In the 1910s, Big Philanthropy came into existence.
The Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913. In the 1920s, the Rockefeller Foundation threw its largesse behind the recently founded Social Science Research Council (SSRC), which financed the work of Franz Boas and his students like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.
“Charles Merriam, President of the American Political Science Association, first promoted the idea of a research council that would work toward “‘the closer integration of all the social sciences’ ” and develop interdisciplinary approaches for the solution of social problems.[ Beardsley Ruml, President of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), worked with Merriam and others to establish the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for this purpose in 1923.
The SSRC brought together the main social science societies active at that time in the fields of political science, economics, sociology, history, statistics, psychology, and anthropology. As noted in the Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) 1929 Annual Report, “The Social Science Research Council has, from its organization in 1923, played an important part in bringing about cooperative studies in social science. It is an advisory and administrative body of great assistance to the Rockefeller Foundation on all matters pertaining to advancement of research in this field.”
SSRC staff members did not conduct their own research; instead they assembled research planning committees consisting of prominent scholars from the member societies. In some cases, these members would develop research agendas; in others, SSRC staff members would share research themes with relevant academic departments and journals to attract additional researchers to apply for project or fellowship support. The results would be disseminated to the academic community, the public and policy makers. With this operational plan and a small staff, and with support first from LSRM and then the RF (along with other foundations such as Russell Sage and the Carnegie Corporation), SSRC rapidly became a operating arm of the foundation world similar to the role played in science by the National Research Council and in the humanities by the American Council for Learned Societies. …”
The following excerpt comes from Stanley Coben’s book Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America:
“Beardsley Ruml came closer than any of the other philanthropic leaders of the 1920s to exerting an influence on the social science and humanities analagous to Rose’s on the physical sciences. Ruml earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1917, doing research in the new mathematical field of psychological testing. As the wartime co-director of the government’s Division of Trade Tests, he attracted the attention of business as well as foundation executives. When Raymond Fosdick and Abraham Flexner of the Rockefeller Foundation sought in 1921 the ablest and most available young man to assist in implementing the foundation’s ambitious postwar plans, they made Ruml their first choice.
Ruml, then twenty-seven years of age, apparently stood on the verge of a successful business career; however, Fosdick persuaded him that the opportunities philanthropic work presented for service to mankind outweighed the smaller income he would receive. Ruml accepted the foundation’s offer.
Within two years, Ruml received a promotion to director of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial. He decided to use the large amount of money available to the foundation to support a broad plan to aid research in the social sciences.
When Ruml and his foundation checkbook arrived on the scene, the disciplines he sought to aid were suffering withdrawal pangs as wartime programs and their temporary successors concluded. Assured of his support, the recently organized and financially destitute Social Science Research Council (SSRC) called a meeting of leading scholars in each of its representative fields at Dartmouth College in the summer of 1925. Ruml paid all expenses. A series of annual conferences followed, attended by two delegates to the council already selected by each professional association, by influential scholars invited by Ruml, and by representatives from several other foundations and of federal, state, and municipal research bureaus. Conversations at these meetings produced not only financial results but also agreement on research priorities and distribution of the funds promised – largely by Ruml. Throughout the 1920s, Ruml continued to act as chief and most certain financial angel for the SSRC.
Ruml’s cooperation with leading social scientists – like Columbia University anthropologist Boas and University of Chicago political scientist Charles Merriam – made possible social science research that contradicted established ideas in socially important areas of thought. Largely through projects proposed by Boas, the huge literature aimed at proving the inherent inferiority of blacks and of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe was discredited. SSRC funds supported a spread of American social science research to the South Pacific, Africa, Mexico, and to comparative studies of American Indian cultures. These studies tended to demonstrate that the technologically primitive cultures were in many ways superior to conventional American middle-class culture. Studies of urban immigrant and migrant groups sponsored by the SSRC emphasized the disruptive force of the dominant American culture.”
As we shall see, the Frankfurt School was brought to America and financed by the same people in the 1930s. They joined Franz Boas at Columbia University in New York City.
“If you asked any anthropologist to nominate off the top of his head some of the molding personalities or crucial moments for the field of anthropology in the 1920s and 1930s, you would be certain to receive a variety of answers. Some might offer an image of the venerable Franz Boas training Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and numerous other budding anthropologists from his department at Columbia University. …
Of all the different potential answers you might solicit, however, you would not receive a single nomination for the work of Edmund E. Day, Beardsley Ruml, or Sydnor Walker. This is quite understandable, as none of the anthropologists you interview are likely to have ever heard any of these names before. None of these people conducted a single day of fieldwork, taught a single anthropologist, or wrote a single anthropological treatise. Yet is was the efforts of Day, Ruml, Walker, and the other members of the social science division of the Rockefeller Foundation that helped make all of the above-mentioned work of Boas, Fortune, Firth, Radcliffe-Brown and Hooton possible. For a brief period during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Rockefeller philanthropies flirted with, and ultimately abandoned, the field of anthropology. During those crucial years and through their modest grants, however, they dramatically affected the course of anthropology. …
At this point one might reasonably wonder why, if the Rockefeller Foundation’s support for anthropology during the 1920s and 1930s was so brief and so tepid, should any lasting significance be ascribed to their involvement. This is a fair question. On the surface, a four percent share of the social science pie sounds like a rather negligible amount, especially when one considers that this amount included several hundred thousand dollars for projects not strictly anthropological in nature or of such dubious scientific value as a grant for a German Science Institute’s study of the “anthropological constitution of German people” and studies in race biology at the University of Hawaii. Yet even granting that Rockefeller support for anthropology was relatively minor, the field benefited out of all proportion to the sums of money involved. Indeed, were it not for the grants provided by the Rockefeller foundation, the history of the field would likely have been extraordinarily different.
Take the example of cultural anthropology. The Rockefeller Foundation supplied tens of thousands of dollars to the Columbia University and the University of Chicago anthropology departments to bolster and expand their research and training capabilities. While Columbia’s program was already well-established, Chicago’s anthropology program was still seeking the prestige of a premier institution for graduate instruction. The more than $100,000 they received helped vault them into the place of prominence they enjoyed afterward and put countless graduates into anthropological careers (Rockefeller Foundation, 1933c).”
These “studies” produced by Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, which were financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, were the intellectual basis for the triumph of “antiracism” in the social sciences in the 1920s. Later, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany during the 1930s decisively shifted the debate and “racism” was condemned by the American Anthropological Association in 1938.