Moments in Time: 1920 – 1929



  • The Foundation endows a second and third school of public health in the US at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, and launches an ambitious plan to circle the globe with schools. Spending more than $25 million over the next two decades, the Foundation helps establish schools in Prague, Warsaw, London, Toronto, Copenhagen, Budapest, Oslo, Belgrade, Zagreb, Madrid, Cluj (Romania),Ankara, Sofia, Rome, Tokyo, Athens, Bucharest, Stockholm, Calcutta, Manila and São Paulo. The total contribution to schools of public health amounts to $357 million in current dollars.


  • A major nurse education and training program begins with a five-year, $5 million pledge to Yale University for experimentation and demonstration.
  • Frederick T. Gates, credited with urging John D. Rockefeller Sr. to launch the Foundation says to his fellow trustees in his last meeting as member of the Board, “When you die and come to approach the judgment of Almighty God, what do you think He will demand of you? Do you for an instant presume to believe that He will inquire into your petty failures or your trivial virtues? No! He will ask just one question: ‘What did you do as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation?’ ”


  • Foundation Secretary Edwin R. Embree suggests a new arena for the Foundation. “Some emphasis upon the arts and humanities might be a good balance for the other features of our program which so exclusively concern science and health. What is the good to keep people alive and healthy if their lives are not touched increasingly with something of beauty?”


  • The Foundation’s hookworm campaign in Thailand commissions a “health boat” (above) to navigate rivers and klongs as a floating dispensary. The boat is also pressed into service during a 1926 cholera epidemic, with its staff administering 48,257 anticholera inoculations.
  • The Foundation funds a project by John Grierson to study the influence of films on public opinion. An expert on the impact of the mass media on society and later a film director, Grierson becomes famous for coining the term “documentary” for non fiction films.


  • John D. Rockefeller, Sr., makes additional gifts to RF, bringing the total of all gifts he made to RF to $182,851,480.90—equal to $2.8 billion in current dollars.


  • The Foundation formally embarks on programs in the social sciences, with the consolidation of the activities of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial into the Foundation. Directed by Beardsley Ruml, the memorial concentrated on increasing manpower and developing facilities for research “in a systematic investigation of concrete social problems.” A year later, the Foundation identifies three major social science fields for support: international relations, economic stabilization and public administration. Grants are for research, conferences and publications.
  • In a general reorganization, the work of the Foundation is consolidated into five divisions: international health, medical sciences, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.



  • Archaeologists working on excavation of the ancient Athenian Agora (above) receive support through grants to the American School of Classical Studies, Athens. Other early Foundation efforts in the humanities include support to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago to train archaeologists and Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum to train curators and art historians, and to build library collections abroad.
  • Agreement between the Foundation and the General Education Board paves the way for the Foundation to “accept responsibility for the support of the natural sciences.”
  • Max Mason becomes President of the Foundation and serves until 1936.