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Duquesne Speaker Says America’s Most Trusted Foundations Led Fight for Eugenics


The Rockefeller, Russel Sage, and Carnegie Foundations were some of the biggest supporters of the eugenics movement and they need to apologize for the repercussions of their advocacy, according to William Schambra.

Schambra, the director of the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renwal, spoke at Duquesne University’s third annual Pascal Day Wednesday night with a focus on large philanthropic orginizations’ past support for the eugenics movement.

Schambra said foundations today lack humility, often touting how much they spend on state of the art research into solving social issues.

“Any employee of a philanthropic organization can immediately tick off a well-thumbed list of major accomplishments of American foundations,” said Schambra, “all of which follow this pattern of bold experimentation leading to government adoption.”

He said, while foundations share their achievements with the world, they sweep their involvement in the eugenics movement under the rug.

Schambra said philanthropic organizations were lead to eugenics by their want to solve the root problems of society, rather than merely managing symptoms as charities did.

This, he believes, led to foundations funding eugenics research.  He pointed to the Rockefeller Foundation involving itself with research institutes in Germany working to develop Nazi programs of sterilizations and euthanasia and the Russel Sage Foundation hiring a director who “was an avid proponent of mandatorily sequestering the feeble minded.”   

Schambra said, if eugenics wasn’t looked at with disgust by modern society, most foundations would be highlighting the movement as one of their greatest successes.

“A major Supreme Court decision, 27 states with sterilization statutes, 63,000 individuals legally sterilized, untold millions of potential immigrants who never steamed past the Statue of Liberty,” said Schambra. “All of these would be measurable outcomes sufficient to satisfy the most demanding foundation program evaluator.”

He said foundations now need to own up to what they did. Citing that, beginning in 2002 with Virginia, states that adopted eugenics based policies have begun to formally apologize.

 “The time for excuses is over. Philanthropy, for all its excellent intentions, does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.”  

Schambra’s work hasn’t been widely accepted by the philanthropic community. His speech titled “Philanthropy’s War on Community,” which made points similar to last night’s talk, was condoned by The Council on Foundations’.

Vikki Spruill, the council’s president, wrote that Schambra “grossly mischaracterizes the role of philanthropy and the impact it generates in countless communities around the globe. Schambra singles out a shameful piece of global scientific history—eugenics—to assert that philanthropy pays little if any attention to the voices and needs of communities. In doing so, he unnecessarily undermines the strategic insight, commitment, passion, and impact that exemplify the growth and evolution of organized philanthropy during the past 100 years.”

Schambra still contends that foundations’ focus on solving the large problems society faces, instead of helping those in need in their communities, is still a problem and led to their accepting eugenics.