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Public Welfare Foundation Records

Identifier: MSS063

Scope and Contents

The Public Welfare Foundation Records consist of four series that document the entirety of the organization’s history from its beginning in 1947 as the Public Welfare Foundation of Austin through the turn of the century. The series include: Public Welfare Foundation of Austin, Board of Directors Records, Administration Records, and Grant Files.

Public Welfare Foundation of Austin Files, 1946-1952, include correspondence and grant files of the predecessor organization to the Public Welfare Foundation. Also documented are the events leading to the creation of the Public Welfare Foundation.

Board of Directors Records, 1945-2001, contain the minutes, reports, and correspondence generated by or for the board. With the exception of the years 1989 and 1990 the Board of Directors minutes are complete. The minutes provide a detailed look at the history of the organization and include major decisions that have shaped the nature of the foundation. This section also documents the board’s committee activities beginning in the 1970s through reports and correspondence.

The board members files contain significant correspondence and biographical information about the members of the foundation’s board. This section of correspondence provides insight to the practices and motivations of decisions within the organization.

The Administrative Records, 1917-2005, contain information about the daily operations of the foundation. The majority of these files include materials from the Executive Director, foundation history, and financial information. Included in this series is significant biographical data on Charles Marsh and historical information about the development of the foundation. This series documents the IRS tax status issues that forced the foundation to abandon its agent system in the 1960s. Also included are materials focused on the creation of a new method of fund distribution that evolved into the foundation’s current grant making model.

The portion of these files related to the executive director focus on his role as leader of the foundation and development in programs and initiatives. While several aspects of the director’s role are documented, the majority of the files contain his correspondence with board members. Combined with the correspondence from the Board of Directors Records, a well-rounded look at the careers of several long-time board members is available.

In honor of its 50th anniversary the foundation published two books; one on the life of Charles Marsh and the second on the foundation’s history. This series contains the research files for the books that include both paper documentation and an oral history project. The individuals indentified for the oral history project included both current and former foundation board and staff members. These interviews document individual insights into the purposes of the foundation and the changes that occurred over the course of its history. Anecdotes about founder, Charles Marsh, provide a unique perspective on his character and how it shaped the direction of the foundation. Included in the interview files are condensed interview transcripts, a vita of the interviewee, and the audio interview.

Grant Records, 1950-2007, comprise the largest section of the collection and are divided into two areas: Agents and Organizations. The agent files contain the correspondence and reports of the agents used by the foundation to distribute funds until 1969 when the agent system was abandoned. These files provide information about the beginning of the foundation’s work and Charles Marsh’s philosophy of giving.

The second portion of this series grant files of all the organizations who have received grants from the foundation. Included in the grant files are grant proposals, correspondence, and periodic reports to the foundation about the outcomes of the grants. Foundation staff site visit reports are often included as well. These files provide a comprehensive look at the giving patterns of the foundation. From 1947-2000 all the grants are filed alphabetically. Beginning in 2001 all the grant files are organized chronologically.


  • 1917 - 2007


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright laws of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) govern the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Historical Note

In 1947 newspaperman Charles Edward Marsh founded the Public Welfare Foundation to assist the needy without “red tape.” His purpose, to offer the greatest good to the greatest number, symbolized the efforts of the foundation he created. Before the creation of the foundation, Marsh’s giving was very personal and individually focused. Although the creation of a foundation formalized his giving, he wanted to retain the personal focus that emphasized the needs of individuals. Often giving in small sums, Marsh gave money to purchase medication, food, and other necessities. The greatest good, he felt, could be achieved by giving in such a way that allowed people to sustain and improve their situation. During his travels Marsh developed a system of agents who acted on his behalf for needy individuals within their community. At its peak, the money given through the agent system comprised almost half of the foundation’s total grants. Each agent was given a monthly cash allowance to distribute wherever they saw a need. In return, they sent periodic reports back to the foundation describing the needs and assistance provided. Periodically, agents would write with special requests for extra building funds, medical procedures, and educational funding. By the end of the 1950s the foundation funded projects worldwide.

The 1960s was a volatile decade for the foundation. Charles Marsh died in 1964 and difficulties with IRS laws posed a threat to the foundation’s stability. Marsh donated his three newspaper companies to the foundation to ensure a permanent, steady income that would maintain the foundation’s grant making abilities. The arrangement caused the IRS to question whether the foundation was a charitable organization or a business because of the income generated by the newspapers. Eventually, it ruled that ownership of Marsh’s newspaper holdings constituted a violation of tax law and revoked the tax-exempt status of the foundation in 1966. In response, the foundation agreed to transfer ownership of the Spartanburg Herald and Tribune, Tuscaloosa News, and Gadsden Times to subsidiary corporations (which were eventually sold in 1985) and to phase out the agent system that the IRS deemed questionable because no mechanism for accountability was evident. While the foundation settled with the IRS and regained its tax-exempt status, its way of distributing money was forever changed. By 1969 the agent system was gone and the foundation hired its first official staff member, Glenn Ihrig, signaling a great change from individual agents distributing funds to a professionalized foundation staff responsible to the board for the grant making activities of the foundation.

