Martin Wooster writes for the Martin Center about a historical case involving college donor intent.

Suppose you’re a donor interested in steering a college in a more sensible direction with your grants. Many questions will arise with the restrictions you put on your aid. Can you give money to a college and have any sort of say in what professors teach—or are you restricting academic freedom with your donations? Do you have any say in who is hired with your donations—or who is fired?

Those are questions donors wishing colleges to teach courses that promote market-oriented ideas or traditional culture have to address. But what Joan Marie Johnson shows in Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy and the Women’s Movement, 1870-1967 is that women giving money to colleges and universities in the early years of the 20th century faced exactly the same questions.

She shows that the efforts of these donors, when successful, were a triumph for donor intent. Those who insisted on tight restrictions on the use of their money got the results they wanted, while those who failed to do so were disappointed.

Johnson, who works in the provost’s office of Northwestern University, cannot resist showing her contemporary “wokeness.” She dutifully denounces the donors she covers, describing them as “affluent white women who, despite their class and race privilege, still experienced sexism.” By our standards, those donors were rich, but not particularly privileged, since married women at the time had no say in how their wealth could be spent; husbands completely controlled household finances. …

… Johnson says that the women who gave money to colleges on the condition they made their colleges more friendly to women were practicing “coercive philanthropy.” What they were actually doing was insisting on donor intent. There’s nothing “coercive” about wanting to see your money used as you wish. She provides case studies that show one spectacular success and one major failure among the donors whose stories she tells.