Solving Tomorrow’s Problems. Since 1919.

J. Robert Oppenheimer. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. John Kenneth Galbraith. Patricia Harris. They shaped a century of progressive public policy.

And they’re all part of The Century Foundation’s legacy.

TCF scholars and trustees advised President Roosevelt to form what became the Securities Exchange Commission, administered the Marshall plan, and provided the first examination of Asian economies.

That legacy continues today in Barton Gellman’s work on privacy and the NSA, in Richard Kahlenberg’s work on improving access to schools and universities, and much more.

We are releasing this timeline of our history in conjunction with the launch of TCF’s historical archives at The New York Public Library. Visit TCF.org

Co-Operative League Incorporated

In 1919, Edward and Lincoln Filene incorporate the nonprofit Co-operative League in Massachusetts, with Edward as president; it would later be known at the Twentieth Century Fund, and then as The Century Foundation (TCF).

Edward Filene

“There is plenty of money to be had in this country for research merely for the sake of research but far too little of it for intelligent and effective application. Of course, I am not opposed to scientific investigations but I am convinced that the Twentieth Century Fund should only support those which are defintely directed to constructive action.” —Edward Filene

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    Edward Filene

    Founder of TCF. Served as president and trustee from 1919 to his death in 1937. Boston merchant and president of Wm. Filene’s Sons Company as well as the founder of the Credit Union National...Read More


Early Trustees

  • Evans Clark evans_clark

    Evans Clark

    Appointed as executive director, he served from 1928 to 1953. Afterward, he served as trustee until his death in 1970. Formerly a member of the editorial board of The...Read More

  • Newton Baker newton_baker

    Newton Baker

    Trustee from 1919 to 1936. Cleveland lawyer; Secretary of War under Woodrow Wilson and a member of the Hague Tribunal.

  • Henry Dennison henry_dennison_290x280

    Henry Dennison

    Trustee from 1919 to his death in 1952 and served as chairman of the Executive Committee from 1937 to 1949. Served as president of the Dennison Manufacturing Company as...Read More

Early TCF Publications

TCF’s early work focused largely on regulation of the stock market and on building on the major social programs that emerged as part of the New Deal.


  • The Security Markets security_markets_290x280

    The Security Markets

    Depression-era findings and recommendations of a special staff of the 20th Century Fund. Pencil annotations, some color, to the table of contents; bottom corners a bit...Read More

  • Stock Market Control stock_market_control_thumb

    Stock Market Control

    The day before Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a message to Congress proposing federal regulation of the Stock Exchange, this report was placed in President Roosevelt’s...Read More

  • The Townsend Crusade the_townsend_crused_290x280

    The Townsend Crusade

    This report countered the proposed 1934 Townsend plan, which would have established an old-age pension plan that most critics characterized as costly and patently...Read More

  • The Road We Are Traveling the_road_we_are_traveling_thumb

    The Road We Are Traveling

    The first of six volumes by Chase commissioned by TCF to examine post-war policy and planning. The book laid out arguments for a strong federal government after World...Read More

  • Fall 1945 Newsletter newsletter_fall_1945_290x280

    Fall 1945 Newsletter

    Volume 1, No. 1: This first TCF newsletter presents itself “as a visitor in print.” “In recent years we have established pleasant contacts with many organizations,...Read More

  • America’s Needs and Resources americas_needs_and_resources_thumb

    America’s Needs and Resources

    An encyclopedic, 812-page tome, the book summarized economic material concerning three generations, and set forth an exhaustive forecast of the country’s needs,...Read More

A Century Objective: Strengthen Social Insurance

Continuing progress on America’s safety net

America’s appetite for social insurance has been inversely proportional to the performance of its economy. Making progress on this front has required advancing workable programs during times of crisis, and protecting them from later efforts to scale them back.

In the midst of the Great Depression, TCF was at the forefront of America’s discussion of social insurance. An initial critic of the Townsend Plan, an old-age pension plan proposed in 1934, during the midst of the Great Depression, TCF later responded to the Social Security Act of 1935 with a call for an expansion of the program to cover all American workers. Fast-forwarding to the 1990s, TCF remained a staunch defender of Social Security, serving as the loudest voice defending the program from cutbacks and privatization efforts, working with none other than Robert M. Ball–often referred to by Democrats and Republicans alike as “Mr. Social Security.” And today, as Americans have increasingly been challenged by medical costs during the Great Recession, TCF has continued its efforts to promote social insurance through careful analysis and steadfast support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

TCF Trustees


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    Robert La Follette, Jr.

