The Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellowships
Article from the Rockefeller Archive Center Newsletter (1995)
The Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellowships
by Susan Riviezzo, Project Archivist
The Rockefeller Archive Center acquired a major portion of the Commonwealth Fund archives in 1986. This initial deposit included fifty-five cubic feet of administrative records and fellowship files from the Fund's Harkness Fellowship offices inNew York and London. These files comprise Series 20 of the Commonwealth Fund archives. Subsequent transfers of records, primarily fellowship files, added another seventy cubic feet of documents. Processing of the individual fellowship files (Series 20.2) has been completed, and they are open to researchers. The files are arranged alphabetically by fellow and total 104 cubic feet. Although the administrative files will be processed at a later date, they can be made available for research when the Center is given advance notice of a researcher's interest.
The Harkness Fellowship program followed the philanthropic aims of Edward S. Harkness, his mother Anna M. Harkness, and his wife Mary. When the Commonwealth Fund was established in 1918 in New York, its mandate was simply "to do something for the welfare of mankind." Edward Harkness' fondness for the British people and his desire to promote closer relationships between the U.S. and Great Britain stemmed from his personal love of England's traditions, particularly the treasures of the independent colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.
The fellowship program began in 1925 with twenty fellowships for British graduate students to study in the United States. According to the Fund's annual report for that year, the program stemmed from the trustees' belief that "International understanding can be provided in no more practicable way than through the provision of International opportunities for education and travel to young men and women of outstanding character and ability." By helping potential British leaders become "familiar . . . with the institutions, customs, and ways of thinking" in the U.S., the program would create "a force for mutual understanding and good feeling" which would in turn promote "unity of thought and purpose on the part of the two great English speaking nations of the world."
Over the years, a number of changes in the original guidelines of the program broadened the scope of the fellowships. In 1929, the program also provided civil service fellowships to British subjects holding posts in various overseas departments of the British government. This broadened eligibility to include candidates from government service in Australia and New Zealand.
Eligibility was expanded again in 1959 to include non-civil servants in New Zealand and Australia, and eventually in 1960, applicants from Italy, France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway were also considered.
The records of the Harkness Fellowships reflect the close personal relationship the Fund Instituted with over 1,800 fellows. A typical file in Series 20.2 contains a fellow's application, his curriculum vitae and letters of recommendation, his fellowship
report, and photographs. It was not unusual for fellows and officials at the Commonwealth Fund to maintain correspondence for more than twenty years, and files often contain family photographs, professional writings, and newspaper clippings from
fellows who succeeded in a wide variety of fields. Such files clearly demonstrate that close and personal relationships were maintained by the Fund and the Harkness fellows.
The program guidelines required that every fellow spend a significant portion of the fellowship in travel, an "obligation" highly prized by the fellows. Their travel experiences were an important educational factor and lasting benefit, and were often praised in the reports the fellows were required to submit after their return home.
These fellowship reports, written from the viewpoint of a foreigner, provide tremendous insight into American culture. Indeed, one Harkness fellow based a career on such insights. "It changed my life," Alistair Cooke wrote of his fellowship in literature shortly after completing it in 1932. Cooke's fellowship file consists of reports and correspondence (1932-1989) that document his stay in the U.S. and his eventual rise to fame with the British Broadcasting Company.
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