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 Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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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

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

God Bless the Pill: Contraception and Sexuality in Tri-Faith America

February 27, 2020

"God Bless the Pill: Contraception and Sexuality in Tri-Faith America" charts the illuminating and unexpectedly complex history of the contemporary debate over abortion, contraception, and religious freedom. For the contemporary period, we think of battles over contraception as occurring between conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and secular Americans. However, these debates have a much more diverse religious history in which liberal Protestants and Jews played a prominent role. For instance, in 1958, the chairman of the New York City municipal hospital system prevented a Jewish doctor from providing a diabetic Protestant woman with the contraception she needed to prevent a life-threatening pregnancy. In response, the New York metropolitan area's Jewish and Protestant clergy launched a campaign that changed hospital policy. This two-month-long public relations battle used both arguments about religious freedom and theological and halakhic defenses of contraception. Theirs were not the first religious voices to speak publicly for contraceptive access, but they set the tone for a public alliance between Jews and Protestants against more conservative Catholic teaching on the pill and shifted much of the debate from the morality of contraception to contraceptive decisions as an arena for religious freedom.

Joan Dunlop Papers; John D. Rockefeller 3rd Papers; Population and Reproductive Sciences; Rockefeller Family

Broadcasting the Gospel of Tolerance: Media, Capitalism, and Religion in Twentieth-Century America

September 5, 2019

Most histories of religion, media, and capitalism have focused on televangelists or on conservative religious leaders who built their own broadcasting networks. But this is not the entire story. Religious insiders—frequently centrist liberals—did not need to create their own broadcasting networks because their connections with media networks and philanthropists gave them a privileged place in the American mediascape. In this report, I investigate the relationship between the Rockefeller family and religious media. I focus especially on John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his funding of Riverside Church's Harry Emerson Fosdick and his National Vespers radio program. This report demonstrates the prominence of liberal religious media during the "Golden Age" of radio, and it helps explain how religious liberals navigated the financial dilemmas of producing sustaining programs.

Mass Communications; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Radio; Rockefeller Family; Television

Heavenly Harvests: Rockefeller Philanthropy, Agricultural Missions, and the Religious Roots of Development

August 6, 2019

This report examines the relationship between Rockefeller-related organizations and American missionaries who engaged in international agricultural development work during the twentieth century. From the early 1900s forward, Christian missionaries increasingly incorporated agricultural education and improvement projects into their foreign missions programs. Their participation in transnational exchanges—of scientific and agricultural knowledge, farm equipment and livestock, and raw materials, like seeds and fertilizers—prefigured the international development programs that governments and private agencies would begin to undertake, starting in the mid-twentieth century. Materials in the collections of the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) reveal the close relationships that agricultural missionaries cultivated with philanthropies and non-profit organizations that prioritized rural development. Missionaries relied on funding from these organizations to carry out their work, and yet they also served as sources of local knowledge and expertise for those very organizations when they entered the development field themselves. Based on research conducted during the spring of 2018, this report details findings about the nature of the relationship between development-oriented philanthropies and agricultural missionaries. It draws from several RAC collections—especially those of the International Education Board (IEB), the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), the American International Association for Economic and Social Development (AIA), and the Agricultural Development Council (ADC).

Agricultural Development Council; Agriculture; Davison Fund; International Education Board; Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family; Rockefeller Foundation

John R. Mott and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: Dimensions of an Unlikely Friendship

April 17, 2019

This research report is based on research performed at the Rockefeller Archive Center during January 2019.  The report explores several dimensions to the friendship and professional relationship of Dr. John R. Mott and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  John R. Mott was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1946 and was one of the most important ecumenical and Christian mission leaders in the first half of the twentieth century.  Mott traveled the world to establish student Christian associations in many different countries, and also served in diplomatic missions for the Wilson administration.  He refused Woodrow Wilson's offer to be the U.S. ambassador to China.  Rockefeller was a financial supporter of Mott and of Mott's projects for over four decades.  Projects discussed in this paper include aid to soldiers during World War I, the funding of a large survey research project about Christian mission around the world, and support of a Russian Orthodox seminary in Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution.  Similarities with regard to theological views of Mott and Rockefeller are also briefly discussed in this report.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Papers; Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller RG 2; Rockefeller Family

Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933

January 1, 2017

In the wake of the United States Civil War, a transatlantic network of former abolitionists launched a new movement that made sex -- hitherto the jurisdiction of the family and the local community -- into an international political issue, intimately linked to imperialism, militarism, immigration, labor, temperance, and women's rights. My dissertation, "Purifying the World: Americans and International Sexual Reform, 1865-1933," examines American reformers who saw sexuality as the key international humanitarian and political issue of their day. My project tracks this reform movement from its beginning -- with the work of American abolitionists and missionaries who turned their attention to stateregulated prostitution in the British Empire after the Civil War -- to its denouement in the activities of interwar Americans who traveled the globe investigating the "traffic in women" for the League of Nations. For over a halfcentury, American reformers participated in pitched international debates about how to address sexual wrongs. As they did so, they wove together religious, medical, and legal discourses in ways that made sexual matters the provenance of international politics.

