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Reviewed by:
  • Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History
  • Soma Hewa
Lawrence J. Friedman and Mark D. McGarvie, eds. Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 467 pp.

This book is a collection of essays on philanthropy, charity and the development of civil society in the United States. The essays are organized into three major sections broadly representing the cultural, national and international activities of philanthropy ranging from the early formative years of American civil society to contemporary industrial capitalist society. The essays illustrate the dynamic transformation of charity and philanthropy from a predominantly social manifestation of religious discourse to an integral part of American economic policies at home and abroad. As the majority of contributors are academic historians, the volume is understandably rich in historical analysis. Most chapters, however, also incorporate significant sociological and cultural interpretations in view of the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of academic research in philanthropy and civil society studies. The book is indeed a welcome addition to the growing academic literature on philanthropy.

The first section of the volume deals with the early history of the development of civil society, charity and philanthropy in the United States. The authors of this section approach philanthropy in two distinct ways. First, they take the view that philanthropy is a uniquely American phenomenon stemming from its Protestant religious roots. Second, they argue that the driving motive of individual philanthropists was to create a society molded on their own values and visions. In the early part of the development of civil society, between 1601 and 1861, philanthropic and charitable activities, together with civil society groups, played a pivotal role in shaping local communities to the image of the [Begin Page 129] European colonizers. In particular, Anglo-Saxon Protestants set out to build a new society based on democratic and capitalistic principles through charity, and later philanthropy. For example, as Wendy Gamber argues, the emerging industrial economy in the United States required a workforce that was punctual, routine and committed to regular employment. These requirements, however, were incompatible with the existing agrarian lifestyle of most people. The reform campaigns of civil society organizations such as the Temperance and the Abolitionist Movements directly responded to the needs of an industrial capitalist society by advocating social reforms. What is fundamentally characteristic of this period is that civil society grew in response to the social and cultural needs of the market economy, and American philanthropy, in turn, succeeded carving out a dominant role within the emerging capitalist ethos of the nation.

In the second section, which encompasses the years 1861 to 1930, the authors bring the reader from the Civil War to the Progressive Era. This period was marked by the enormous growth of the personal wealth of industrialists and their determination to modernize institutions and participatory democracy in the United States. Further, during this period, civil society groups became increasingly autonomous in their dealings with large governments and the growing philanthropic organizations created by the powerful industrialists. The contradictory objectives of civil society groups and leading philanthropists reflected the uncertainty of the values and ideals of the maturing nation. For example, Roy E. Finkenbine argues that the perceived good of bringing education to the newly freed slaves in the South was fraught with pitfalls. The most glaring problem was that the curriculum imposed by the philanthropic foundations was better suited to social and economic subservience than to helping educate a well-informed, self-reliant individual. However, the foundations were not the only important player in setting up the educational system in the South. Local voluntary and missionary organizations succeeded in offering broad liberal education to students in selected schools. In the face of these contradictory objectives, a combination of "big money" and local initiatives ensured a wide-ranging agenda for the education of blacks in the South during this period.

Kathleen D. McCarthy offers the reader insight into how women, despite their lack of obvious power in the public sphere, succeeded in promoting broad national welfare initiatives supported by the state. This period in American history was also characterized by increasing public debate on the means to ameliorate the social inequalities brought by the industrial revolution. Under the...


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pp. 129-131
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2007
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