    Trustee from 1947 to 1950. Elected to the Senate in 1925 as a Republican to fill the vacancy caused by the death of his father, Robert M. La Follette, Sr. A champion of organized labor, La Follette...Read More

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    Francis Biddle

    Trustee from 1937 to 1968. Served as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board as well as U.S. attorney general under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Was appointed as an American member of the...Read More


A Century Objective: Protect Workers and Consumers

Helping all Americans achieve prosperity

The United States has the largest economy in the world. But as the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession have demonstrated, when the economy falters, workers are faced with declining incomes, rising unemployment, and lack of purchasing power. In both cases, a robust federal response has proven to be essential.

TCF’s most important early work focused on responding to the stock market crash of 1929, and repairing the damage to the American economy. Working closely with the architects of the New Deal, TCF provided recommendations that led to the shaping of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 as well as the creation of the National Labor Relations Board. TCF’s more recent work has focused on addressing the trends of steadily rising income inequality, the declining power of labor, and the decreasing prosperity of the American worker. With the pernicious effects of the Great Recession still lingering for the majority of Americans, TCF has focused on how to help the nation recover from the impacts of the financial crisis, the housing bubble, and the problems resulting from economic globalization.


TCF Newsletters

In the late 1940s, TCF began sending out “newsbriefs” to its subscribers. These newsbriefs summarized TCF’s recent work, and also regularly included an illustrated Twentieth Century Fact. Some early examples appear below.


Trustees and Studies

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    Cartels Committee Meeting

    Pictured: Wilcox, Viner, Nelson, Wals, Landis, Surface, Hamilton, Halvorson, Watkins.

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    Paul Hoffman

    Trustee from 1950 to 1953. Served as chairman of the board of Studebaker Corporation as well as president of the Ford Foundation and head of the Economic Cooperation Administration, administering the...Read More

J. Robert Oppenheimer

TCF Trustee from 1950 to his death in 1967.

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    J. Robert Oppenheimer

    He was a professor of physics and former director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. He was a member of the Manhattan Project and the first chairman of the Advisory...Read More

The 1950s

During the 1950s post-war boom, the United States found itself one of two world superpowers. TCF’s work focused on characterizing the state of America in this new world. Major projects during this period included a new volume of America’s Needs and Resources, a study on “World Population and Production,” and the start of Megalopolis (a study on urbanization).






Trustees in the Early 1950s


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    Wallace Harrison

    Trustee from 1951 to 1958. A prominent architect who served as director of planning for the United Nations complex and helped build Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln...Read More

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    August Heckscher

    Trustee from 1951 until his death in 1997, he also served as director from 1956 to 1967. He was administrator of recreation and cultural affairs and commissioner of parks for the City of New York,...Read More

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    J. Frederick Dewhurst

    Appointed director of TCF, he served from 1953 to 1956. He also served as economist, as well as a trustee from 1960 to 1967. Formerly a professor of industry at the University of...Read More

A Century Objective: Build International Cooperation

Developing collaborative solutions to global issues

Even at the greatest height of its power as global leader, the United States has achieved more on the world stage when it has pursued cooperative arrangements for responding to problems that are increasingly global in nature. How can we channel American exceptionalism so that it feeds into the development of international institutions and solutions?

Edward Filene, who endowed TCF, believed deeply in international cooperation as a means of addressing threats to peace. TCF has a long history of supporting the United Nations and other institutions that promote collaborative responses to international challenges, and has sought cooperation on a host of issues, such as economic development, preventive engagement, conflict resolution, arms control, regional security arrangements, and combating global terrorism. In recent years, our work on Afghanistan and the Middle East has shifted American foreign policy toward finding a path for resolving conflict in those regions.

Trustees of the late 1950s

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    Arthur Burns

    Trustee from 1958 to 1981. Served as counselor to President Nixon and chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Eisenhower administration. He was John Bates Clark...Read More

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    Morris B. Abram

    Trustee from 1959 until his death in 2000. Served as chairman of United Nations Watch in Geneva, where he was ambassador to the European Offices of the United Nations. He was previously president of...Read More

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

TCF Trustee from 1959 until his death in 2007.

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    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

    A social historian, he was professor of humanities at the City University of New York and served as a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, writing an account of the administration. He...Read More

The 1960s

While the early part of the 1960s saw a continuation of TCF’s work characterizing a rapidly modernizing America, the middle of the decade witnessed a shift to a more international perspective. Century studies examined the world economy, explored the implications of Communist East Europe, and formed a working groups on Latin America. The decade closed with the publication of Asian Drama, an epic study of the economies of South Asia.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Trustee from 1960 to 1973.

