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Women and Wealth Series Part II: Women and Philanthropy

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Everybody has heard of J. D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon-turned- philanthropist who invested millions in biomedical research and essentially founded the University of Chicago. But, did you know that his wife, Laura Spelman, was the daughter of abolitionists and used the Rockefeller fortune after the Civil War to endow Spelman College, a four-year liberal arts college for African American women?

And you probably have a Carnegie Library or two near you, but did you know that it was Carnegie’s wife, Louise Whitfield, who encouraged her husband, the steel magnate, to build them?
Here’s one of my favorites: California mining magnate and United States senator George Hearst bequeathed his entire $20 million estate (approximately $550 million in today’s dollars) to his wife Phoebe Apperson Hearst when he died in 1891. By the time she died in 1919, the estate was valued at $7.5 million (the equivalent of about $112 million today). While it might sound like she squandered a fortune, consider that Phoebe Hearst donated an estimated $21 million (again, about half a billion today) to various causes, particularly those related to women, children, arts, and education. You might say that she lived the original “Giving Pledge.”

Phoebe Hearst’s story reflects many patterns that have long shaped women’s relationship with wealth. More often than not – even today – women of significant wealth inherit the money. They are interested in growing their fortunes; after all, Hearst grew her fortune by the equivalent of over $100 million through mining ventures, property development, and investments in her son’s media empire. Women also like to spend and have fun with their fortune; Phoebe traveled the world, built large homes, and collected antiques long before her famous son built his extravagant hilltop castle above California’s central coast. Above all, women – from famous elites like Phoebe Hearst to anonymous women of modest means – have focused on the impact of their wealth on their communities. Philanthropy is the oldest vehicle through which women have generated their impact.

 
Above all, women – from famous elites like Phoebe Hearst to anonymous women of modest means – have focused on the impact of their wealth on their communities. Philanthropy is the oldest vehicle through which women have generated their impact.

    

Women’s interest and influence in philanthropy is on the rise in the twenty-first century. Now, as well as in the past, women might make individual donations, but are inclined to participate in “giving circles” or pool their resources and give collectively as well. To maximize impact, women like to educate themselves about the organizations to which they give and participate actively. Personal connections and local issues guide women’s charitable activities too. Sounds familiar, right? In the past, women built playgrounds, recreational facilities and schools, orphanages, hospitals, and retirement homes. They campaigned for safer working conditions, access to education, and child labor laws.

Discouraged by social norms against pursuing profit, they practically created the nonprofit sector. And in the future? No one can predict exactly how women will decide to give back, but studies suggest they will focus on health and medicine, the environment, community, and gender-specific issues. If past is precedent, the impact of women’s philanthropy will be profound.

Next: Part III: Women and Investing








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Investment products and services are:
Not a Deposit   •   Not FDIC Insured   •   May Lose Value   •   Not Bank Guaranteed   •   Not Insured by any Federal Government Agency

 
 

Equal Housing Lender Equal Housing Lender. Credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association and subject to normal credit approval. Deposit products offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC.

U.S. Bank and its representatives do not provide tax or legal advice. Your tax and financial situation is unique. You should consult your tax and/or legal advisor for advice and information concerning your particular situation.

Wealth Sustainability services are not fiduciary in nature, and Ascent serves in a non-fiduciary role when providing these services. Wealth Sustainability services may include strategic wealth coaching services in order to facilitate your self-assessment of wealth sustainability issues. Ascent does not engage in the practice of psychology.