Who was Julius Rosenwald and what is being done to preserve the
historic Rosenwald Schools?
In 1917, Julius Rosenwald established and endowed with $20 million, the Julius Rosenwald Fund for the "well being of mankind." After Julius Rosenwald stepped down as Sears president in 1924, he devoted most of his time to philanthropy. Over the course of his life, he donated millions of dollars to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, hospitals and clinics, relief agencies, scientific research, the fine arts, social settlements and other causes.
One of Rosenwald’s legacies is his philosophy of philanthropy. He believed that philanthropic funds should be used to provide the greatest benefit to mankind, rather than glorify the benefactor.
The Rosenwald rural school building program was a major effort to improve the quality of public education for African Americans in the early twentieth-century South. His charity committed large sums of money for the construction of schools, affectionately known as "Rosenwald Schools," in poor, rural and primarily African American school districts in 15 Southern states. These schools were cooperatively built with assistance from the local African American communities. Donations of land and labor by the local community were matched by financial contributions from the Rosenwald Fund. At the program's conclusion in 1932, it had produced 4,977 new schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings, constructed at a total cost of $28,408,520 to serve 663,615 students in 883 counties of 15 states.
Some State Historic Preservation Offices in the South have initiated programs to survey the surviving Rosenwald schools in their respective states. A few surviving Rosenwald schools have been restored and are indispensable parts of their communities; they are often used as community centers or to house social service agencies. These preservation efforts are undertaken when former students team with local historic preservationists to save the schools.
In January 2002, the Southern District Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation assembled interested state officials, private citizens, representatives from the Rosenwald family and from Sears, Roebuck and Co. into a Rosenwald School Task Force to formulate a plan to raise awareness of the Rosenwald school legacy.
The first step in the plan was to get the National Trust for Historic Preservation to put all surviving Rosenwald schools on the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America list. This was accomplished in June 2002.
Another goal of the task force was to develop a web site to disseminate information about the history of the schools and as a place for the different groups and agencies to share information about projects being undertaken to identify the schools.
Visit the Rosenwald School Initiative
Alfred Q. Jarrett, Julius Rosenwald: Benefactor of Mankind. Greenville, South Carolina: Southeastern University Press, 1975.
Boris Emmet and John E. Jeuck, Catalogues and Counters: A History of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950.
Loren Sorensen, Sears, Roebuck and Co.: 100th Anniversary 1886-1986. St. Helena, California: Silverado Publishing Company, 1985.
M.R. Werner, Julius Rosenwald: The Life of a Practical Humanitarian. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1939.