The Early Years: The American Foundation (part two of a 8-part series)

This eight-week blog series will delve deeper into the history of Bok Tower Gardens and provide a rich historical accounting of the early days. The source document is from a collection of statements entitled “Its Origin, Meaning, and Purpose” created by The American Foundation, Inc. You can read the first installment at Blog Tower Gardens.

This second section outlines the Foundation’s contribution to medicine, community betterment, and education. Edward Bok and the American Foundation were instrumental in the fabric of our great nation and left a living legacy for generations changing the way Americans feel about these important topics.

The Board of the Foundation then decided to shift its emphasis from international to domestic issues and its program theme became “how far can government serve the citizens within the limit of the parliamentary system – if these are limits?” A series of initiatives were anticipated which would examine many areas of governmental activity – public education, public health, medicine, tariff, taxation, and penology.

The first field chosen was medicine and public health because of wide-scale interest in and uninformed discussion about “state medicine.” A panel of outstanding physicians and scholars studied this matter comprehensively. Hearings were held all over the country and in 1937; the Foundation published two volumes entitled AMERICAN MEDICINE: EXPERT TESTIMONY OUT OF COURT. These volumes summarized the medical profession’s own view on the subject.

The Foundation then launched into a study of what constitutes good medical care. While doing this, the Foundation looked at the world of research as it relates to the unsolved problems of clinical medicine. Its findings were published in two volumes entitled MEDICAL RESEARCH, A MID-CENTURY SURVEY. These medical activities, like the world peace efforts outlined earlier, were under the staff leadership of Esther Lape but operated under a project board of very prominent people who were movers and shakers. The medical board included Eleanor Roosevelt, who became Lape’s dear lifetime friend. Many people see these studies to have had a pivotal influence on the establishment of Medicare.

The medical studies were terminated in 1956 with the retirement of Esther Lape and the retirement or termination of other employees.

For Doing Good
For many years the Foundation continued to fund two awards which had been created years earlier by Edward Bok. The first of these was the “Citizens Award.” Each year as many as four cash awards were given to public safety personnel who had provided remarkable service to the people of Philadelphia. The Foundation also sponsored and funded the prestigious $15,000 Philadelphia Award given with much pomp and circumstance to a citizen, often little known, who had made a great contribution to the city. Allston Jenkins, later a member of the Foundation, was a Philadelphia Award Laureate for his work on conservation. Samuel Yellin was also awarded the honor in 1925.

Though improving education was a lifelong interest of Edward Bok, the Foundation never operated a program that was specifically “education” per se. Through its Peace initiative cited above, it influenced the way International Law was taught in universities and law schools. For several years, the Foundation continued to fund a program initiated by Bok at the Harvard Business School that gave annual prizes for upgrading the quality of advertisements. The Foundation established the Woodrow Wilson Chair in Government at Williams College, endowed a Chair in Literature at Princeton University; contributed generously to the endowment fund at Swarthmore College; helped to establish and fund the Benjamin Franklin Magazine Award at the University of Illinois; and contributed to the Bryn Mawr College’s program in corrections. And the Foundation funded for years, the Bok founded the Philadelphia Forum which brought to Philadelphia a well-rounded program of educational and cultural interest.