Becoming a Profession
The Role of
the Private Foundations
Medical sociology, to establish itself, required conditions of intellectual interest, of social demand, of sponsorship, and of resources. Although the federal government, particularly NIMH, was instrumental in the professional development of medical sociology, private foundations prepared the way—especially in training, in introducing the social sciences into medical education, and in directly stimulating and supporting professional organization. Both before and after federal agencies became involved, private foundations continued to play a vital function. The Commonwealth Fund, the Milbank Memorial Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundations deserve special mention, but the Russell Sage Foundation played the most singular role. It set directions of research, recruited already established social scientists, and trained a cadre of sociologists who were to be among the most influential of the early medical sociologists.
Medicine was not targeted in the Foundation's program 1 until Donald Young became its president 2 in 1948, but one can trace related interests much earlier. In 1907, when Margaret Olivia Sage established the Russell Sage Foundation, the goal of the new organization was defined as “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States of America. ” 3 Toward this end the Foundation's initial program embraced two complementary efforts: “to professionalize social work and to eliminate deleterious environmental conditions. ” 4 For the next forty years it supported the field of social work, both its organizations and its research. This did not mean the professional practice of social work. Margaret Sage chose research as the means whereby the Foundation should be a national “center of charitable and philanthropic information, ” 5 and in the process it became a leading source of social welfare data. Eric Wanner, the current president of the Russell Sage Foundation, recently recalled the ten years after its founding as a time when