum as well as a fixture in leadership during the mid-twentieth century, Mrs. Rockefeller's leadership style falls somewhere between what we would think of as philanthropy and management. Not coincidentally, her husband, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, was engaged with public institutions in the sphere of Asia-US cultural and social relations and pioneered a type of philanthropy denominated "venture philanthropy," which entailed an intellectual and social commitment to favored causes that complemented financial support.[i] In some sense, Blanchette's approach to leadership drew on three key areas: an intellectual emphasis, evident in her passion for promoting artistic appreciation; a social component, manifest in her use of collaborative efforts to advance the mission of MoMA; and, finally, an investment of time, which arguably, in addition to financial support, represented a scarce resource she lavished on the various programs and institutions that she was called to pioneer within MoMA.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Papers; Art; Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Papers; David Rockefeller Papers; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Rockefeller Family

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