Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage –Scientific Philanthropist of the Gilded Age
Though few details are known about her personal life, we know that Sage attended Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary and that after her graduation in 18471 she lived as a teacher devoted to educational reform, and provided care to her sick mother. In her early 40s, she married wealthy businessman Russell Sage. In 1907, a year after her husband’s death, Sage established the Russell Sage Foundation. Although the foundation bore her husband’s name, it was guided by Margaret’s principles. When society was divided among gender, race, class and religious distinctions, Sage was a scientific philanthropist—one who looked beyond cultural distinctions to examine science and root causes of social problems2.
The Foundation supported research into poor households, often immigrant households, providing insight into a subsection of society often ignored. At the time, the research assisted the Foundation in managing its philanthropy. Now, the commissioned studies have become a boon to historians examining the lives of the poor and immigrants in the early 20th century.
In addition to her philanthropic work through the Foundation, Sage created a vocational school for women at her alma mater, donated an island estate to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point1, established the Marsh Island bird sanctuary off the coast of Louisiana, gave to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was involved with Christian and women’s charities including the YMCA and the Campfire Girls3. Upon her death in 1918, Sage had donated approximately $80 million, putting her in the same philanthropic category as Andrew Carnegie. “For both the depth of its studies and the consequent wisdom of its disbursements, [Sage’s] Foundation exemplifies the positive contribution of carefully planned charitable activities in improving the lives of ordinary people in America”1.
1: Lunardini, Christine. “1907: Margaret Sage Founds the Russel Sage Foundation” (sic) in What Every American Should Know About Women’s History. Pp. 154-155. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1997.
2: SaintClair, Connie. “Sage, Margaret Slocum.” 2004.
3: “Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage” in Extraordinary Visions, Enduring Voices: Women in Rockefeller Archive Center.
Photo from wikipedia
To Learn More:
Crocker, Ruth. Mrs. Russell Sage: Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006.
Mulhearn, Christine. “Women in Philanthropy: Mrs. Russell Sage (Margaret Olivia Slocum).” Harvard University: Kennedy School of Government, 2000.
Official website of the Russell Sage Foundation