Giving and Health

Americans have always participated in the world beyond our borders through philanthropy, and nowhere are the ties stronger than in giving for health and medicine. Diseases, treatments and cures, and resources cross borders, and Americans have long approached medical philanthropy as members of an international community. These connections shape developments both at home and abroad.

Students and teachers at nurse training school in China founded with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, 1920s

Students and teachers at nurse training school in China founded with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, 1920s

Courtesy of the Rockefeller Archives Center

Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Medal, 1852

Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Medal, 1852

Starting in 1780s, leading Americans, including many doctors, worked through charities known as humane societies to promote the rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims

The societies collaborated closely with foreign humane societies in recognition that in a maritime world, saving lives on the water was a common cause.
 

Illustration, What to Do at Recess, 1910

Illustration, What to Do at Recess, 1910

Courtesy of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

In the early 1900s, philanthropists led the establishment of playgrounds to foster physical, moral, and civic health. 

American Red Cross researchers with the children on playground in France, 1918

American Red Cross researchers with the children on playground in France, 1918

Courtesy of Library of Congress

After World War I, Americans built playgrounds in Europe. They aimed both to improve children’s health and to promote democratic values of fair play as part of their efforts to help rebuild war-torn societies.

In the early to mid-1900s, increasingly severe polio outbreaks in the United States alarmed many. A vaccine discovered in 1955 and widespread vaccination programs eliminated the disease in this country in 1979. 

Polio Eradication Campaign Cap, around 2002

Polio Eradication Campaign Cap, around 2002

Gift of Rotary International

Since 1985, members of the service organization Rotary International have volunteered their time and raised money for public-private efforts to end polio abroad.

New York Chinatown Health Fair Poster, 1973 

New York Chinatown Health Fair Poster, 1973
 

Gift of Charles B. Wang Community Health Center

Concerned about Chinese Americans’ access to health care, activists in the 1970s organized health fairs. Their efforts grew into a community health center supported by federal funds and private philanthropy. Such health centers have roots in a South African health clinic. 

Grant Application to Rockefeller Foundation, 1957

Grant Application to Rockefeller Foundation, 1957

Courtesy of Rockefeller Archives Center

In the 1950s, American medical student Jack Geiger, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, studied the South African clinic and helped bring the model to the United States.

Breast Cancer Awareness Coin, 2018

Breast Cancer Awareness Coin, 2018

Gift of Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Breast Cancer Awareness Petition, 1992

Breast Cancer Awareness Petition, 1992

Gift of The Estée Lauder Companies 

"Most Landmarks Illuminated for a Cause in 24 Hours," Guinness World Records 2012

Courtesy of Guinness Book of World Records

The Estée Lauder Companies used the power of a global brand to launch a pink ribbon campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer. Through purchases at makeup counters, consumers support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Aiming to cure breast cancer worldwide, the foundation funds researchers in countries around the world.

Operating Room Cap Worn on Medical Mission in Liberia, 2007

Operating Room Cap Worn on Medical Mission in Liberia, 2007

Gift of Eileen Solomon

Since the 1800s, doctors and other Americans have served on medical missions within the United States and around the world.

Members of a New York-based medical team in Liberia taught skills, such as sewing, to their women patients. The program intended to help women who might need to support themselves. One of their patients made this cap.

Mosquito Net, 2018

Mosquito Net, 2018

Gift of Soft Power Health

Medical philanthropy programs can extend American power abroad, but the people they serve directly shape those programs.

Soft Power Health is working in Uganda to prevent malaria, which is typically spread by mosquito bites, with mosquito nets. Ugandans noted that nets were discarded if they appeared dirty, so Soft Power made a colorful net with intricate patterns that was less likely to show dirt.

American medical philanthropy abroad affects medical education back home.

Painting by Chase Walker for Medical Textbook, around 2014

Painting by Chase Walker for Medical Textbook, around 2014

Gift of Craig Katz Jan Schuetz-Mueller

After serving on international disaster relief missions, psychiatrist Craig Katz recognized a need to enhance teaching about mental health issues in a global context. He and his colleague Jan Schuetz-Mueller commissioned this painting for their medical textbook. They asked the painter to depict a man with clinical depression in a community that has endured a typhoon and civil war.