Our History

Elizabeth Milbank Anderson

Elizabeth Milbank Anderson

Early History

In 1905, Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, a prominent philanthropist, established one of the first general purpose foundations, the Memorial Fund Association. The foundation was named in honor of her parents and to preserve her anonymity; it was renamed the Milbank Memorial Fund in 1921, following her death. Anderson’s gifts endowed the Fund with $10 million (or approximately $300 million in 2022).

The Fund’s articles of incorporation describe its purpose as the following: “To further secular and religious education among all classes; to care for the sick, the young, the aged and disabled; to minister to the needs of the poor; to improve the physical, mental and moral condition of humanity and generally advance charitable and benevolent objects.”

The Fund’s initial activities reflected Anderson’s strong interest in promoting public health and preventive health initiatives. In 1912, Anderson directed the Fund to make a gift of $650,000 to the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor to establish a Department of Social Welfare devoted to a wide range of public health activities, including sanitation, nutrition, and tuberculosis research and education. In its early years the Fund also supported a Harlem office of the New York Legal Aid Society; homes for tubercular families in the Vanderbilt Apartments on New York’s Upper East Side; research at the Saranac Lake Sanitarium; and the operating budgets of the Children’s Aid Society and the Milbank Memorial Public Baths on East 38th Street in New York City.

Anderson drew on a number of advisors, family members, and friends to serve as early board members, including Charles Milbank Cauldwell, Francis Kinnicutt, George Nichols, Albert G. Milbank, Albert J. Milbank, Edward W. Sheldon, and Howard Townsend. The first chief executive, John A. Kingsbury, led the Fund’s work in three public health demonstration projects in Syracuse, Cattaraugus County, and the Bellevue-Yorkville section of New York City.

Beginning with its founder, the Fund has benefited from the guidance of a succession of leaders who have served as presiding officers, chief executives, and/or members of its Boards.

Relevant Publications

The Centennial Report, published in 2005, is a chronological survey of the work of the Fund during its first century. It highlights contributions such as the Fund-supported New York State Public Health Demonstration, the launch of The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly Bulletin (now The Milbank Quarterly), the Fund’s development of some of the first US public health surveys, and much more.

In “The Significance of the Milbank Memorial Fund for Policy: An Assessment at Its Centennial,” Daniel M. Fox, the Fund’s president emeritus, documents and seeks to explain the significance of the Milbank Memorial Fund for health policy and practice since its founding. He concluded, and the medical historians who reviewed the article before its publication in the Quarterly agreed, that the Fund has made its most important contributions by partnering with decision makers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to apply the best available scientific evidence and practical experience.

The special issue of The Milbank Quarterly reprints articles from the journal’s first eighty-three volumes that explore significant research in epidemiology and the policy sciences and its implications for policy and practice in health care and public/population health.

An archive of documents pertaining to the history of the Fund is available at the library of Yale University at http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0845.

In 2020, amidst a national reckoning on race and inequality, Milbank Memorial Fund began a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion review that involved a full examination of the Fund’s history, including our regrettable involvement in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) syphilis study. Our Racial Equity Statement of Purpose acknowledges and apologizes for Milbank Memorial Fund’s role in this shameful, racist study and outlines our organizational, programmatic, and communications commitments to racial equity. For more details about our efforts to make amends and commitment to advancing health equity, please visit the Racial Equity Statement of Purpose page.