Flora M. Rhind rose from a secretarial position to principal officer at a time when few women held formal leadership roles in the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). Her career with three Rockefeller philanthropic organizations--the Rockefeller Foundation, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), and General Education Board (GEB)--spanned thirty-eight years (1926-1964) and was characterized by a devotion to educational and equal opportunity causes.
Rhind was born on April 28, 1904 in New York City. After graduating from high school in 1921, she began working as a secretary and taking evening classes at Hunter College. In 1926, Rhind joined the RF as secretary to vice-president and Division of Studies director Edwin Embree. She was transferred to the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in 1928 to serve as secretary to Edmund E. Day, who took over the LSRM's social sciences work. When the LSRM was consolidated into the RF in 1929, Day became director for Social Sciences and Rhind returned to the RF.
In 1937, Rhind was appointed the General Education Board's secretary for general education and assumed responsibility for its educational program. She quickly rose through the GEB's ranks: first, she became assistant director (a position she held from 1940-1947), and directed the GEB's fellowships program and its work in the U.S. South. She toured black and white southern colleges and universities, conferring with educational leaders about African American education. She then went on to serve as the GEB’s secretary (1952-1961), vice-president (1961-1964) and, beginning in April 1960, the first woman trustee.
Although she continued to work for the GEB, Rhind returned to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1948 to serve as corporate secretary, where she held essential legal, public relations, and record-keeping responsibilities. When the Foundation reentered the field of African American education in 1963 through its Equal Opportunity program, Rhind's GEB experience made her the RF's primary educational advisor and expert. In 1965, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Berea College in Kentucky in honor of her commitment to Southern educational and equal opportunity causes.
On the occasion of her retirement in June 1964, John D. Rockefeller 3rd wrote to Rhind, "I personally will always think of you in relation to Negro education. In this area you have carried a heavy and important load, and will be gratefully remembered by the many you have come in contact with and by the many more who have benefitted by your understanding and wise counsel." President George Harrar , too, reflected on her remarkable career: Rhind "played a unique role in the history of the Rockefeller boards. No one of her present colleagues has served three Rockefeller philanthropic organizations. No other officer has known and worked with all of the chairmen and presidents of The Rockefeller Foundation since its beginning. Only one other woman has bridged the gap between a secretarial position and that of a principal officer of the Foundation."
After her official retirement, Rhind took on a final project for the RF: Harrar asked her to lead a study of the RF archives, "and to plan how best they can be organized and maintained and to what extent . . . they should be opened to outsiders." The project's importance underscores the extent to which the Foundation valued her judgment and expertise, and solidified her significant legacy.
Flora M. Rhind died on September 19, 1985, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She was 81 years old. An oral history with Rhind can be accessed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.