Moments in Time: 1913 – 1919



  • The New York State Legislature passes an act on April 24 incorporating the Rockefeller Foundation. The statement of purpose reads: “To promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” New York Governor William Sulzer approves the charter on May 14.
  • With the Foundation incorporated, John D. Rockefeller Sr. makes gifts to the Foundation totaling $35 million, followed a year later by $65 million.
  • Jerome D. Greene, secretary of the Foundation and former secretary of Harvard, writes “a memorandum on principles and policies” for an early meeting of the trustees. An influential document, it establishes a rough framework for the Foundation's work. It's major points are: exclude individual charity and relief, exclude local enterprises, make sure when going into a community with a gift that the community has “its own will…and its own resources, both material and spiritual” to meet the need, avoid gifts in perpetuity, and focus on problems that “go to the root of individual or social ill-being and misery.”
  • The first meeting of the board of trustees is held May 22. John D. Rockefeller Jr., age 39, is elected president. Though a trustee, “Senior” does not attend this or any other future meeting of the Foundation's board, following a pattern he established with previous philanthropies. He explained, “I have not had the hardihood even to suggest how people, so much more experienced and wise in those things than I, should work out the details even of those plans with which I have had the honor to be associated.”
  • On December 5, the Foundation's board makes its first grant: $100,000 to the American Red Cross to purchase property for its headquarters in Washington, DC. and for “a memorial to commemorate the services of the women of the United States in caring for the sick and wounded of the Civil War.”
  • Influenced by Abraham Flexner’s landmark study, “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” the Foundation makes a grant to Johns Hopkins University to extend its model “full-time” system of basic medical education to clinical departments of medicine, surgery and pediatrics. Other specialties are added later.
  • Health becomes a Foundation priority at the first meeting of the board when Frederick Gates, longtime advisor to John D. Rockefeller, Sr., argues that “disease is the supreme ill in human life.”
  • Aware of the domestic success of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for Eradication of Hookworm Disease and desirous of expanding that work overseas, the board of trustees in June appropriates its first funds for work outside the US—$25,000 to create the International Health Commission (later called a board), which launches the Foundation into international public health. This pioneering work establishes the pattern of modern public health services.
  • The Foundation begins its 20-year support of the Bureau of Social Hygiene. Its mission: research and education on birth control, maternal health and sex education. The Foundation also helps establish the American Social Hygiene Association to direct the scientific study of biological and social factors that influence human sexual conduct.


  • The Foundation establishes the China Medical Board to develop a system of modern medicine in that country. A report on its recommendation notes, “The need is great beyond any anticipation.”
  • The Foundation begins a program of international fellowships to train scholars at the world’s leading universities at the post-doctoral level. Trustee Wickliffe Rose characterizes this fundamental commitment to the education of future leaders as “backing brains.”


  • Malaria, like hookworm, attracts Foundation interest. Foundation Secretary Greene calls malaria “probably the heaviest handicap on the welfare and economic efficiency of the human race.” Beginning with pilot projects in Arkansas and Mississippi, the Foundation establishes research centers in 25 locations in Latin America, Europe, the Near East and Asia.
  • The Foundation launches its most concentrated public health effort, aimed at yellow fever. Writes President Raymond B. Fosdick, “On no disease in the long list of human afflictions did the Rockefeller Foundation put greater emphasis or a larger proportion of time and financial support than on yellow fever.” In this 30-year effort, the Foundation sends scientists throughout Africa and Latin America to conduct research and test new approaches. Six die in the effort.


  • Peking Union Medical College, established by the Foundation (above), opens its doors in temporary quarters to pre-medical students. According to adviser Simon Flexner, it was to be “the Johns Hopkins of China.”
  • John D. Rockefeller Jr. becomes chair of the board of trustees and serves until 1940. George E. Vincent becomes president of the Foundation and serves until 1929.


  • Because the Foundation’s successful hookworm campaign reveals the urgency for trained public health leaders, the Foundation identifies public health education as one of its principal areas of interest, and builds and endows the first school of public health at Johns Hopkins University. Foundation President George E. Vincent calls it “the West Point of public health.”
  • To honor his wife, John D. Rockefeller Sr. establishes the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, with funds totaling almost $74 million
  • As World War I ends, war relief efforts are substantial. The Foundation spends more than $22 million, sending food supplies to Belgium, Poland, Serbia, Armenia and other countries, even chartering its own ships. Laments President George E. Vincent, “I suppose we had to do it, and I suppose it was worthwhile, but think of the creative job we could have done with that money in a world of reason and sanity!”
After World War I, the Foundation sends food and supplies abroad. Pictured are refugees from Salonika, Greece, in 1921.

After World War I, the Foundation sends food and supplies abroad. Pictured are refugees from Salonika, Greece, in 1921.


  • The Foundation’s work in the natural sciences begins with support to the National Research Council to establish fellowships in physics and chemistry. More than $4.5 million is expended over the next 33 years to train more than 1,000 individuals.
  • The Foundation establishes a Division of Medical Education to help “strategically placed medical schools in various parts of the world to increase their resources and to improve their teaching and research.” Grants to medical schools follow in England, France, Belgium, Brazil, Southeast Asia, Canada, the South Pacific and other areas.