Scouting Through History

Scouting History – Bits & Pieces #1 - Margaret Olivia Sage by Dave Eby


The total amount of contributions received in 1912 by the National Council, BSA was $36,326.06 which kept the fledgling organization afloat financially. Of this amount, five people donated $29,300 which represented 81% of the total received. 361 other people and Scout troops donated the remainder. Those five donors were Mortimer Schiff who gave $4,800.00, George D. Pratt who gave $5,500.00 (he was the first treasurer of the BSA), John D. Rockefeller Jr. who gave $6,000.00 and Andrew Carnegie who also gave $6,000.00. The fifth and the largest donor in 1912 was a woman named Mrs. (Russell) Margaret Olivia Sage who gave $7,000.00. She had no connection to Scouting yet she is more than just a footnote in Scouting history. She was the richest woman in America in the early 1900’s. Her husband had made a large fortune and died leaving her many tens of millions of dollars. She spent the last twelve years of her life giving it away. She was the main benefactor to William T. Hornaday’s “Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund” (P.W.L.P.F.) which was a $100,000 endowment Dr. Hornaday created in 1913 to supply income to fight anti-wildlife legislation and forces. Mrs. Sage personally donated $25,000 to it; far more than any other person. One of the features of this fund was a “Distinguished Service to Wild Life” Gold Medal program that Dr. Hornaday first proposed to the BSA in 1914 to promote the protection of wild life. The very first medal awarded from this program, which eventually became the named “Hornaday Awards” in 1938 (after Hornaday’s death in 1937), was presented on June 29, 1917 to Margaret Olivia Sage. In 1912 she had purchased the massive 76,000 acre Marsh Island in the Gulf of Mexico and later donated it to the State of Louisiana as a bird sanctuary of which it remains. The P.W.L.P.F. Medal program was used by four different organizations including the Boy Scouts of America. The medal from 1917 through 1937 was called the “Wild Life Protection Medal” of the P.W.L.P.F. After Hornaday’s death the $100,000.00 fund was transferred to the New York Zoological Society per the 1913 P.W.L.P.F. bylaws and it became their endowment and they renamed the awards in Hornaday’s honor and sponsored the Hornaday Awards program for the next 35 years. (The original design medal and badge were used by the BSA until they redesigned it in 1952.) At that point it likely became solely a BSA program. Mrs. Sage’s 1917 medal is part of the Sage collection at the Rockefeller Archive in New York. From her husband’s death in 1906 until her own death in 1918, it is estimated she gave away $80,000,000.00. The basic tenant of her philanthropy was that it had to impact human life for the better.  She was extraordinary in life and in death as the foundation she created and endowed in 1907, the Russell Sage Foundation, continues to make a difference.


Sources of information:


Third Annual BSA Report from February 11, 1913

Unpublished Hornaday letters from the archive of the Bronx Zoo

Early annual reports of the P.W.L.P.F.

The 1937 and 1938 BSA Annual Reports to Congress

Other documentation came from the Rockefeller Archive and the Library of Congress.


Written by

David L. Eby

Council Historian

Miakonda Scouting Museum

Erie Shores Council, BSA

Toledo, Ohio


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