|From “The Commonwealth Legacy at 90”|
Born this day in 1837: Anna M. Richardson Harkness (1837–1926), philanthropist and one of the first women in the nation to establish a philanthropic foundation.
Anna Harkness was heir to a fortune amassed by her husband, Stephen V, Harkness, an early investor in Standard Oil. She was a generous philanthropist, giving to churches and to missions both at home and abroad. Eventually she saw the wisdom of bringing organization and focus to her philanthropic work. In 1918 she established the Commonwealth Fund with an endowment of $10 million dollars. Her son, Edward Harkness, served as its first president. The family continued to contribute to the endowment over the years, to the tune of more than $53 million.
Among the Commonwealth Fund’s missions was the advancement of healthcare. To that end it contributed to the building of hospitals and clinics (especially in rural areas) and medical schools and established a fellowship program to bring young professionals from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking countries to study in the United States. The Commonwealth Fund continues today as one of the country’s major philanthropies.
Harkness was adept at managing her wealth and grew her $50 million dollar inheritance to a fortune of $85 million. Much of that fortune she devoted to personal giving. The New York Public Library, the Musuem of Natural History, the New York Zoological Society, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are counted among her beneficiaries. She and her son Edward also donated a 22-acre parcel of land to build a new facility for Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Presbyterian Hospital.
In her will Harnkness left $36 million dollars to charity, including an additional $22 million for the Commonwealth Fund. Despite her generosity, “Anna Harnkess” was not a household name. She did not trumpet her philanthropy, but preferred anonymous giving.