Mrs. Russell Sage: Women's Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America

Overview

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, Olivia Sage 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 70s, 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 ...

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Overview

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, Olivia Sage 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 70s, 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 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.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

"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

Choice

"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

Journal of American History

"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

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly

"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

Philanthropy UK

"... 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

The Chronicle Review
"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." —Stanley N. Katz, The Chronicle Review

— Stanley N. Katz

Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"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." —Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

H-SHGAPE

"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

The Chronicle Review - Stanley N. Katz

"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." —Stanley N. Katz, The Chronicle Review

American Historical Review

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

From the Publisher
"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." —Stanley N. Katz, The Chronicle Review

"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

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Crocker has mined archives and the literature of social welfare (and such oddments as 100,000 "begging" letters) to produce a readable and extensive story of a remarkable woman . . .
—Richard Magat
H-SHGAPE
. . . Ruth Crocker's wonderfully researched biography adds immeasurably to our understanding of growing scholarly work on oft-neglected elites during the Progressive era . . .
Chronicle Review
. . . Ruth R. Crocker has done a wonderful job in reconstructing the life of Olivia Sage... 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.
Philanthropy UK
. . . 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.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ruth Crocker is Professor of History and Director of the Women's Studies Program at Auburn University and author of Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889–1930. She lives in Auburn, Alabama.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents
Acknowledgments
A Note on Sources
Introduction
Part I. A Liminal Place: 1828-1869
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

Indiana University Press

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