As the Los Angeles Times stated of this month’s annual MacArthur Foundation fellowship announcements, “It’s like Christmas for the ultra-talented. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced 23 ‘genius’ grant winners, bestowing $500,000 awards to writers and scientists, musicians and photographers from Los Angeles to Switzerland.” Indeed it might be better than Christmas; the fellowship will allow these innovators the opportunity to keep doing what they are doing without the hang up of how to pay the bills this year (or for the next ten years if they invest well). All of this is made possible by the vision and generosity of founding couple John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur. While John D. was the actual holder of the purse strings, the vision for the foundation that he funded after his death with 92% of his estimated $1 billion estate was molded by the hands of his wife Catherine.
As the only woman on the original founding Board of Directors, Catherine T. MacArthur planted the seeds for what would become the one of the largest independent foundations in United States before her death in 1981. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2011 alone authorized $230 million by funding 497 grants in 51 countries across the globe. The Foundation offers the following:
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society…Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.
While wives rarely get any of the credit, Catherine MacArthur was an active participant in her husband’s business and philanthropic activities and worked side by side with him to bring about positive change in the world. According to Wikipedia, in 1935, John D. MacArthur purchased Bankers Life and Casualty for $2,500, and used mass marketing techniques to sell insurance through the mail. Catherine created the business procedures for Bankers Life which would be used until tremendous growth required change. The MacArthur Foundation bio recounts that Catherine is found throughout the records of her husband’s businesses, referenced discreetly by her maiden name as either corporate secretary, director, or both. She was intimately involved in both the businesses that generated their immense wealth and the social good that wealth funded. The MacArthur Fellows Program allotted $11.5 million in grants this year.
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