From childhood, John Rockefeller was a devout Baptist. Even before he made his fortune with Standard Oil he consistently tithed 10 percent of his income to religious causes. Starting around 1864 he exhibited a particular interest in supporting Baptist colleges.
He began by giving $5 to a school in Gambier, Ohio. That was followed by a $500 donation to another Ohio Baptist facility, Denison University. Denison had received $22,000 more from Rockefeller by 1882.
In 1884, Rockefeller covered the nearly $5,000 debt of the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, which out of gratitude took the maiden name of its donor’s wife and renamed itself Spelman Seminary. That same year, he gave $25,000 to the African-American Baptist seminary in Richmond, Virginia. And when Northern Baptist officials created a separate society to support higher education, Rockefeller pledged $100,000 to launch it in 1888.
The American Baptist Education Society ultimately received more than $800,000 from John Rockefeller between 1890 and 1914. Among other causes, Rockefeller and the Society partnered to create a flagship Baptist university for the country: the University of Chicago. In today’s dollars, Rockefeller’s giving to the University of Chicago during its first 20 years comes to about $35 million.
- Rockefeller and the American Baptist Education Society, rockarch.org/publications/resrep/rose1.pdf