History: Overview

  Paul Mellon contemplates Edgar
Degas' Petite Danseuse de Quatorze
Ans. Detail. © Dennis Brack/Blackstar

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of the State of New York, was formed on June 30, 1969, through the consolidation of two existing foundations—Avalon Foundation and Old Dominion Foundation.

The Avalon Foundation had been established in 1940 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, daughter of Andrew W. Mellon.  The Old Dominion Foundation had been established in 1941 by Paul Mellon, son of Andrew W. Mellon.  When the two foundations were consolidated, the Foundation was renamed The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to honor their father.

At the end of 1969, the assets of the Foundation totaled $220 million. By the end of 2009, assets totaled $5 billion, with annual grantmaking appropriations of approximately $199.5 million.

Since its creation, the Foundation has had six presidents:

Charles S. Hamilton (1969-1971)
Nathan M. Pusey (1971-1975)
John E. Sawyer (1975-1987)
William G. Bowen (1988-2006)
Don Michael Randel (2006-2013)
Earl Lewis (2013-present)


Charles S. Hamilton (1969-1971). A noted expert in labor law and long-serving philanthropic executive, Mr. Hamilton led the Foundation in its formative years.  In 1935, following his education at Princeton University and Yale Law School, Mr. Hamilton joined the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he became a partner in 1945.  He retired from legal practice in 1958.  In January 1960, Mr. Hamilton joined the Avalon Foundation as vice president, and was elected president the following year.  While administering Avalon's affairs, he also played a leading role in the arrangements that led to the establishment of the Mellon Foundation in July 1969.

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Nathan M. Pusey (1971-1975). After receiving undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, Mr. Pusey taught classics, literature, and history at Lawrence College (now Lawrence University), Scripps College, and Wesleyan University.  He served as president of Lawrence College from 1944 to 1953, and of Harvard University from 1953 to 1971.  At Harvard, he oversaw the inauguration of new programs particularly in international and area studies, the introduction of need-blind financial aid, the revival of the Divinity School, significant growth in the University’s financial assets, and major improvement of its physical plant.  Mr. Pusey was a trustee of the Avalon Foundation and a founding trustee of the Mellon Foundation.  When Charles Hamilton retired in 1971, Mr. Pusey assumed the Foundation's presidency.  He deepened Mellon’s focus on supporting the best in higher education and humanistic scholarship.  Mr. Pusey authored The Age of the Scholar: Observations on Education in a Troubled Decade (1963) and American Higher Education, 1945-1970: A Personal Report (1978).  In 1963, he also produced what came to be known as the "Pusey Report," a landmark study of theological education.

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John E. Sawyer (1975-1987). After graduating from Williams College and Harvard University, Mr. Sawyer taught economics at Harvard and Yale before serving as president of Williams from 1961 to 1973.  At Williams, he oversaw major changes in the College’s structure and character, including its transition to coeducation, the elimination of its fraternities, and the provision of greater access for minority and economically less advantaged students.  As president of the Mellon Foundation, Mr. Sawyer guided the Foundation’s evolution.  During his 12-year tenure, the Foundation’s total annual grants rose from $40 million to $70 million.  In addition to continuing the Foundation’s support of humanistic scholarship and institutions of higher education, Mr. Sawyer promoted the improvement and modernization of the nation’s research libraries and cooperation among them.  He also provided key leadership in the fields of population studies and ecology.  In 1994, following Mr. Sawyer’s long-standing interests in multidisciplinary inquiry, the Foundation launched a series of seminars designed to promote comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments.  This program was named for Mr. Sawyer following his death in 1995.

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William G. Bowen (1988-2006). Educated at Denison and Princeton Universities, Mr. Bowen joined the Princeton faculty in 1958.  An influential labor economist and teacher, he became Princeton’s provost in 1967, and served as its president from 1972 to 1988.  His achievements at the University include overseeing the transition to coeducation, establishing residential colleges, promoting increased diversity, and invigorating the biological sciences as a major institutional commitment.  He was also a driving force behind American higher education’s opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Mr. Bowen's tenure at Mellon was marked by further increases in the scale of the Foundation’s activities, with annual appropriations reaching $220 million in 2000.  To ensure that Mellon’s grantmaking activities would be better informed and more effective while also following his interest in studying questions central to higher education and philanthropy, he created an in-house research program to investigate doctoral education, collegiate admissions, independent research libraries, and charitable nonprofits.  Mr. Bowen’s interest in the application of information technology to humanistic scholarship led to a range of initiatives including the Foundation-sponsored creation of JSTOR (a searchable electronic archive of the full runs of core journals in many fields), ARTstor Inc. (a repository of high-quality digitized works of art and related materials for teaching and research) and Ithaka Harbors, Inc. (an organization launched to accelerate the adoption of productive and efficient uses of information technology for the benefit of higher education).  Mr. Bowen is the author or co-author of 20 books, including Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education (2005) with Martin A. Kurzweil and Eugene M. Tobin, which received the American Education Research Association (AERA) 2006 Outstanding Book Award; Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values (2003) with Sarah A. Levin; The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (2001) with James Shulman; and the Grawemeyer Award-winning The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (1998) with Derek Bok.  In 2000, he delivered the Romanes Lecture at Oxford University, "At a Slight Angle to the Universe: The University in a Digitized and Commercialized Age."

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Don Michael Randel (2006-2013). Don Randel is a musicologist who attended Princeton University, where he received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in music.  His scholarly specialty is the music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Spain and France.  As a music historian, Mr. Randel is widely published, particularly on medieval liturgical chant, and he has also written on such varied topics as Arabic music theory, Latin American popular music, and fifteenth-century French music and poetry.  In 1968, Mr. Randel joined the Cornell University faculty in the department of music.  He served for 32 years as a member of Cornell’s faculty, where he was also department chair, vice-provost, and associate dean and then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  He became provost of Cornell University in 1995.  From July 2000 until he joined the Foundation in July 2006, Mr. Randel held the position of President of the University of Chicago.  There he led efforts to strengthen the humanities and the arts on campus, as well as a broad range of interactions with the City of Chicago and a further strengthening of the University’s programs in the physical and biomedical sciences and its relationship with the Argonne National Laboratory.  He also led the University’s campaign for $2 billion, the largest in the University’s history.  Mr. Randel served as the editor of the Journal of the American Musicology Society.  He is also editor of the Harvard Dictionary of Music 4th ed., published in 2003, the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, published in 1996, and the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, published in 1999.

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Earl Lewis (2013-present). Earl Lewis, a well regarded social historian, is a native of Tidewater Virginia; he earned an undergraduate degree from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, in history and psychology, and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.

Mr. Lewis held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley (1984-89), the University of Michigan (1989-2004), and Emory University (2004-2012).  Before coming to Mellon he served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory.

In recent years Mr. Lewis has championed the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning, and connecting universities to their communities.

The author and co-editor of seven books as well as the eleven-volume The Young Oxford History of African Americans, he has written numerous essays, articles, and reviews on different aspects of American and African American history.  Among his books are the critically recognized, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class and Power in 20th Century Norfolk (University of California Press, 1991); the award-winning To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans (Oxford University Press, 2000); and the widely acclaimed Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White (WW Norton, 2001).  His most recent books are The African American Urban Experience: Perspectives from the Colonial Period to the Present, (2004), and Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan (2004).

Mr. Lewis has been a member of several academic and community boards, founding co-editor of the award-winning book series American Crossroads (University of California Press) and, since 2008, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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