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    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Professor of economics at Harvard University who also served as National Chairman for the group Americans for Democratic Action and an Ambassador to India. He wrote over four dozen books and over a...Read More

1960s Classics


  • Tropical Africa: Land and Livelihood by George... 1960_TropicalAfrica1_Kimble

    Tropical Africa: Land and Livelihood by George Kimble

    Part one of a vast, 1,100-page accounting of the economy, society, and politics of the continent, the study urged Americans to adopt a more enlightened view of Africa....Read More

  • Tropical Africa: Society and Polity by George... 1960_TropicalAfrica2_Kimble

    Tropical Africa: Society and Polity by George Kimble

    Part two of a vast, 1,100-page accounting of the economy, society, and politics of the continent, the study urged Americans to adopt a more enlightened view of Africa....Read More

  • Of Time, Work, and Leisure by Sebastian... 1962_WorkLeisure_Grazia

    Of Time, Work, and Leisure by Sebastian de Grazia

    The book debunked the notion that modern conveniences and productivity improvements had resulted in more time away from work. Though standard statistics maintained that...Read More

  • Shaping the World Economy by Jan Tinbergen 1962_WorldEconomy_Tinbergen

    Shaping the World Economy by Jan Tinbergen

    Tinbergen, a leading Dutch economist, offered proposals for what the West could do to relieve economic tensions between developed and underdeveloped countries as well as...Read More

  • Megalopolis by Jean Gottmann 1962b_Megalopolis_Gottman

    Megalopolis by Jean Gottmann

    Megalopolis examined a developing phenomenon—the growing interconnection of the northeastern seaboard—and gave it a name. The 53,000 square-mile urban line running...Read More

  • Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma 1966_PerformingArts_BaumolBowen

    Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma

    One of the most widely read TCF books during the period, it argued that substantial government financing would be needed for the performing arts to flourish. Many of the...Read More

1960s Trustees


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    Murray J. Rossant

    Appointed director of TCF, he served from 1967 until his death in 1988. A veteran journalist who worked for Businessweek and The New York Times, he was a major force in promoting televised...Read More

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    Patricia Roberts Harris

    Trustee from 1969 to 1985. Served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development as well as secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Jimmy Carter, making her the first African...Read More

Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner

TCF celebrated its first fifty years in style with a formal dinner.

The 1970s

After the modernization of the previous decade, the 1970s brought in an astute political awareness and the emergence of social progressives. The political turmoil of the late 1960s and the events leading up to Watergate in the early 1970s led TCF to begin its work on empowering voters by way of reforming elections, providing more access to information, and analyzing how television was influencing campaigns. The early stages of commentary on technology and individual privacy originated during this period as well with the appearance of the computer.

A Century Objective: Empower Voters

Advancing voters’ rights and guiding election reform

The right to vote is at the heart of American ideals of democracy, with the U.S. Constitution placing the election of our leaders firmly in the hands of “the People,” and our history one of increasing suffrage. But history also tells us the promise of the right to vote by itself is not enough to guarantee free and fair elections.

TCF has long sought to strengthen the institution of voting in America and to guarantee that voters have the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions. Our early work was a major force in promoting televised presidential debates, eventually resulting in the establishment of the bipartisan commission for presidential debates. And for several decades we have studied the sometimes troublesome role of money in election campaigns, but also the promise of technology in improving our electoral system. Following the much-disputed election of 2000, TCF instituted a commission on federal election reform that resulted in the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Our subsequent work on the growth of state voter identification laws and other methods of voter disenfranchisement called early attention to a movement that has since gained increasing strength.

Empowering Voters

TCF books from the 1970s focused on election reform and on the ways that the growing popularity of television in particular was changing the face of politics.


Newsletters of the 1970s

Election reform dominated TCF newsletters in the 1970s, with TCF scholars advocating for financing Congressional campaigns and televising public sessions of Congress (a suggestion that was later fulfilled with the advent of CSPAN). But newsletters weren’t entirely focused on elections. One particularly prescient newsletter—from 1973!—warned that computer technology could threaten individual privacy. The words might easily have been penned by current senior fellow Barton Gellman.


Trustees of the 1970s


  • Vernon_Jordan

    Vernon Jordan

    Trustee from 1971 to 1973. Prominent civil rights leader, lawyer, business executive and close advisor to President Bill Clinton. Served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund and...Read More

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    William Ruckelshaus

    Trustee from 1974 to 1983. Became the first head of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard Nixon. Also served as acting director of the Federal Bureau for...Read More

The 1980s

America went through major social and economic changes in the 1980s due to industrialization and multinational corporations. Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980 influenced TCF’s work on a dedication to protecting workers and consumers, quite the opposite of the deregulation and laissez-faire policies beginning to take affect. Trustee Theodore Sorensen stated TCF would not be “the handmaiden of any political party, candidate or movement,” but also resolved to not remain neutral.

A New Domestic Focus

While TCF continued its work on empowering voters and on exploring America’s role as the world’s superpower, the conservative ascendancy that began with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 spurred renewed work on protecting workers and consumers in the midst of deregulation mania and on preserving the safety net from Reagan’s “starve the beast” approach.


1980s Trustees

“TCF is strictly non-partisan. We are not the handmaiden of any political party, candidate or movement. But we are not neutral. We care about people, we care about our country and our planet, and we care about the power of progressive, well-reasoned, well-researched ideas. We believe, with liberalism under siege, that those ideas are needed now more than ever.” —Theodore Sorensen, Trustee

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    James Tobin

    Trustee from 1983 until his death in 2002. Nobel Prize-winning economist (1981) and professor at Yale University. Served as a member of the President John F. Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisers,...Read More

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    James (Jim) Leach

    Trustee from 1983 to 2008. U.S Congressman from Iowa who served on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs as well as Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs. Previously, he was president of Flamegas...Read More

  • Theodore_Sorenson

    Theodore Sorensen

    Trustee from 1984 until his death in 2010. He served as assistant to Senator John F. Kennedy and special counsel to President Kennedy. A senior partner of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton...Read More

The 1990s

After the Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989, the total collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe quickly followed. In the United States, attentions turned inward, as policymakers considered how best to spend down defense budgets. For TCF, the 1990s saw work produced in each of its main areas, as well as a new theme, led by Richard Kahlenberg: replacing race-based integration in schools with a class-based method. As new media flourished, TCF also entered the digital age with a new website.

Richard C. Leone

Served as TCF president from 1989 until 2011.

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    Richard C. Leone

    Formerly chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and state treasurer of New Jersey. He also was president of the New York Mercantile Exchange and a managing director at Dillon Read...Read More

A Century Objective: Promote Opportunity in Education

Improving access through socioeconomic integration

Americans put enormous stock in the idea that strong public schools serve, in the words of nineteenth-century educator Horace Mann, as “the great equalizer.” Yet, there is a long way to go before the American system of education is anything close to an equal-opportunity environment.

TCF recognizes the important role that socioeconomically integrated schools play in providing greater educational opportunity for all Americans. Led by the work of senior fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg, who has been described as “the intellectual father of the economic integration movement” in K–12 schooling and “the nation’s chief proponent of class-based affirmative action in higher education admissions,” TCF has made a longstanding effort to put improving social mobility at the heart of its education program. Whether looking at how to improve student achievement through new methods of integration, how to help low-income students succeed in college, how to improve school performance through collaborative educational models, or how to strengthen our system of community colleges, TCF seeks to extend the American promise of fairness and educational opportunity to all.

A Widening Focus


During the 1990s, TCF produced major works on all six of its big ideas. TCF scholars and fellows examined topics ranging from free trade to presidential debates to financial industry regulation to foreign policy at the end of the Cold War. In addition, TCF took up a new theme, publishing a young Richard Kahlenberg, who argued for replacing race-based affirmative action with socioeconomic integration of schools and colleges.


75th Anniversary

On November 17, 1994, TCF celebrated its first 75 years of operation with a gathering at the Pierre Hotel. A keynote address from then-U.S. Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey was followed by dinner.

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    TCF’s 75th Anniversary

    In recognition of its first 75 years of operation, TCF released a 75th Anniversary publication detailing its early history, listing its most influential publications, and teasing its current projects.

1990s Trustees


  • madeleine_kunin

    Madeleine Kunin

    Trustee from 1991 to 1993. Elected the first female and first Jewish governor of Vermont in 1985. Served for three years as U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

  • kathleen_sullivan

    Kathleen Sullivan

    Trustee from 1998 to 2012. Lawyer at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan and professor at Stanford Law School, where she served as dean from 1999 to 2004.


Newsletters of the 1990s


The 2000s

The events of September 11, 2001 defined much of politics and public policy in the 2000s, and TCF was no exception. The sixth of our major areas of work—that of protecting civil liberties from government overreach in the wake of 9/11—emerged during the first half of the decade. Senior fellow Barton Gellman’s work uncovering NSA surveillance programs carries on that tradition today.

A Century Objective: Preserve Civil Liberties

Ensuring personal rights in the post-9/11 era

Perhaps the best known quote on the balance between civil liberties and national security is that of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The drive for greater security often puts civil liberties at risk, but at what point does it go too far?

Immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans were more than willing to accept encroachments on established liberties in the name of preventing another attack. TCF’s work in this area has argued that it is essential to keep intact the civil liberties and other freedoms that we have gained since our nation’s founding, and that the trustworthy government we need in a time of crisis can be sustained only by real understanding, open debate, and informed consensus—no matter how cumbersome that process may seem to those in power.

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