A cache of historic files was recently recovered from the basement of The Century Foundation (TCF), which documents the role of the organization and its founder, Edward A. Filene, in the shaping of American public policy over nearly a century. TCF is pleased to announce the donation of these archives—which date from the organization’s founding in 1919 to the end of the twentieth century (when it was known as the Twentieth Century Fund)—to The New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division. The Library is currently processing the historical materials, which will be available to the public later this year.

“These files contain amazing historical documents that are, in very many ways, essential elements in the development of the nation’s public policy,” said Janice Nittoli, president of The Century Foundation. “We are grateful to the New York Public Library for their recognition of the importance of these documents, and for their eagerness to organize them so that others can learn from the past activities and accomplishments of The Century Foundation.”

The TCF archives contain correspondence, photos, meeting transcripts, films, and other materials that include:

  • Extensive correspondence among TCF’s directors and trustees, including distinguished national figures such as Theodore Sorensen, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Morris B. Abram, David E. Lilienthal, Justice Robert Jackson, Patricia Roberts Harris, and J. Robert Oppenheimer.
  • Project files for major undertakings, including material on important works such as Stock Market Control, which helped shape the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; reports from the foundation’s Labor Committee, which led to the creation of the National Labor Relations Board; More Security for Old Age, which helped bolster the critical 1937 amendments to the Social Security Act; and J. Frederic Dewhurst’s America’s Needs and Resources, which helped set the nation’s economic direction after World War II; Jean Gottman’s Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States; Sebastian de Grazia’s Of Time, Work, and Leisure; George T. Kimble’s Tropical Africa; and Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations.
  • Transcripts of meetings with historic importance, such as the committee that worked to establish the National News Council.

“The Century Foundation archives will provide a great resource for the study of many of the last century’s most pressing social and economic issues in the United States, as well as the progressive response to those issues,” said William Stingone, Charles J. Liebman Curator of the Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division. “The archives are a window into twentieth century life and politics. The Library is very grateful to The Century Foundation for giving us the opportunity to preserve and share their history with current and future researchers.”

Edward Filene was a progressive Republican businessman who created Filene’s Basement, in his father’s Boston-based department store. He was a champion of business strategies and public policies that promoted economic opportunity. He was an early proponent of business models that give employees the opportunity to own shares of the companies for which they work, and he played a pivotal role in getting America’s first Workmen’s Compensation law passed in 1911. He also helped launch the U.S. credit union movement and later established the Credit Union National Extension Bureau, to which he contributed over $1 million between 1920 and 1934. Filene established the Twentieth Century Fund to develop and promote public policy that reflected his interest in leveling the economic playing field.