Rhode Island in 1916

Life was good for many Rhode Islanders in 1916, the year the Rhode Island Foundation was born. America hadn’t yet entered World War 1, New England’s textile industry was still holding its own, and even the middle class could live in beautiful Victorian homes. Taxes were low, parks were exceedingly well-kept, and Providence was becoming a center for the performing and visual arts.

In the world of sports, baseball was king. Providence had a minor league team called the Grays, which two years before won the International League titles with the pitcher named Babe Ruth. In 1915, a Brown University squad played in the very first Rose Bowl game. Car races were staged on the beaches of Newport and Middletown.

But Rhode Island had its struggles. Poverty was growing in the slums and mill towns, child labor was abundant, and poor immigrants descended on the state in droves. Politics were turbulent, juvenile delinquency rates were becoming the highest of all northern and eastern states.

A real concern grew about the state’s problems and strong social reforms gained momentum. And on a hot August day in 1915, a group of prominent citizens got together and asked the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Co. in Providence to help them start the Rhode Island Foundation. Nearly a year later, on June 13, 1916, the foundation was created to accumulate money in a giant trust fund, and the income from the invested money would forever pay for unmet community needs.

The Founders had incredible vision. They wanted to distribute money in a systematic way to the most needy and progressive causes and ensure that the Foundation was continuously overseen by a group of publicly-spirited volunteers who would see to it that when someone established an endowment, it would still be useful years later. “There is a growing belief that the charitable problems of each generation can better be, and should be, solved by the best minds of each generation,” they wrote.


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Providence, RI 02903


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