Anointed With Oil: God and Black Gold in Modern America

January 1, 2013

To read John D. Rockefeller's first cogitations on oil is to encounter a man swept up in the sacred promises of this material and its seemingly boundless potentials for the modern age. Rockefeller was present at petroleum's birth in the mid-nineteenth century and saw firsthand how this natural resource elicited religious fervor among a new generation of self-made men. Whether rough-and-tumble frontiersmen or polished business types from Philadelphia and New York, many of the aspiring men who moved to the oil region of Western Pennsylvania after the Civil War did so armed with a certainty that they were chasing something from God. It is no wonder that those who found what they were looking for often translated their success into biblical terms, and claimed that their personal enrichment by crude was part of some divine plan. He was just one voice in the multitude, but Rockefeller thus spoke for an entire generation when he announced that the vast stores of oil wealth he sought were "bountiful", "miraculous", "gifts of the great Creator" waiting to be used for "His Kingdom." Such was the providential thinking that infused his early engagements with petroleum and caused him to see the pursuit of oil as the purest Christian venture and such was the emotional power of crude that inspired even this stern Baptist to become Pentecostal-like in his propensity to see miracles all around him.

A Religious History of the American Servicemen and Servicewomen (GI's) in World War II

January 1, 2011

My project seeks to understand the religious history of American servicemen and servicewomen in World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the armed forces adopted a series of policies that sought to promote the free exercise of religion, including a dramatic expansion of the military chaplaincy and the commissioning of an unprecedented number of Roman Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis as chaplains in an attempt to make the chaplaincy representative of the religious pluralism of the United States. Religious organizations played an important role in catering to the spiritual and recreational needs of GIs, most notably through the United Service Organization (USO) founded in 1940 by the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Society, the Salvation Army, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

How Missionaries' Ideas and Experiences Impacted a Broader American Christian Community in the 20th Century

January 1, 2010

In May 2010 I visited the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) for two days to collect data for my book on the evolution of American Protestant missions in Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. I first visited the Center in 2007 while writing my dissertation, in order to look at all the materials in the Rockefeller Family Papers related to the 1931-32 Laymen's Foreign Missions Inquiry, a large-scale study of American Protestant missions in Asia that was organized and sponsored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR Jr.)

The Interchurch World Movement and the Scientific Survey of American Religious Architecture, 1919-1924

January 1, 2010

The failures and shortcomings of the Interchurch World Movement of North America (IWM) of 1919-1920 are well documented, and historians Eldon Ernst, Charles Harvey, and Albert Schenkel have done much to reevaluate its legacy and to explore John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s (JDR Jr.) guiding role in this ambitious experiment into interdenominational cooperative action. However, there is one positive and lasting contribution of the IWM which has generally escaped notice: the special architectural work conducted within the IWM's American Religious Education Survey Department (ARESD). In 1919, the ARESD devised detailed architectural standards for American Protestant churches and Sunday schools in connection with its survey activities, and these were published by the Interchurch Press in 1920 as Standards for City Church Plants. This was the first set of interdenominational church-building standards ever produced, and a unique accompanying score card permitted the survey and rating of the effectiveness of existing church facilities.

America's Sacred Duty: Near East Relief and the Armenian Crisis, 1915-1930

January 1, 2009

Throughout World War I and its aftermath, hundreds of thousands of refugees across Europe and Asia Minor were the recipients of humanitarian aid. But in the United States one ethnic group in particular, the Armenians, captured Americans' imaginations and prompted the nation to action. Americans worried that Armenians were targeted for extinction, so U.S. cultural and political elites took up this humanitarian cause in the name of their "Christian" citizenship. This was more than relief work in the name of modern goodwill -- it was a rescue mission undertaken with solemn vows of the American Christian's duty to protect the poor, starving Armenians. As one fundraising plea put it, "It's a big job and a holy one" to save the Armenians from the Turks. The battle lines were quickly drawn as a "degenerate" and Muslim civilization versus "progressive" and Christian civilization with the Armenians caught in the middle. This movement to save the Armenians did not operate at the edges of American society. As President Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to Germany and advisor claimed, it was the "sacred duty of Christian civilization to save Armenia."

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