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:
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.
and 1938 BSA Annual Reports to Congress
Other documentation came from the
Rockefeller Archive and the Library of Congress.
David L. Eby
Miakonda Scouting Museum
Erie Shores Council, BSA