History of Charitable Endowment Giving

Boston College

The history of charitable endowment giving dates back to the Roman Empire when Marcus Aurelius endowed four teachers in Athens to head up schools of philosophy. Aurelius believed that man should be led by his reason. This practice would lead to the appointment of similar schools within the empire, following the emperor’s example.

History of Charitable Endowment Giving

Charitable endowments are money or property transfers donated to an institution typically assigned for a specific purpose. Endowments are given to museums, colleges, universities, libraries, theaters, hospitals and more. Endowments come in the form of collections such as buildings, vehicles or art and in the form of money. Endowments go beyond discretionary funds. A professorship or chair may be endowed, which means the “charitable funds” finance the position at no cost to the university, allowing critical positions to be filled by an expert.

Endowment giving has a long history, as detailed by the following timeline:

  • In 1136, Bishop Henry de Blois established the Hospital of St Cross to see to the needy.
  • In 1502, the Countess of Richmond endowed chairs at Oxford and Cambridge to teach divinity.
  • In 1546, King Henry VIII (grandson of the Countess of Richmond) would establish Regius Professorships to teach five subjects including civil law, divinity, Greek, Hebrew and physic.
  • In 1834, the Poor Law established compulsory workhouses for the needy in every large town or village.
  • In 1901, Mrs. Jane Stanford endowed her estate, valued in excess of $40 million to the Leland Stanford Jr. University.
  • In 1948,  the National Health Service was set up in the U.K. to provide health care for all based on need.
  • In 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson to nurture American creativity and culture. These endowed positions would expand with new endowments and allow students access to some of the finest minds of their time at no cost to the school. Scholars such as Isaac Newton and physicist Stephen Hawking have both served as endowed chairs.

Endowment Giving

The act of endowment giving is a common practice in the United States and Europe, particularly in areas of education, arts and medicine. Endowments can be set up as charitable funds providing financial support for designated issues, tasks and positions. The endowment is typically managed as a trust, invested so that it continues to make money to pay forward.

Endowed universities in the United States include:

  • Amherst College
    Columbia University
  • Boston College
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • John Hopkins University
  • New York University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Southern California
  • Wellesley College
  • Yale University

National Endowment of the Arts

In 1965, Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA has been awarded more than four billion dollars as an independent agency designed to support the endeavors of artists throughout the nation from authors to painters to sculptors and more. The NEA supports its endowments with partnerships throughout the United States on local, state and federal levels.

Museum Endowments

Charitable endowments to museums support freedom of access to the arts, collections and more. Most museums offer free admission to the public. Endowments allow for those museum exhibits to be curated, to be accessible and to grow.

Where Do Endowments Come From?

Endowments come from private individuals, corporations and governments. An endowment is a charitable donation that continues to give. Endowments fund professorships, department chairs, museum curators, specialists and researchers. Endowments fund archaeological expeditions, in the field research studies, charter schools and more. The history of charitable endowment giving has encouraged the development of liberal arts, education, medicine and more for centuries.

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History of Charitable Endowment Giving