Mrs. Russell Sage

Mrs. Russell Sage : Women's Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America

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This is the biography of a ruling-class woman who created a new identity for herself in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America. A wife who derived her social standing from her robber-baron husband, Olivia Sage managed to fashion an image of benevolence that made possible her public career. In her husband's shadow for 37 years, she took on the Victorian mantle of active, reforming womanhood. When Russell Sage died in 1906, he left her a vast fortune. An advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment, she took the money and put it to her own uses. Spending replaced volunteer work; suffrage bazaars and fundraising fetes gave way to large donations to favorite causes. As a widow, Olivia Sage moved in public with authority. She used her wealth to fund a wide spectrum of progressive reforms that had a lasting impact on American life, including her most significant philanthropy, the Russell Sage Foundation.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 552 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 36mm | 861.82g
  • Bloomington, IN, United States
  • English
  • 34 b&w photos
  • 0253220459
  • 9780253220455
  • 2,186,307

Table of contents

A Note on Sources


Part I. A Liminal Place: 18281869
1. Slocums, Jermains, Piersons-and a Sage
2. "Distinctly a class privilege": Troy Female Seminary, 1846-1847
3. "I do enjoy my independence": 1847-1858
4. A Bankruptcy, Three Funerals, and a Wedding: 1858-1869
Part II. Becoming Mrs. Russell Sage: 1869-1906
5. The Work of Benevolence? Mrs. Russell Sage, the Carlisle School, and Indian Reform
6. "I live for that work": Negotiating Identities at the New-York Woman's Hospital
7. "Some aggressive work": The Emma Willard Association and Educated Womanhood, 1891-1898
8. Converted! Parlor Suffrage and After
9. "Wiping her tears with the flag": Mrs. Russell Sage, Patriot, 1897-1906
Part III. "Just beginning to live": 1906-1918
10. "A kind of old age freedom"
11. Inventing the Russell Sage Foundation: 1907
12. "Women and education-there is the key"
13. "Nothing more for men's colleges": E. Lilian Todd and the Origins of Russell Sage College
14. "Splendid donation"
15. "Send what Miss Todd thinks best"


Select Bibliography
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Review quote

Crocker has mined archives and the literature of social welfare . . . to produce a readable and extensive . . . story of a remarkable woman and the role she played in the swirling cross-currents of a turbulent era in American history. * Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly * Ruth Crocker's wonderfully researched biography adds immeasurably to our understanding of growing scholarly work on oft-neglected elites during the Progressive era. Indeed her work can serve as a model to examine others who formed what Crocker labeled as 'the upstairs of the woman's movement' (p.312). * H-SHGAPE * At a time when women and children controlled only 5.6 percent of the nation's wealth, Mrs. Sage donated an estimated $45 million ($917 million in 2003 dollars), shaping national social policy in significant ways. Crocker's book captures her unlikely odyssey, providing an invaluable perspective on the ways in which one Gilded Age matron parleyed one of the era's great fortunes into an enduring philanthropic legacy.Dec. 2007 * Enterprise & Society * . . . a fascinating case study on the elusive subject of philanthropic motivation, highlighting a perceived need to give respectability to rapidly acquired wealth. Its continuous theme is the use of philanthropy as a form of activism and a central thesis the idea that 'spending is a form of speaking'. Yet it presents the double-edged sword that when philanthropists are also activists their own beliefs and prejudices may be at work. And it is perhaps a cautionary tale for modern philanthropists demonstrating that the political nature of giving means that they cannot assume that their money will speak for them. * Philanthropy UK * . . . Historians, scholars of philanthropy, and biographers will all profit from Mrs. Russell Sage. Indeed, this book reminds us that the life of an individual has the power to singularly elucidate the past. * Journal of American History * Well-written and thoroughly researched, this biography is a welcome addition to thehistory of women and philanthropy. * American Historical Review * Ruth R. Crocker has done a wonderful job in reconstructing the life of Olivia Sage, the widow of the niggardly timber baron Russell Sage, who used her inheritance to create the first social-science and social-welfare foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, in 1907. Crocker . . . reminds us that while foundation philanthropy was almost entirely a male domain, there were significant female figures in what was also the first era of women's professionalization in the United States. I have worked in the foundation's records, and until I read this book in manuscript, I did not believe there was enough information for a biography. Crocker has done a stunning job of proving me wrong.February 2, 2007 -- Stanley N. Katz * The Chronicle Review * Crocker's work is a welcome addition to the growing hisstorical literature on gender and philanthropy . . . . In depicting Sage as a socially prominent New York matron and a philanthropist, Crocker's work moves scholars closer to a deeper and broader understanding of the role that wealthy women played in women's activism in the United States, particularly their impact on welfare policies. October 2008 * Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era * Through diligent research, . . . Crocker has recovered the life of this remarkable woman who moved from gentile poverty to great wealth, all the while maintaining a sense of responsible benevolence. . . . This book breaks new ground . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. * Choice * Historians, scholars of philanthropy, and biographers will all profit from [this book]. Indeed, [it] reminds us that the life of an individual has the power to singularly elucidate the past. * Journal of American History * Well-written and thoroughly researched, this biography is a welcome addition to the history of women and philanthropy. * American Historical Review *
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About Ruth Crocker

Ruth Crocker is Professor of History at Auburn University and author of Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889-1930.
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