March is National Women’s History Month. All month long we are celebrating by looking at some of the remarkable women throughout history who have made a huge difference in fundraising and humanitarian work.
In the previous posts in our series, we featured Eleanor Roosevelt, Madam C.J. Walker, Anne Avantie, and Dorothy Height. Our final installment will focus on the charitable giving of journalist and philanthropist Brooke Astor.
President of the Vincent Astor Foundation
After Astor’s husband Vincent passed away in 1959, she became the president of the Vincent Astor Foundation, which jump started her charitable giving. During her time at the head of the foundation before it closed in 1997, $195 million was given to organizations in the New York City area.
Funds were given to a number of well-known New York establishments, including the Bronx Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library, the New York Zoological Society, the New York Botanical Garden, South Street Seaport, and the New York Public Library. Astor referred to these institutions as New York’s “crown jewels.”
She was particularly passionate about the New York Public Library. In 1977, the Astor Foundation offered a $5 million matching grant to the library if they could raise $10 million. In order to make sure that the library received the grant, Astor personally helped the library raise that required $10 million. Because of her efforts, the main entrance of the research library was named Astor Hall.
Despite having such honors bestowed upon her, Astor was not concerned with receiving recognition for her charitable giving. In fact, much of the funds disbursed by the foundation went toward less glamorous, but still very important work. For example, the foundation provided funds for new windows for a nursing home, fire escapes for a Bronx homeless shelter, parks, jobs programs, and caring for the pets of poor seniors.
Giving Back to the City of New York
Astor decided early on that her charitable giving would go toward the city of New York, because the Astor fortune was mostly made through New York real estate. She successfully supported organizations throughout the city, both large and small. To ensure that the funds were used well, she traveled around the city to personally evaluate every single organization that requested assistance from the foundation.
Astor’s efforts to give back to the city of New York were not limited to her work with the Astor Foundation. She also served on the boards for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library.
Her Philanthopic Legacy
Even after her death in 2007, Astor continued her legacy of charitable giving. According to her will, $100 million was dispensed to many of her favorite New York charities such as the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park. A $30 million portion was set aside for a new education fund to improve the city’s schools.
Astor may not have sought after recognition for her work, but she did receive many awards and honors for her philanthropy. She received the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1988, and ten years later in 1998 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The New York Times