Civics Reinforcement

Civil War philanthropy leads to a history gift

It all started when John Nau was eight years old and his family visited a Civil War battlefield in Kentucky. Walking the contested land created a yearning in the boy, and a fascination with history that never faded.

Nau went on to major in history at the University of Virginia, run the nation’s largest Anheuser-Busch distributor, and become a major donor, especially in historic preservation. In particular, he has been one of the nation’s most active supporters of protecting Civil War battlefields.

He and his wife, for instance, funded a transformation of 90 acres of the Vicksburg siege site—where there were 20,000 American casualties—back to what they looked like at the time of the clash, allowing visitors to re-live the heat of the climactic battle. (See our 2012 entry "Saving Consecrated Ground” in the Arts and Culture Achievements section of The Almanac of American Philanthropy.)

Now John Nau is offering his support to another way of preserving historical understanding. On many college campuses, history and civics are dying disciplines. Not so at the University of Virginia—thanks to his major new gift. 

In announcing a $27.5 million donation to UVA to bolster teaching and research on America’s founding, Nau said “educating current and future generations of students about the historical, political and philosophical foundations of democracy—and especially the American democracy—is absolutely essential.” His funds will endow ten faculty positions and fund special studies and programming.

In addition to finding more Arts & Culture achievements in The Almanac of American Philanthropy, you’ll find many entries on influential college gifts in the Education achievements section.