William Thomas Grant (1876–1972) was an American entrepreneur. He opened his first "W. T. Grant Co. 25 Cent Store" in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1906, with $1,000 he had saved from his work as a salesman. His simple philosophy was to sell people what they needed at prices they could afford, making only a modest profit. This strategy was very successful; at the company's height, there were nearly 1,200 W.T. Grant stores.
In 1936, during the Great Depression, Mr. Grant created the Grant Foundation. He wrote at the time, "Nothing would suit me better than to be able to contribute something to a Real World Peace." In the 1930s, charitable foundations were paying a lot of attention to short-term social relief issues, but Mr. Grant wanted to take a long-term approach. The mission of the Grant Foundation was to support strong social science research, the object of which was, in Mr. Grant’s mind, "the enrichment of life, with a primary interest in people and in their adjustment to the world in which they live."
The Foundation lives on in perpetuity, thanks to judicious management of our endowment, carrying out Mr. Grant's vision of funding high-quality research that can be used to improve young people’s lives.
The Early Years
Mr. Grant's primary interest was in finding out why some young people who were otherwise equipped for success did not succeed, while others did. This interest led to the "Grant Study of Adult Development,"
conducted at Harvard University, which began in 1938 and continues to this day. George Vaillant, M.D., who directed the study for many years, published Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
in October 2012.
The Grant Study, now overseen by Robert Waldinger, is the longest longitudinal study of human development ever conducted. It was a watershed in the use of interdisciplinary research, combining knowledge and mixing theories and methods from the fields of anthropology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology. This interdisciplinary, mixed-methods approach characterizes the work the Foundation has funded throughout our history.
Most of the research we supported in our first 40 years centered on preventive mental health and assessment for children and adolescents. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Grant Foundation became one of the leading funders of research into the emerging field of infant development. Grantees from the period included notable scholars such as Benjamin Spock, Anna Freud, and Jane Goodall.
More information about our early years is available in The First Fifty Years: The William T. Grant Foundation: 1936–1986
New Leaders, New Programs
The late 70s and early 80s saw a number of changes at the Foundation. Mr. Grant passed away in 1972 at the age of 96. His stores went bankrupt in 1975, and two years later, the Grant Foundation changed our name to the William T. Grant Foundation. In 1980, Robert Haggerty, M.D., began his 12-year tenure as president of the Foundation, ushering in a focus on stress, resilience, and coping. The Foundation instituted the Faculty Scholars Program in 1981, as a response to sharp cuts in the federal funding of social science research and the declining interest in science research careers. Dr. Haggerty did not want to lose a generation of potential scholars. The Faculty Scholars Program (called the William T. Grant Scholars Program since 2001 to reflect the inclusion of non-teaching Scholars) has supported and enhanced the careers of more than 150 early-career researchers—including J. Lawrence Aber, Linda Burton, Vonnie McLoyd, Sean Reardon, Jane Waldfogel, and Hirokazu Yoshikawa—helping them become leaders in their fields.
The focus on stress and coping, a field in which Dr. Haggerty had been a pioneer, led to an emphasis on youth transitions, notably the transition from puberty to adolescence, and from school to work, particularly for students who did not pursue higher education. In 1986, the Foundation established "Youth and America's Future: The William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship."
The Commission reported that 20 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 would not be attending college, and that although many of these young people were living independently, a significant percentage were living in poverty. The main findings of the Commission were published as "Non-College Youth in America" and "Pathways to Success for America's Youth and Young Families," and were distributed widely as The Forgotten Half
When Dr. Haggerty retired in 1992, Beatrix ("Betty") Hamburg, M.D., moved from her role as a long-standing trustee to president of the Foundation. Her vision continued the focus on the forgotten half of underserved American youth. Under Dr. Hamburg, the Foundation also was prescient in funding research on the prevention of youth violence in schools, as well as systems for dealing with young offenders.
The Foundation in the 21st Century
Upon Dr. Hamburg's retirement from the Foundation in September 1998, Karen Hein, M.D., was chosen as our next president. Under Dr. Hein, a specialist in adolescent health, advocacy, health policy, and HIV/AIDS, the Foundation was at the forefront of the emerging field of “positive youth development." The field encourages approaches that build on youth assets as an alternative to deficit-based strategies.
In July 2003, Karen Hein retired and Robert C. Granger, Ed.D., then the Foundation’s senior vice president for program and an expert in the evaluation of policies and programs affecting children and youth, was appointed president. Dr. Granger shifted the Foundation's focus from individual development to the everyday settings that shape development—including after-school programs, communities, families, and schools. Because this shift was novel for many social science disciplines, he initiated long-term initiatives to build the methodological capacity of researchers to design studies focused on settings and the measurement of settings. Much of this was done through a 10-year collaboration with Stephen Raudenbush and Howard Bloom.
During Dr. Granger's tenure, the Foundation also sought to understand and demonstrate how to strengthen the connections between research and practice, often using our interest in improving the quality of after-school programs as the test case. We launched a scholarly focus on research utilization to better understand how and why policymakers and practitioners acquire, interpret, and use research. This groundbreaking work was complemented by several initiatives, such as support for ongoing meetings of researchers and practitioners working together on shared problems as well as fellowships for influential, mid-career scholars, practitioners, and policymakers meant to increase their effectiveness in connecting research and practice.
Dr. Granger has announced that he will retire in August 2013. Adam Gamoran, Ph.D., was chosen to succeed him and his tenure will begin in September 2013.