Mrs. Russell Sage

Mrs. Russell Sage

Women's Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America
Ruth Crocker
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/01/2006
ISBN: 978-0-253-11205-7
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Description

This is the biography of a ruling-class woman who created a new identity for herself in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America. A wife who derived her social standing from her robber-baron husband, Olivia Sage managed to fashion an image of benevolence that made possible her public career. In her husband’s shadow for 37 years, she took on the Victorian mantle of active, reforming womanhood. When Russell Sage died in 1906, he left her a vast fortune. An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment, she took the money and put it to her own uses. Spending replaced volunteer work; suffrage bazaars and fundraising fêtes gave way to large donations to favorite causes. As a widow, Olivia Sage moved in public with authority. She used her wealth to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life, including her most significant philanthropy, the Russell Sage Foundation.

Author Bio

Ruth Crocker is Professor of History at Auburn University and author of Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889–1930.

Reviews

“The wife of robber-baron Russell Sage, Olivia Sage took on the mantle of reforming womanhood in New York voluntary associations. When Russell died in 1906, he left her a vast fortune. Sage, already in her 70s, used the money to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life. "Crocker has recovered the life of this remarkable woman who moved from genteel poverty to great wealth, all the while maintaining a sense of responsible benevolence. . . . This book breaks new ground. . . ." —Choice”

“"This is a model biography. Mixing empathy with historical acumen, Ruth Crocker has uncovered the life of a woman who left few personal papers and hid behind her husband's name, but managed to emerge in her old age as one of the most influential philanthropists of the 20th century. . . . Here is finally the other side of the street, the upstairs long missing from a women's history long focused on the downstairs. . . . . Most impressive is Crocker's ability to fuse big historical themes with an individual story. The best discussion yet of Emma Willard's feminism of difference." —Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. "In this age of towering figures like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, it is illuminating to examine the life of a woman who, a century ago, became one of the most noted philanthropists of her day. . . . Ruth Crocker's sensitive, richly documented, and beautifully written biography brings Sage and her times alive, reminding us that there is, indeed, value in visiting the neglected 'upstairs' of women's history." — Sonya Michel, Director, Nathan and Jeanette Miller Center for Historical Studies, University of Maryland This is the biography of a ruling-class woman who became a major American philanthropist. The wife of robber-baron Russell Sage (partner of Jay Gould) and in her husband’s shadow for 37 years, she took on the mantle of active, reforming womanhood in New York voluntary associations. When Russell Sage died in 1906 he left her a vast fortune. Already in her eighties, she took the money and put it to her own uses. An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material benefit, Sage An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment, she took the money and put it to her own uses, spending over half a billion dollars in her eighties. As a widow, Sage used the money to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life, including her most significant philanthropy, the Russell Sage Foundation. Use above copy per Bob Sloan, revised July 24, 2007 11:30 AM This is the biography of a ruling-class woman who became a major American philanthropist. The wife of robber-baron Russell Sage (partner of Jay Gould) and in her husband's shadow for 37 years, she took on the mantle of active, reforming womanhood in New York voluntary associations. When Russell Sage died in 1906 he left her a vast fortune. An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment, she took the money and put it to her own uses, spending over half a billion dollars in her eighties. As a widow, Sage used the money to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life, including her most significant philanthropy, the Russell Sage Foundation. Above revised July 24, 2007 8:52 AM by Ruth Crocker — please use above per author”

“In this age of towering figures like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, it is illuminating to examine the life of a woman who, a century ago, became one of the most noted philanthropists of her day. . . . Ruth Crocker's sensitive, richly documented, and beautifully written biography brings Sage and her times alive, reminding us that there is, indeed, value in visiting the neglected 'upstairs' of women's history.”
 — Sonya Michel, Director, Nathan and Jeanette Miller Center for Historical Studies, University of Maryland.

“Through this engaging biography of one of the most intriguing women of the Gilded Age, Mrs. Russell Sage, Ruth Crocker illuminates the critical role that female philanthropy and philanthropists played in the advancement of women in the twentieth century. Mrs. Russell Sage is a wonderful read and a major contribution to the literature on class and gender in American history.”
 — Nancy Hewitt, Professor of History and Women's Studies, Director, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers Univers

“This is a model biography. Mixing empathy with historical acumen, Ruth Crocker has uncovered the life of a woman who left few personal papers and hid behind her husband's name, but managed to emerge in her old age as one of the most influential philanthropists of the 20th century. . . . Here is finally the other side of the street, the upstairs long missing from a women's history long focused on the downstairs. . . . . Most impressive is Crocker's ability to fuse big historical themes with an individual story. The best discussion yet of Emma Willard's feminism of difference.”
 — Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

“A major accomplishment . . . Prof. Crocker has done what many of us who studied the Russell Sage Foundation thought was impossible—to find untapped manuscript sources that reveal the active and crucial role played by Olivia Sage (a.k.a. Mrs. Russell Sage) in the creation and early management of America's first social welfare philanthropic foundation. . . . This is a story of strength and intentionality, and it is exceptionally well-told. Finally, we understand who Olivia Sage, the first important American philanthropist, was!”
 — Stanley N. Katz, Director, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

“Crocker has mined archives and the literature of social welfare . . . to produce a readable and extensive . . . story of a remarkable woman and the role she played in the swirling cross-currents of a turbulent era in American history.”
 — Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly

