The Rockefeller Archive Center
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—John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
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ROCKEFELLER FAMILY ARCHIVES, 1819-(1879-1961)-2000

John D. Rockefeller's Charity Index Cards

John D. Rockefeller was a meticulous bookkeeper who kept careful track of the money he spent, invested, loaned, and was owed. His numerous ledgers and account books and the voluminous correspondence generated on his behalf - bound chronologically and alphabetically indexed in 394 letterbooks between the years 1877 and 1918 - amply illustrate his practice of careful record-keeping.

Rockefeller also kept careful track of the money that he gave away to friends, relatives, strangers, churches, and other charitable purposes. One aspect of his record-keeping with respect to his charity was his system of noting his gifts on index cards, arranged alphabetically by beneficiary. The alphabetical list presented here represents a summary of these charities index cards, which are now preserved in nine boxes in the Rockefeller Family Archives, Record Group 1, John D. Rockefeller Papers, Financial Materials series, Charities Index Cards.

Rockefeller apparently began to keep this alphabetical index of his charitable gifts sometime in the early or mid 1880s, but he went back through his ledgers to add select earlier gifts from as far back as 1863. At the top of each card, Rockefeller listed the name of the individual or organization for which the gift was intended; below it he recorded the date and amount of each gift, along with the name of the individual to whom it was sent. Occasionally his list of gifts to a particular beneficiary would fill the card and he would begin a second card; gifts to several of Rockefeller's beneficiaries required more than two cards. These cards generally span the period from about 1863 through 1903. The entries for the 1860s and 1870s seem incomplete and less precise than those beginning in the 1880s. This suggests that these entries were added at a later date from a review of the "Donations" pages in Rockefeller's ledgers. Rockefeller's gifts after 1903 were recorded on another set of index cards, but these have not been included in this list.

Rockefeller contributed money to both institutions and to individuals, and he aided a wide variety of causes. He provided support to about 220 churches and missionary organizations of his own denomination as well as to about 80 institutions of other denominations; to more than 160 social welfare and moral reform organizations and institutions; and to more than 100 schools and universities. His financial gifts also aided emergency relief efforts in the wake of disasters; the work of cultural institutions and artistic organizations; efforts to conserve the environment; the work of museums, libraries, lyceums, science societies, exploratory scientific expeditions, and other efforts toward the promotion of knowledge; civic causes and the promotion of particular public policies and political candidates. Rockefeller also contributed to hospitals and dispensaries for medical and health care; to police and fire units to promote public safety, as well as to military organizations and veterans groups; campaigns to fund statues, portraits, memorial funds, and other tributes to noteworthy people; to fairs and entertainment; as well as other miscellaneous causes.


CategoryNumber of Beneficiaries% of Category% of Total
Churches & Missionary Organizations35743.75 23.89
Social Welfare & Moral Reform Organizations16520.2211.04
Schools & Universities10312.626.89
Medical & Health Care394.782.61
Promotion of Knowledge (museums, libraries, lyceums, science societies, expeditions, etc.)232.811.54
Culture and the Arts202.451.34
Memorials (Statues, portraits, memorial funds, etc.)202.451.34
Civic Life, Public Policy & Politics182.201.20
Emergency Relief161.961.07
Public Safety, Military Organizations & Veterans Groups131.590.87
Fairs & Entertainments80.980.54
No purpose indicated47069.3231.46
Ministers & Missionaries12418.298.30
Charitable purpose243.541.61
Educational purpose192.801.27
Social Welfare & Moral Reform- Related purpose 182.651.20
Laypersons for Religious purpose142.060.94
Musical purpose91.330.60

Rockefeller also made gifts to individuals for various purposes. Often these gifts were for the education of the recipient or that of someone else. At other times these gifts were for musical purposes; in support of particular churches or religious institutions; and for social welfare and moral reform-related purposes. He also made personal gifts to more than 120 individual ministers and missionaries.

The two documents presented here offer an overview and summary of Rockefeller's charitable giving during the last quarter of the 19th century. "A Subject Guide to John D. Rockefeller's Charities Index Cards" lists only the names of the institutions and individuals who received gifts from Rockefeller, and is designed to serve as a guide to entries listed alphabetically in the "Summary of John D. Rockefeller's Charities Index Cards, ca. 1863-1903," which includes more information drawn from the cards themselves.

The "Summary of John D. Rockefeller's Charities Index Cards, ca. 1863-1903" reproduces much of the information contained in Rockefeller's charities index system. It lists the name of each institution and person for whom there is a card; next to this name is a date or a range of dates that represents the first and last year for which there are entries on the card. We also have included the total amount of financial gifts noted on the card(s) for this institution or individual: these are taken from the mathematical calculations noted on the cards. Any other notation at the top of the card also is indicated on this first line, including cross references noted by Rockefeller or his staff. To facilitate the use of this list, we have added additional cross references where appropriate.

Below the name of the beneficiary we have listed in alphabetical order the names of any people listed in the entries for specific gifts; these are the people to whom Rockefeller sent or gave the money, and in many cases they are officers of the beneficiary organizations, volunteer fund raisers who contacted Rockefeller about a donation, or the relatives and friends of a needy individual. For many cards for individual gift recipients, no name appears next to the date and amount of the gift; presumably these gifts went directly to the beneficiary.

We have tried to be as accurate as possible in compiling this list, but often the small and imprecise handwriting on the cards made the names difficult to read. For doubtful entries we used other resources in the collections for clues to the precise name, but there may be a few inaccurate renderings of individual or place names. This list does not include either the dates or amounts of specific gifts. For this information, readers should consult the original cards.

This list will be especially useful to researchers seeking information about particular late-19th and early-20th century organizations and institutions. Many people wrote to Rockefeller requesting gifts for specific purposes, but since incoming letters to Rockefeller are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, researchers sometimes have found it difficult to locate correspondence about particular institutions without knowing the names of all likely solicitors. By bringing together organizations and the correspondents who successfully solicited gifts from Rockefeller on their behalf, this list will facilitate access to Rockefeller's correspondence, especially when used in conjunction with the Index to the John D. Rockefeller Letterbooks 1877-1918 (1987).

Kyle Larsen, a volunteer at the Archive Center, conducted much of the initial work in the compilation of the database that produced these lists. Pecolia Allston-Rieder designed the database and was responsible for many of the subsequent revisions in the production of these guides. RAC Webmaster John LeGloahec helped in the preparation of these documents for online presentation. I am extremely grateful to Kyle, Pecolia and John for their assistance with this project.

Charity Index Card Subject Guide

Summary of Charities Index Cards

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