Abstract: Rockefeller Philanthropy and the Development of the Social Sciences, 1913-1933

David L. Seim


During the 1910s and 1920s, John D. Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., together established two philanthropies designed to provide extensive support for research in the social sciences. These two organizations were the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM). I introduce a series of methods employed at the RF and LSRM to protect against any accusations that Rockefeller philanthropy was not broadly altruistic as an act of corporate social responsibility. I study new methods for requesting project proposals and for deciding on grant awards. I do so over the years 1913 to 1933, as I consider financial support provided to individual researchers, academic departments, special research centers, and national organizations responsible for receiving their own grant applications and making their own grant awards. I offer and explore a conclusion that the Rockefellers had in mind a view of a modern, industrialized economy as part of a check-and-balances system in the form of a business-government-society model. They intended their philanthropic contributions to social science to result in genuinely detached, unbiased, objectively attained knowledge capable of translation into policy.