John Marshall re-envisioned the Humanities Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and actively promoted the cross-Atlantic exchange of ideas as the first director of the Bellagio Center in Italy.
Born in 1903 in Portland, Maine, Marshall went on to receive his education at Harvard University, earning both a B.A. (1925) and an M.A. (1928) in English, while also working for a time as an English instructor at the University. Before joining the RF, he served as Executive Secretary of the Medieval Academy of America from 1926 to 1933, and as editor at the American Council of Learned Societies from 1931 to 1933.
In 1933 Marshall joined the RF as Assistant Director for the Humanities, as well as an officer of the General Education Board (GEB). In 1940, he was promoted to Associate Director of the Division of the Humanities, a position that he held until 1962. Complementing the work of David H. Stevens, Director for the Humanities, Marshall took the RF in new directions, including support for emerging disciplines such as communication studies.
Marshall also sought to support emerging artists in a variety of fields. In 1953 he directed $400,000 in grants to the Louisville Orchestra to commission performances of works by new American composers. He also supported investment in media technologies, including film, radio and microphotography for libraries, in an effort to help make scholarly materials more widely accessible.
In 1959 Marshall, along with his wife Charlotte Trowbridge Marshall, moved to Italy, where he became the first director of the Bellagio Center at the Villa Serbelloni. He defined this position by hosting numerous academics and artists, providing them the time and space to work. He also organized important conferences on topics of international economics, food production and population growth. In addition to his role as director, Marshall and his wife also wrote the history of Villa Serbelloni, tracing the origins of the property and its holders back to the 1500s.
John Marshall retired from the RF in 1970 and died in Wilton, Connecticut, in 1980. The papers of John Marshall are available for research at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC). His officer's diaries are digitized and can be accessed through the RAC's online collections.