His Foundation May Be Winding Down, But This Donor Keeps the Gifts Flowing

Before there was Hamilton there was McCullough.

It seems as if we're in the midst of an American Revolution renaissance thanks to the ubiquitous musical examining the life of the guy who, thanks to the ubiquitous musical, will remain on our ten dollar bill for the foreseeable future. But 83-year old David McCullough was probing the complex inner lives of our Founding Fathers decades before an adolescent Lin-Manuel Miranda was lip-syncing to Rent in the mirror.

McCullough, who has won two Pulitzers, two National Book Awards, a slew of literary honors, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, now has another citation for his cluttered nightstand: the Gerry Lenfest Spirit of the American Revolution Award, presented by the Museum of the American Revolution.

In keeping with the Museum’s mission, Museum Board Chairman H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest created the award to celebrate the importance of public knowledge of American history, especially history related to the creation, evolution, and preservation of the core ideas of American democracy that were established during American Revolution. The award carries a grant of $25,000, which Lenfest endowed with a gift of $500,000 to continue the award for years to come. Lenfest is also the museum's largest contributor, donating $59 million over the last several years, and has served as Board Chairman since 2005.

McCullough is the author of 1776, the Pulitzer-winning John Adams, Truman, and other acclaimed historical works. He has been a stalwart supporter of the museum and led the museum's first board of scholars. "No author in the U.S.—and the world, actually—has done more to educate the American public on the Revolution and those who made it happen," said Lenfest.

According to the museum's press release, the Lenfest Award may be given to an individual or to an organization active in a "broad range of fields such as history, education, film-making, writing, media, and philanthropy." The recipient’s work should be "noteworthy for fostering public understanding of the historical origins, development, purposes, and principles of the American nation and the relevance of this history in the current civic life of the nation."

The award also shows that Lenfest's quasi-retirement doesn't connote a lack of activity. As we noted last year, the Lenfest Foundation announced would be winding down its operations. Spectators—ourselves included—what that would mean for Philadelphia-area recipients of the foundation's grantmaking. Turns out he has no plans to go gentle into that good night. In fact, the title of the our post, "Spending Down, Yet Expanding," sums up the past year or so rather nicely.

Around the same time the foundation announced its sunset, the foundation spun off the scholarship program, which provides funds for students from select local school districts, in order to make it its own entity so the scholarship program could "go on in perpetuity." What's more, earlier this year Lenfest, the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, donated the publications to a newly formed nonprofit journalism institute. We considered it an intriguing experiment that may very well save imperiled big city newspapers.

In the meantime, it's safe to say that the American public's knowledge of the American Revolution is far from imperiled thanks to the work of Mr. McCollough. And as for new year's Lenfest-endowed award, the museum tell us that nominations "are accepted from all sources."

(Attention Mr. Miranda's agent: If you're reading this, nominations should be sent by postal mail to the Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.)