Scottish Philanthropy Snippet – Anna and Edward Harkness

Monday 29 April 2019
Image: Anna Harkness

Background: Mother and son duo, Anna and Edward Harkness were both prominent American philanthropists. Anna was born in Dalton, Ohio, 25th October 1837, and married Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness, with whom she had three children – Charles, Florence and Edward. Stephen had been one of the earliest investors with John D. Rockefeller – an oil industry magnate – becoming the second-largest shareholder in his oil company, Standard Oil. Upon his death in 1888, Stephen left a fortune of $150 million to his wife and children. Edward Harkness, born in 1874, took control of the family wealth and estates following his graduation from Yale University in 1897. At the time, this made him the 6th wealthiest individual in the US.

Philanthropy: Following the death of her husband, Anna devoted herself to philanthropy. As the eldest child, her son Charles helped manage her estates, supporting her donations which went primarily to religious institutions and missions. In 1895, Anna’s only daughter Florence died of septicaemia, just 10 months after her marriage to Louis Severance – a friend and colleague of her father Stephen Harkness. Shortly after Florence’s death, her mother and husband jointly donated funds to Case Western Reserve University for the construction of a building in her memory – the Florence Harkness Memorial Chapel. Originally a place for Bible study for young women of the College, the Chapel is now a beloved music setting, used for concerts hosted by the University Music Department.

In 1916, Anna’s son Charles also died after a short illness. The following year, Anna donated $3 million to Yale University (Charles’ alma mater) to build a quadrangle. Later named Memorial Quadrangle, the quad includes Harkness Tower – a notable landmark on the University campus.

Image: Stained glass window of Edward Harkness, St Salvator’s Hall

Following Charles’ death, Anna’s philanthropic interests broadened significantly, and in 1918 she established the Commonwealth Fund with an initial endowment of $10 million. She made her only surviving child, Edward, president of the Fund. One of the first foundations to be established by a woman, the founding mission of the Fund was to improve healthcare, promoting child welfare in particular. Under the leadership of Edward, the Fund contributed greatly to the building of multiple hospitals, medical schools and clinics. The Harknesses donated both funds for their construction and, on occasion, the land on which they were to be built. Alongside this medical focus, the foundation also went on to support a variety of education-based initiatives. This included funding the construction of the Butler Library at Columbia University, and university dormitories at both Harvard and Yale. Over time, the Harkness family’s total contribution to the Commonwealth Fund exceeded $50 million.

Whilst their philanthropy was largely concentrated in the US, through their Fund, Anna and Edward also sponsored numerous initiatives in the UK. Notably, Edward established the Harkness Fellowships (initially the Commonwealth Fund Fellowships) in 1925 – a programme that enabled British scholars to study in the United States. Edward was keen to build bridges between the US and Britain, reportedly motivated by his admiration for the British during the First World War, and by his Scottish heritage. He also established the Pilgrim Trust in 1930 – a charitable trust aimed primarily at preserving historically significant buildings and artefacts in the UK – with an initial funding of $2 million. Today, the Trust issues £2 million in grants every year, still focusing on preservation projects, but also extending their support to social welfare causes.

Sir James Irvine, Principal of the University of St Andrews 1921-1952, was appointed a trustee of the Harkness Fellowships and later sat on the board of the Pilgrim Trust. A close friendship developed between James and Edward as the two worked together, and James subsequently began to solicit funds from Edward for various University developments. In 1927, Edward donated £100,000 to the University for the construction of a new hall of residence, student scholarships, and the restoration of St Salvator’s Chapel. The new hall – named St Salvator’s Hall – was built between 1930 and 1933. Originally a male-only residence, the building’s design was modelled on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Harkness had initially wanted to fund such a ‘college plan’ at Yale University – his alma mater – but at the time his offer had yet to be accepted. Although Harkness stipulated his donation to St Andrews should remain anonymous, Irvine ensured his friend had a lasting legacy in the town by having him represented in the stained-glass windows in both St Salvator’s Hall and St Salvator’s Chapel. In 1929, Edward gave a further £20,000 to endow a new Chair of History. Again, his donation was anonymous – recorded only as a ‘friend of St Andrews’.

Both Anna and Edward Harkness have left a lasting legacy in the US and UK, funding and supporting multiple medical centres, educational programmes, and art museums. Edward’s largely anonymous giving also contrasts greatly with the notably public philanthropy of his contemporaries.



Cant, R.G. (2002) The University of St Andrews: a short history, St Andrews: Strathmartine Trust.

Case Western Reserve University (N.d.) Florence Harkness Memorial Chapel. [Online] Available at:

Yale University (N.d.) Harkness Memorial Tower and Memorial Quadrangle. [Online] Available at:



Anna Harkness –

Edward Harkness Stainglass Window –

St Salvator’s Hall –

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