Student Author(s)

Ivy Keen

Faculty Mentor(s)

Drs. Natalie Dykstra and Julia Randel, and Mr. Geoffrey Reynolds

Document Type


Event Date



Although women have engaged in philanthropy for centuries, their personal contributions have often been masked because their donations were given in their husbands' names. I argue that to fully understand a person’s actions, it is important to know the historical context in which they performed such actions because each historical time period has its own set of characteristics and challenges. By looking at the individual stories of women philanthropists, we can learn more about these women than from general trends. To support this claim, I looked at four general trends I saw expressed in women’s philanthropy: Influences from religion and education, the time in their lives when women donated, and the effects of societal gender norms on their philanthropy. I also used the life story of Mrs. Margaret Sage, a philanthropist during the Gilded Age who exemplified all four of these trends, as a basis for comparison against individual stories. Using archival resources located at the Joint Archives of Holland, I researched two women philanthropists, Mrs. Martha Kollen and Mrs. Elsa Prince, both local philanthropists born and raised in Holland, Michigan. In addition to seeing the extent to which these individual stories varied from general trends, I also examined the role culture plays in women’s philanthropy. Research by Stephen Post, a scholar of American ethics, has found that much of twentieth-century philanthropy was “disinterested benevolence.” This kind of benevolence was used to express one’s faith in the form of Christian love. Using these two local women, I looked to see if being from Holland, a city with a distinct Christian culture, resulted in philanthropy such as the one mentioned above. I found it does to an extent; therefore, culture is also important to keep in mind when thinking about women’s philanthropy, as leaving it out can prevent one from seeing the whole story.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.