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Foundation History

The William T. Grant Foundation has been dedicated to supporting research in the social sciences since 1936.
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The William T. Grant Foundation has been dedicated to supporting practical social science research since 1936.

Our Founder and the Foundation’s Early Years
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 saved from his work as a salesman. His philosophy was simple: sell people what they need at prices they can 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. The chain remained open for business until 1975, when the stores went bankrupt. For more information on Mr. Grant and his stores, please see his memoir, The Story and W.T. Grant and the Early Days of the Business He Founded.

In 1936—the middle of 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, many charitable foundations were focusing on short-term social relief issues, but Mr. Grant took a long-term approach. The mission of the Grant Foundation was to support strong social science research, the object of which was, to quote Mr. Grant, "the enrichment of life, with a primary interest in people and in their adjustment to the world in which they live."

Through managing his staff, Mr. Grant noticed that some young people—who were otherwise equipped for success—still did not succeed, while others did. This interest led to the 1938 launch of the "Grant Study of Adult Development," conducted at Harvard University. Still in progress, The Grant Study is the now the lengthiest longitudinal study of human development to date. In October 2012, George Vaillant, M.D., who directed the study for many years, published his eighth book on the study. Entitled Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, the book documents the importance of social relationships throughout the life course in leading to happiness in old age.

The Grant Study was groundbreaking for the use of interdisciplinary research design, combining knowledge and mixing theories and methods from anthropology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology. This approach still characterizes the Foundation’s work to this day.

Beyond the Grant Study, most of the Foundation’s early research centered on preventive mental health and assessment for children and adolescents. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Foundation became one of the leading research funders in the emerging field of infant development. Notable grantees from this period include Benjamin Spock, Anna Freud, and Jane Goodall.

Mr. Grant passed away in 1972 at the age of 96. In 1977, we changed our name to the William T. Grant Foundation.

For more information about our early years, please read The First Fifty Years: The William T. Grant Foundation: 1936–1986.

The Foundation After Mr. Grant
In the 1980s, the Foundation welcomed research on youth stress, resilience, and coping. In 1981, the Faculty Scholars Program was created as a response to sharp cuts in the federal funding of social science research and the declining interest in science research careers. Now known as the William T. Grant Scholars Program, the fellowship has supported and enhanced the careers of more than 150 early-career researchers—including many present-day leaders in their fields such as
J. Lawrence Aber, Linda Burton, Edith Chen, Vonnie McLoyd, Laurence Steinberg, Sean Reardon, Jane Waldfogel, Lawrence Wu, and Hirokazu Yoshikawa.

In 1986, the Foundation established Youth and America's Future: The William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship. “Against a rising chorus of legitimate concern about the many problems facing today’s youth,” said then-president Robert Haggerty, “the Foundation has initiated this Commission on Youth and America’s Future to speak in a different voice.”

The Commission was composed of leading researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and financial professionals, including luminaries like Hillary Clinton and Henry Riecken, Jr. In 1988, they issued a groundbreaking report entitled The Forgotten Half. The Commission found that 20 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 would not advance to college. Although many of these young people were living independently, a significant percentage lived in poverty.

Through the 1990s, the Foundation continued to focus on this forgotten half, while expanding to the prevention of youth violence in schools and juvenile justice.

In the 2000s, the Foundation's focus shifted from individual development to the everyday settings that shape development—including after-school programs, communities, families, and schools. We also launched a scholarly focus on the use of research evidence 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 research-practice partnerships and the establishment of our Distinguished Fellows program for influential, mid-career scholars, practitioners, and policymakers. We also initiated our Youth Service Improvement Grants program.

In 2014, the Foundation launched a research interest in understanding and reducing inequality. Arguing that inequality is the defining challenge of our time, the Foundation intends to support work that will result in progress toward reducing inequality in youth outcomes. This work will continue to build on the Foundation’s legacy, particularly our work on stress, coping, and social settings.

Foundation Presidents

William T. Grant, Founder 1936–1965

Douglas D. Bond, M.D. 1965–1976

Philip Sapir 1976–1978

William Haggerty, M.D. 1979–1992

Beatrix ("Betty") Hamburg, M.D. 1992–1998

Karen Hein, M.D. 1998–2003

Robert C. Granger, Ed.D. 2003–2013

Adam Gamoran, Ph.D. 2013–present


The First Fifty Years

This document, written by Emily Davis Cahan, then a research associate at Yale, details the Foundation's growth from 1936 to 1986 and the evolution of our research.

Foundation Archives

The William T. Grant Collection is a repository of the Foundation's historical records, which are maintained by the Rockefeller Archive Center. The majority of these records are publicly available to interested scholars at the Archive Center.