Rosenwald Schools: A History

The Rosenwald Fund, a program that helped to build nearly 5,000 schools in African American communities throughout the Southern US, was created through the collaboration of two men: Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Booker T. Washington, an African American education activist and founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald, as a Jewish man, believed in serving others as a spiritual practice, and his philanthropic deeds expanded to include African Americans after learning of the Tuskegee Institute. He was inspired as he identified with the prejudice African Americans were facing.1


Thus, Rosenwald, who never graduated from high school, became an early pioneer of seed money and matching funding as he and Washington partnered in an education project in which they conceived of a new, experimental way to help rural African Americans gain access to public education.2


The idea was for Rosenwald, local government, and African Americans to work together in order to build new schools through a matching program. The Rosenwald Fund was born. Beginning in 1913, the Fund began matching roughly one-third to one-half of a community's funds raised to build a new African American school. Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington's project was an overwhelming success; the Rosenwald Fund assisted in the financing of over 5,000 African American schools by the program's end in 1927.3



[1] Mary S. Hoffschwelle, The Rosenwald Schools of the American Schools of the American South, New Perspectives on the History of the South.1st ed. (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006).


[2] Karen Heller, "The Enlightening Legacy of the Rosenwald Schools," The Washington Post, August 31, 2015,


[3] Mary S. Hoffschwelle,  Preserving Rosenwald Schools (Washington, DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2012)

Rosenwald Schools: A History