Some observations on the history of large philanthropic foundations in Britain and the United States

  • Martin Bulmer


Large philanthropic foundations such as those which first developed in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had four characteristics: (a) the aim of contributing to the public good; (b) applying science and scientific method to human affairs, interpreting science broadly; (c) using great wealth to pursue these purposes; and (d) seeking public recognition of their charitable status in doing so. Between 1870 and 1930 the large foundation emerged as a major social institution, and under the influence of their officers began to be major patrons of applied social science for public policy purposes. Critics of foundations have charged that they were private bodies without external accountability; they were secretive, undemocratic, unrepresentative and indeed pillars of the ruling class. Nevertheless, foundations have exercised a disproportionate influence upon public policy research and have sought to apply fundamental knowledge to tackling social problems. They represent the institutionalisation of knowledge-based social engineering.


Public Policy Public Good Policy Research Social Institution Late Nineteenth 
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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Bulmer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

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