Monday, March 31, 2014

On This Day in 1913: the Death of JP Morgan, Philanthropist

JP Morgan, Philanthropist: How did he pay it forward?

April 17, 1837 - March 31, 1913

John Pierpont Morgan may have died 101 years ago, but his New York City philanthropic legacy lives on through a progressive New York City housing movement experiment and a settlement house. 

Morgan, one of the country’s most famous and important financiers in American history, is forever known for his contributions and influence in the development of corporate icons such as General Electric, International Harvester, U.S. Steel, and the railroad corporations among others.

He calmed the storm in the Panic of 1907 by essentially acting as the “central bank”…today, he would be comparable to Warren Buffet.

Lesser known are his contributions as a philanthropist…even over a century after his death we ask the question: How did he pay it forward?

Two of the greatest philanthropic projects Morgan helped blossom into major successful social experiments of his time, are still in existence and flourishing today.  They include:

East Side House Settlement - Morgan was a major donor to this project, founded in 1891 as a settlement house on New York's Upper East Side neighborhood called Yorkville, and home to a massive immigration population explosion in the late 1890’s.

The urban settlement house movement was a reformist social movement, beginning in the 1880s and peaking around the 1920s, with a goal of providing services to the working poor and new immigrants.  These social services included an introduction to American culture, homemaking, daycare, education, and healthcare to improve the lives of the poor in these areas. In the US, by 1913 there were over 400 settlements in 32 states.

The settlement house was the hub of the community.  Immigrant parents took classes to introduce them to New York City, childrearing, and the city’s schools system.  Children had classes in art, painting, athletics and academic pursuits.  Young adults came to the dances at the East Side House…some even meeting their future spouses there!  Mothers had training in homemaking and some even found employment there washing laundry.

East Side House Settlement also worked on getting children out of the city for fresh air in the country at summer camps.  This was of such great interest to Morgan, that one weekend he opened his own estate to the youngsters. 

Settlement houses influenced urban design, architecture and model tenement experiments of the housing reform movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Today the East Side House Settlement, now located in the Bronx, is flourishing and still carries on its mission from over a century ago.

City & Suburban Homes Model Tenements – Morgan’s interest in limited dividend companies, dedicated to providing profit to their investors, as well as creating affordable housing for the working poor, led to his and his descendants becoming donors and their continued involvement on the board of directors of City & Suburban Homes company.  The model tenements were not only an urban design experiment created by some of the members of the East Side House Settlements major donors, but also launched philanthropic interest in the new concept of  “benign capitalism” which is a not wholly philanthropic venture, but a business venture where the stockholders agree to receiving a limited dividend [usually 4% - 7%] and the leftover funds go into continuing building new housing.

Other early supporters, included some of the New York’s socially prominent and important philanthropic families, such as Morgan’s descendants, the Carnegie’s, Vanderbilt’s, Rockefeller’s, Astor’s, Auchincloss, and Gould’s.

One of the most significant projects in the history of the reform housing movement, it was designed in response to the horrific living conditions of working poor areas such as the Lower East Side, at that time, one of the most densely populated neighborhood in the world.  Photographer, Jacob Riis, who published photographs of the horrors of tenement life, and Lillian Wald, one of the most respected social reformers and advocates for the poor, among others, drew public attention to the plight of these families, thus making it a popular cause for well-to-do New Yorkers…either for their own charitable reasons, or because they feared the spread of disease, crime caused by the lamentable unsanitary and overcrowding in these early types of tenements which had a sudden increase of the city’s population caused by massive immigration.  The publicity led to the creation successful reform housing movement.

The City & Suburban Homes York Avenue Estate is one of the most significant projects in the history of the reform housing movements in New York City. Built between 1901 and 1913, the 14 model tenements are a New York City Landmark and were placed on the New York State and the National Registers of Historic Places.

The largest low cost housing development in the world at the time of its construction became the model for all large scale public housing post WWII and remains an excellent example of reform housing.

In a gesture usually reserved for heads of state, when John Pierpont Morgan died on March 31, 1913, in Italy, at the age of 75, the New York Stock Exchange was closed for several hours that day to honor a multifaceted man, whose many ways to “pay it forward” are still being discovered today.

For more information about Wall Street and New York's Financial District, join a Wall Street Walks guided walking tour!