William Thomas Grant was a born salesman with a will to succeed. He began his career at age seven, selling flower seeds. As a young man, Mr. Grant began developing a philosophy that he stood by throughout his career: sell people what they need at prices they can afford, making only a modest profit. With this in mind, at age 30, Mr. Grant opened his first "W. T. Grant Co. 25 Cent Store" in Lynn, Massachusetts, with $1,000 he had saved from his work as a salesman. More stores quickly followed with great success, and his modest profits grew—the W. T. Grant stores were taking in almost $100 million a year in sales by 1936, the year he started the Grant Foundation. By the time Mr. Grant passed away in 1972, at age 96, his nationwide empire of W. T. Grant Stores had grown to almost 1,200.
Mr. Grant was a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, concerned for the future of all people and for the world at large. Writing during the Depression in the late 1930s, Mr. Grant said, "Nothing would suit me better than to be able to contribute something to a Real World Peace." At the time, 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 Grant Foundation was created to support strong social science research, the object of which was, in his mind, "the enrichment of life, with a primary interest in people and in their adjustment to the world in which they live."
In his later years, Mr. Grant was Chairman of the Board of the W. T. Grant Company, President of the Grant Foundation, and later Chairman of the Foundation’s Board. He received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Bates College in Maine and the University of Miami. Mr. Grant retired from both the W. T. Grant Company and the Grant Foundation at age 90, yet still served in an honorary capacity until his death. The Foundation lives on in perpetuity, carrying out Mr. Grant's vision of helping to encourage programs that fashion young people into good citizens, and research that helps us to enable people "to live more contentedly and peaceably, well in body and mind."
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
. The Foundation supported this research from 1938-1947, and again from 1957-1977. The latest findings from this study, written for a mainstream audience by George Vaillant, M.D., of Harvard University, were published in December 2001. The study, conducted under several generations of researchers, has followed some of the original subjects for more than 50 years.
The Grant Study was a watershed in the use of interdisciplinary research, combining knowledge from the fields of medicine, psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, and social services. An interdisciplinary approach has been characteristic of much of the research that the Foundation has funded ever since.
Most of the research that the Foundation supported in our first 40 years centered around preventive mental health research and evaluation for children and adolescents. Some grantees from that period included Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dr. Anna Freud, and Dr. Jane Goodall, whose work with chimpanzees briefly broadened the Foundation's scope beyond human development.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Grant Foundation became one of the leading funders of research into the development of infants, itself a developing field.
For more information about the Foundation’s first fifty years, please see this detailed account
New Leaders, New Programs
The late 70s and early 80s saw a number of changes at the Foundation. In 1977, two years after the bankruptcy of the W. T. Grant chain of stores, the Grant Foundation broadened its name to the William T. Grant Foundation. In 1980, Robert Haggerty, M.D., began his 12-year tenure as president of the Foundation (1980-1992). Under Dr. Haggerty, 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 (now called the William T. Grant Scholars Program) has supported and enhanced the careers of more than 130 early-career scholars, helping them to become leaders in their respective fields. Its original purpose was to support "promising scholars," who were doing research in the field of stress and coping, which formed the core focus of the Foundation's programming during Dr. Haggerty's tenure.
The Foundation's 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 the transition 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 as president in 1992, Beatrix ("Betty") Hamburg, M.D., moved from her role as a long-standing Foundation trustee to lead the Foundation into the last decade of the 20th century (1992-98). Her vision for the Foundation followed in the tradition of the Foundation's mission, and continued the focus on the "forgotten half" of underserved American youth. Under Dr. Hamburg, the Foundation also emphasized funding research on the prevention of youth violence in schools, as well as systems of 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 the Foundation's next president. Under Dr. Hein, a specialist in health policy, adolescent health and HIV/AIDS, and health program development, the Foundation shifted to a new focus on positive aspects of youth development.
Under Dr. Hein's leadership, the Foundation launched a strategic communications program to stress the importance of evidence-based youth development research. Additionally, it began to encourage and enable leaders in academia, policy, advocacy, and media to recognize and support the qualities and conditions necessary for American youth to thrive.
In July 2003, Karen Hein retired as president and Senior Vice President for Program, Robert C. Granger, Ed.D., was appointed to his new role as the Foundation's leader. As president, Dr. Granger has continued to hone the Foundation’s focus on high-quality empirical studies and bridging research, policy, and practice.