In the mid-1970s long-time foundation leaders Claudia Haines Marsh and Veronica Keating resigned from their positions. Claudia Haines Marsh was the third wife of Charles Marsh and served as the president of the Public Welfare Foundation from 1952-1974. Veronica Keating was secretary-treasurer from 1952-1975. Both women were key influences in the development and professionalization of the foundation seeing it through the IRS crisis and helping it successfully evolve in the midst of change. While they remained active on the foundation’s board, leadership passed to Davis Haines as president and Glenn Ihrig as secretary-treasurer. By the close of the 1970s, the foundation hired its first program officer in the area of children’s preventive health care.

The foundation continued to focus its grant making policy and giving strategies during 1980s. A second program area in elderly assistance was added and the foundation began a youth unemployment “initiative.” Larry Kressley was hired to seek out grass roots programs in the area of youth unemployment and work with them to develop funding proposals. Completely different from the traditional practice of letting organizations approach the foundation, the initiative approach proved successful. As the foundation defined its grant making policy, it named five specific funding areas as its primary focus: disadvantaged youth, the environment, disadvantaged elderly, population and reproductive health, and criminal justice. According to Peggy Dillon, author of Seeking the Greatest Good, by the end of the 1980s the foundation was steering “away from a largely service-based, grant-giving organization into one operating consciously as a catalyst for social good.”

Larry Kressley became the executive director of the foundation in the early 1990s. Under his leadership the foundation continued to develop an approach to giving that emphasized community outreach and partnerships in developing grant making opportunities. Based on that approach, a three-tiered model of giving that included service, advocacy, and empowerment emerged. Foundation officers became more directly involved with helping organizations shape programs that reflected the foundation’s fundamental belief that direct service to individuals was the key to lasting change. The foundation’s areas of support increased to eight and included: disadvantaged youth, the environment, disadvantaged elderly, population and reproductive health, criminal justice, health, community economic development and participation, and human rights and global security. In 1999 the foundation purchased the True Reformer Building in Washington, DC to serve as its permanent headquarters.

By 2007 the Public Welfare Foundation distributed more the $400 million to 4200 organizations. The foundation continues its interest in bettering the lives of individuals by serving as a catalyst for change. In order to maintain a strong and sustainable, effort in grant making, the foundation now focuses on three specific program areas: criminal and juvenile justice, health reform, and workers’ rights.


408 Cubic Feet (403 cartons, 4 flat boxes, 1 cassette box)


In 1947 Charles Edward Marsh founded the Public Welfare Foundation to render direct financial assistance to the needy. His purpose, to offer the greatest good to the greatest number of people, symbolized the efforts of the foundation he created. His method of distributing money, called the agent system, dispersed financial assistance to provide for the immediate needs of individuals. As tax laws required more detailed reporting, the foundation began to phase out the agent system and created a more formal method of receiving proposals from organizations worldwide. With a commitment to supporting organizations that help people overcome barriers to full participation in society, the foundation had distributed more than $400 million in grants by 2007. Its purpose continues in the spirit of Charles Marsh to focus on “ensuring the fundamental rights and opportunities for people in need.”

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Public Welfare Foundation, Washington, DC, October 2006, February, 2008, September 2008. A2006/07-017, A2007/08-014, A2008/09-010.


Annual Reports, 1956/57-1992/93, 1994/95-1995/96, 1997-2001. (Call number: ULSCAR HV97. P0042 A669)
Dillon, Peggy. Seeking the Greatest Good: The Public Welfare Foundation. Washington, DC: Public Welfare Foundation, 2000. (Call number: PPSL HV97.P83 D555 2000)
Kopper, Phillip. Anonymous Giver: The Life of Charles E. Marsh. Washington, DC: Public Welfare Foundation, 2000. (Call number: PPSL HV28. K677 2000)
Public Welfare Foundation Website:


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Public Welfare Foundation Records, 1946-2007
Debra Brookhart
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Repository Details

Part of the Philanthropic Studies Archives Repository

IUPUI University Library
755 W. Michigan St.
Room 0133
Indianapolis IN 46202 USA