“. . . Historians, scholars of philanthropy, and biographers will all profit from Mrs. Russell Sage. Indeed, this book reminds us that the life of an individual has the power to singularly elucidate the past. ”
 — Journal of American History

“Through diligent research, . . . Crocker has recovered the life of this remarkable woman who moved from gentile poverty to great wealth, all the while maintaining a sense of responsible benevolence. . . . This book breaks new ground . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”
 — Choice

“At a time when women and children controlled only 5.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, Mrs. Sage donated an estimated $45 million ($917 million in 2003 dollars), shaping national social policy in significant ways. Crocker’s book captures her unlikely odyssey, providing an invaluable perspective on the ways in which one Gilded Age matron parleyed one of the era’s great fortunes into an enduring philanthropic legacy.Dec. 2007”
 — Enterprise & Society

“Well-written and thoroughly researched, this biography is a welcome addition to the history of women and philanthropy.”
 — American Historical Review

“Well-written and thoroughly researched, this biography is a welcome addition to the history of women and philanthropy. ”
 — American Historical Review

“. . . a fascinating case study on the elusive subject of philanthropic motivation, highlighting a perceived need to give respectability to rapidly acquired wealth. Its continuous theme is the use of philanthropy as a form of activism and a central thesis the idea that 'spending is a form of speaking'. Yet it presents the double-edged sword that when philanthropists are also activists their own beliefs and prejudices may be at work. And it is perhaps a cautionary tale for modern philanthropists demonstrating that the political nature of giving means that they cannot assume that their money will speak for them.”
 — Philanthropy UK

“Ruth Crocker's wonderfully researched biography adds immeasurably to our understanding of growing scholarly work on oft-neglected elites during the Progressive era. Indeed her work can serve as a model to examine others who formed what Crocker labeled as 'the upstairs of the woman's movement' (p.312).”
 — H-SHGAPE

“Ruth R. Crocker has done a wonderful job in reconstructing the life of Olivia Sage, the widow of the niggardly timber baron Russell Sage, who used her inheritance to create the first social-science and social-welfare foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, in 1907. Crocker . . . reminds us that while foundation philanthropy was almost entirely a male domain, there were significant female figures in what was also the first era of women's professionalization in the United States. I have worked in the foundation's records, and until I read this book in manuscript, I did not believe there was enough information for a biography. Crocker has done a stunning job of proving me wrong.February 2, 2007”
 — Stanley N. Katz, The Chronicle Review

“Crocker's work is a welcome addition to the growing hisstorical literature on gender and philanthropy . . . . In depicting Sage as a socially prominent New York matron and a philanthropist, Crocker's work moves scholars closer to a deeper and broader understanding of the role that wealthy women played in women's activism in the United States, particularly their impact on welfare policies. October 2008”
 — Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

“Historians, scholars of philanthropy, and biographers will all profit from [this book]. Indeed, [it] reminds us that the life of an individual has the power to singularly elucidate the past. ”
 — Journal of American History

“Through diligent research, . . . Crocker has recovered the life of this remarkable woman who moved from gentile poverty to great wealth, all the while maintaining a sense of responsible benevolence. . . . This book breaks new ground . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”
 — Choice

“Crocker has mined archives and the literature of social welfare . . . to produce a readable and extensive . . . story of a remarkable woman and the role she played in the swirling cross-currents of a turbulent era in American history.”
 — Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly

“. . . a fascinating case study on the elusive subject of philanthropic motivation, highlighting a perceived need to give respectability to rapidly acquired wealth. Its continuous theme is the use of philanthropy as a form of activism and a central thesis the idea that 'spending is a form of speaking'. Yet it presents the double-edged sword that when philanthropists are also activists their own beliefs and prejudices may be at work. And it is perhaps a cautionary tale for modern philanthropists demonstrating that the political nature of giving means that they cannot assume that their money will speak for them.”
 — Philanthropy UK

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Table of Contents

Contents
Acknowledgments
A Note on Sources

Introduction

Part I. A Liminal Place: 1828<N>1869
1. Slocums, Jermains, Piersons—and a Sage
2. "Distinctly a class privilege": Troy Female Seminary, 1846-1847
3. "I do enjoy my independence": 1847-1858
4. A Bankruptcy, Three Funerals, and a Wedding: 1858-1869
Part II. Becoming Mrs. Russell Sage: 1869-1906
5. The Work of Benevolence? Mrs. Russell Sage, the Carlisle School, and Indian Reform
6. "I live for that work": Negotiating Identities at the New-York Woman's Hospital
7. "Some aggressive work": The Emma Willard Association and Educated Womanhood, 1891-1898
8. Converted! Parlor Suffrage and After
9. "Wiping her tears with the flag": Mrs. Russell Sage, Patriot, 1897-1906
Part III. "Just beginning to live": 1906-1918
10. "A kind of old age freedom"
11. Inventing the Russell Sage Foundation: 1907
12. "Women and education—there is the key"
13. "Nothing more for men's colleges": E. Lilian Todd and the Origins of Russell Sage College
14. "Splendid donation"
15. "Send what Miss Todd thinks best"

Conclusion

Abbreviations
Notes
Select Bibliography
Index