The University of Wisconsin Press

History - American


The Politics of Philanthropy
Abraham Flexner and Medical Education
Steven C. Wheatley

The private philanthropic foundations have been a major engine for social action in American democracy; it was under their stewardship in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the mechanisms of national management which form the core of modern organizational society were produced. Private philanthropy, in particular, was crucial to dramatic change in medical education; it was one of the most important among the social, intellectual, and organizational strands that transformed a disjointed collection of institutionally weak medical schools, universities, and hospitals into the national system we know today.


Central to this change was Abraham Flexner, first as author of the Carnegie Foundation Report of 1910 on the state of medical education in the United States and Canada and then, until he was deposed in 1928, the Rockefeller philanthropies’ principal officer overseeing grants for medical education. At once a progressive idealist and an inflexible bureaucrat, Flexner believed that foundations ought to use their money to mold institutions—specifically universities—to an exacting ideal. Through adroit placement of foundation funds, he was able to transform diverse, regional medical schools into organizationally similar institutional bases for a national network of academic physicians. His model of national philanthropic management greatly expanded the role of philanthropic power in this country and created a new standard of national policy making.


In examining the career of Abraham Flexner—his rise and fall, his relationships with colleagues within the Rockefeller philanthropies and with the university personnel soliciting Rockefeller support—Steven Wheatley has made an original contribution to the continuing discussion of the relationship between private philanthropy and contemporary American social institutions. His work will be of interest to social and medical historians, to students of higher education and of American politics, and to sociologists.


Steven Wheatley is director of the American Studies program for the American Council of Learned Societies.

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February 1989
LC: 88-040199 R
256 pp
.   6 x 9
ISBN-10: 0-299-11750-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-11750-4
Cloth $37.50 s
ISBN-10: 0-299-11754-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-11754-2
Paper $16.95 s

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