Sweet Charity

Milton Goldin compares American philanthropy past and present.

As the Great Depression deepened in August 1931, President Herbert Hoover recruited Walter S. Gifford, president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, to head the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. Joined by Owen D. Young, a director of the Radio Corporation of America, General Electric, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and co-author of a plan to refinance Germany, Gifford embarked on a national private-sector fundraising drive to feed the hungry.

'America will feel the thrill of a great spiritual experience', promised Gifford and Young. One hundred business, financial, and philanthropic leaders joined them to seek $175 million. In the White House, Hoover theorised that traditional American altruism would provide what he held that government must avoid, direct help to the masses. He had enthusiastically applauded the Red Cross when it spurned a proposed Congressional grant of $25 million to help drought sufferers in twenty-three states. But he ignored the result, that the organisation had been forced to spend S5 million of its reserve funds.

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