An encouraging look at the past

Image courtesy of Drew Patrick Mille at

Image courtesy of Drew Patrick Mille at


A good look into the past can be the best way to recognize what was the beginning of philanthropy in Chicago, why it has been linked to the development of the city and Yosef Meystel recognizes that the best way to build a better future is learning from the past. And it’s for sure, philanthropy in Chicago has left an enormous and lasting legacy in the city.

The history of philanthropy in Chicago has enabled the establishment of many educational and cultural institutions that have earned recognition around the country, even around the world. Those institutions has supported the development of a network of charities that have improved the health and social welfare of metropolitan area residents in the city.

Chicago’s early philanthropic leaders were industrialists, merchants, and financiers who helped build the city, especially after the Civil War, but private foundations have not been the only philanthropic institutions that have challenged the earlier tradition of direct philanthropy by wealthy donors.

One of the engines that moved the growth of philanthropy in the city of Chicago was the sense of belonging, the pride of being citizens, the motivation to provide better living conditions. Civic pride for the growing new city was certainly a key inspiration.

Those who were the first philanthropists in the city never felt afraid to use their own assets to make charitable donations and project their own personal ideals to the community. From the beginning donors also tried to inculcate the culture of classes workers by offering edifying pastimes that were considered morally and culturally stimulating.

The early philanthropic emphasis was on building major cultural and educational institutions, whose work has left a huge legacy in the development of Chicago, these contributions are still evident.

Back then donations came mostly from large companies, the donations received were the impetus for institutions like:


Image courtesy of Skitterphoto at

Image courtesy of Skitterphoto at


Another part of the donation was aimed at strengthening educational institutions of the city, some of these were:

  • The Northwestern University: It was founded in 1851 by John Evans and eight businessmen from Chicago, and put that name because at that time he was in the Northwest Territory of the United States, which Illinois was part.
  • The University of Chicago: It was founded by American Baptist Education Society thanks to a donation from oil tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller , and was incorporated in 1890.
  • The Armour Institute of Technology: It was founded in 1893 with a donation of one million dollars Mr. Armour with the idea of serving as a vehicle of education for the population of scarce economic resources of the area south of Chicago.

On the other hand, philanthropic donations in Chicago were aimed to improve the quality of life of citizens, then early philanthropy also focused on the enduring problems of poverty, health, and child welfare. It was how were created and on the other hand supported spaces for the development of social work such as:

  • Hull House: With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally.
  • The Chicago Relief and Aid Society: Was a philanthropic charitable organization formed in Chicago in 1851. It also was one of several charitable organizations created in Chicago in the latter part of the 19th century to provide aid and support to people and families living in poverty.
  • Hospitals: The history of Chicago’s hospitals begins with an almshouse established by Cook County as part of its responsibility to provide care for indigent or homeless county residents, and for sick or needy travelers.
  • Relief asylums: That also attracted charitable aid from all quarters, as donors expanded their focus to include the city’s most pressing problems.

The settlement houses were important reform institutions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of those places with large buildings in crowded immigrant neighborhoods of industrial cities, where settlement workers provided services for neighbors and sought to remedy poverty. Unrelated middle-class women and men lived cooperatively, as “settlers” or “residents” who hoped to share knowledge and culture with their low-paid, poorly educated neighbors.

Charitable activities continue in Chicago and now have even more participation. This great city has become one of the best venues to contribute, and help build a better present for many people. Increasingly open spaces and this legacy has allowed the country to be a place to make many dreams come true.

To know why Chicago is the right city to do the right thing, read this article.


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