Abstract: Julius Rosenwald: Retail Merchant and Wholesale Philanthropist

Stephanie Deutsch


Julius Rosenwald's name is today no longer widely recognized, but during his lifetime he was revered as the successful president of Sears, Roebuck, one of the country's largest and most successful commercial enterprises, and as a philanthropist of unusual vision and generosity. After a wise investment in a small, unknown mail order company netted him a fortune, Rosenwald gave serious consideration to how best to use that wealth to benefit his community. He began with organizations that assisted his fellow Jews but quickly moved beyond that to a wider sense of community and a commitment to help African Americans. In 1911 Rosenwald met black educator Booker T. Washington and found in him an able and congenial colleague. Together, they created a plan to assist small rural communities in the South in building schoolhouses for the drastically underserved African American children there. The five thousand schools, teachers' homes, libraries, and shop buildings in fifteen states that resulted were financed as well by state public school systems. The conscientious attention to detail and the ability to trust colleagues that had served Rosenwald so well as a business owner combined with his commitment to civic engagement and his sense of identification with a despised minority to make him an unusually successful philanthropist.