Women are learning something men have traditionally understood: money provides access.
—Karen D. Stone
Philanthropy lies at the heart of women’s history.
—Kathleen D. McCarthy
Over the first six decades of the twentieth century, Katharine Dexter McCormick wrote checks totaling millions of dollars to advance political, economic, and personal freedom and independence for women. She gave her time and money to the woman suffrage movement, funded a dormitory for women at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to encourage women’s education in science, and almost single-handedly financed the development of the birth control pill. McCormick opposed the militant tactics of some suffragists—such as picketing the White House—which were bankrolled by another woman, Alva Belmont, a southerner who stunned New York society when she divorced William K. Vanderbilt, inheritor of the Vanderbilt fortune. With her flair for the dramatic, Belmont brought crucial publicity to the woman suffrage movement and wielded power with her money, giving tens of thousands of dollars to the national suffrage associations under certain conditions—for example, that organization offices be moved; that she be given a leadership position; and, later, that the movement focus on international women’s rights. Mary Garrett, another generous supporter of the suffrage movement, also understood the coercive power of philanthropy, paying the salary of the dean at Bryn Mawr College—but only if that dean was her partner, M. Carey Thomas—and orchestrating a half-million-dollar gift to Johns Hopkins University to open a medical school, with the condition that the school admit women. These monied women, and many like them, understood that their money gave them clout in society at a time when most women held little power....
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