Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves

Helping Others, Helping Ourselves: Power, Giving and Community Identity in Cleveland, Ohio, 1880-1930. By Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan. (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2001. 222 pp. Paper, $29.00, ISBN 0-87338-711-2.)

Until the New Deal era, much social support in the U.S. came through private philanthropy. In considering the means and ends of such private philanthropy, historians have explored “top-down” philanthropy whereby wealthy Americans gave funds and endowed non-profit organizations to shape society in particular ways. When Andrew Carnegie, for example, chose to finance public libraries he was not merely expressing a benign belief in the power of reading. He gave his money to support his idea that the less fortunate should not be provided direct aid, but rather given the indirect means by which they could choose to help themselves. For Carnegie and other wealthy philanthropists, thus, giving was a way to control other groups in the U.S.

In Helping Others, Helping Ourselves, Laura Tuennerman-Kaplan has written a social analysis of philanthropy that moves beyond this top-down approach by shifting from philanthropy of the wealthy to that of more “ordinary” people in Cleveland and asking how and why they chose to give to others within their community. She admits that such philanthropy too was an exercise in power, but insists that the “giving” of more ordinary people was rooted in their sense of belonging to Cleveland and that patterns of giving reveal “a social relation, one that both reflected and shaped society” (150). Continue reading Book Review: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves