Skip navigation

The Presidents

Like all foundations, Carnegie Corporation has been largely defined by the vision of its presidents. The Corporation presidency has attracted people of great conscience. John Gardner, Corporation president from 1955 to 1965, was a giant there. He understood government, he understood philanthropy, and he understood the role that philanthropy played in American society. He described philanthropy as "the risk capital for the nonprofit world," saying that philanthropy gives creative people an opportunity to explore new ways to create the public good. Gardner went on to become the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson. He is viewed by many as one of the great spokesmen for philanthropy in the twentieth century.

Alan Pifer, who joined the Corporation's staff in 1953, became acting president in 1965 and served as president from 1967 to 1982, was similarly a man of conscience. Like Gardner, he was very interested in addressing the political and social problems of the world through philanthropy. Before he came to Carnegie Corporation and initiated new programs in South Africa, he had visited Africa 27 times and set up scholarships and exchange programs between African countries and the United States. Pifer was also very interested in the women's liberation movement and the civil-rights movements and their potential impact on society. During his presidency, the Corporation gave pioneering grants to establish women's-studies institutes and programs and supported initiatives within the United States that attempted to address issues of race and poverty.

Alan Pifer used his position at Carnegie Corporation to open the door to new kinds of outreach. In fact, he was known as a person with a literal open-door policy to new ideas and opportunities. As is evident from his videotaped interview available on this site, Pifer had a very delicate sensibility, a modest and slightly humorous way of talking about his role and the roles of others. His quiet, dignified leadership brought tremendous gain to Carnegie Corporation in a number of areas, but nowhere more than in the Corporation's work in South Africa.

David Hamburg, president of Carnegie Corporation from 1982 to 1997, was an innovative leader who brought matters of science and health to the foundation's heart by virtue of his own expertise as an academic psychiatrist. A world traveler, Hamburg had done significant research in health and was very interested in global concerns at a time when the Cold War was waning and the world was becoming more interconnected. In his interview, Hamburg talks about the importance of research and social action, but he is very critical of foundations that embark upon social causes without thoroughly researching the impact of potential funding. His programs in international cooperation and the prevention of nuclear war had a tremendous impact on social and government policy in the United States and elsewhere.

Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation since 1997, also stands squarely in the tradition of Andrew Carnegie and his interest in advancing and disseminating knowledge. Before coming to the Corporation, Gregorian was president of the New York Public Library and president of Brown University. An Armenian born in Iran and educated in Lebanon, Gregorian brings an immigrant's consciousness to projects that develop new relationships across nationalities and communities. His programs renew Andrew Carnegie's vision of increasing knowledge and understanding on a global scale. He is very much an international person who recognizes the valuable role philanthropy plays in an increasingly complex world. While the oral history of Carnegie Corporation ends in 1997, the year that Gregorian became president, we have conducted an initial interview with him to complement an earlier oral history OHRO undertook when he was president of the New York Public Library.

Women at Carnegie Corporation

Though a woman has not yet held the presidency of Carnegie Corporation, several women who have held influential positions contributed oral histories featured on this site. Helene Kaplan, current chair of the board of trustees, holds that position for the second time. Her interview spans the spectrum of Carnegie Corporation's interests from the second phase of its work in South Africa up to the present. Vivien Stewart was chair of the education division. Barbara D. Finberg had a long tenure at the foundation, retiring in 1996 as executive vice president, and drove its mission through different presidencies. She initiated conversations with Columbia University about documenting Carnegie Corporation's history with a critical lens. Her attitude reflects the Corporation's interest in serious historical scholarship.