Frederick T. Gates played an essential role in creating modern institutional philanthropy.
Born in 1853 to a Baptist minister, Gates was raised with a strong dedication to his faith. After graduating from the University of Rochester in New York in 1877 and the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1880, he was ordained as a Baptist minister and spent the next eight years as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 1888 while working as Secretary for the American Baptist Education Society, Gates came to the attention of John D. Rockefeller (JDR). JDR was approached by Gates as part of a campaign to create a major Baptist university in the Midwest. Convinced by Gates’ arguments for such an institution, JDR became the principal benefactor of what became the University of Chicago in 1892.
JDR was impressed by Gates’ fundraising and planning skills and proposed that Gates come to manage his philanthropic and business activities.
From this position Gates established his legacy in the field of philanthropy. In 1897, inspired by the lack of medical research facilities in the U.S., Gates laid out a plan for opening an American medical research institution. This plan – his first major endeavor as Rockefeller’s philanthropic advisor – led to the creation of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He also played an essential role in creating and organizing the General Education Board (GEB) in 1902 and the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission (RSC) for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease in 1909.
His most notable contribution to early philanthropy, however, was his role in the establishment of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). It was Gates’ vision of a large, professionally staffed foundation that could work for the general purpose of “the welfare of mankind” that convinced JDR to provide the resources for the new foundation. During his time on the RF Board of Trustees, Gates encouraged a focus on health initiatives (setting an agenda that prevailed for decades) and oversaw early activities of the Foundation, including the development of the International Health Division (IHD) and the China Medical Board (CMB). He served a ten-year term on the RF Board of Trustees before retiring in 1923.
Frederick T. Gates passed away in 1929 in Phoenix, Arizona. His papers can be accessed by researchers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC).