“Tell the truth and trust the people.”
– Joseph Newton Pew Jr., 1946
The Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent nonprofit, is the sole beneficiary of seven individual charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph Newton Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. Honoring their parents’ religious conviction that good works should be done quietly, the original Pew Memorial Foundation was a grantmaking organization that made donations anonymously.
Early priorities included cancer research, the Red Cross and a pioneering project to assist historically black colleges. The foundation became the Pew Memorial Trust in 1956, based in Philadelphia, the donors’ hometown.
Between 1957 and 1979, six other trusts were created, representing the personal and complementary philanthropic interests of four committed siblings:
- J. Howard Pew graduated from Grove City College and succeeded his father as president of Sun Oil in 1912. His business and personal philosophies were linked, based on a commitment to political and economic freedom. His philanthropic interests centered on strengthening democracy and religious education. He remained involved with the Trusts until his death in 1971.
- Mary Ethel Pew graduated from Bryn Mawr College with honors and brought an interest in health care to the Trusts, due in part to her mother’s death from cancer in 1935. The largest grant in the foundation’s first year helped create a cancer research center, establishing a commitment to address medical and health issues. Ethel was involved with the Trusts until her death in 1979.
- Joseph Newton Pew, Jr., known universally as “Joe,” graduated from Cornell University and maintained a lifelong interest in higher education, science and engineering. He was the most public of the founders, running Sun Oil with his brother and becoming active in the Republican party. He remained involved with the Trusts until his death in 1963, and was responsible for the early grants to historically black colleges.
- Mabel Pew married H. Alarik Myrin in 1919 and lived in Argentina for several years before returning to Philadelphia. She remained active in the work of the Trusts until her death in 1972, and was interested in a wide range of issues including early childhood education and conservation, particularly the problem of declining soil fertility. She was also active in cultural organizations, serving as president of the Lyric Opera Company of Philadelphia for 14 years.
Throughout our 65-year history Pew has maintained the energy and optimism of our founders and constantly adapted to new challenges. Projects in 1974 with regional conservancies, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the International Oceanographic Foundation began an investment in protecting the earth’s unspoiled places for future generations. Today we conduct research and seek to strengthen environmental policies and practices across the globe.
Our interest in federal policy began in 1986, with the establishment of a program on economics and national security. And in 1994 we began working on a robust research portfolio examining state policy, including landmark reports on education, state prisons and election administration. Through our non-partisan reporting and research, advocacy, and technical assistance we help cities and states deliver better results by investing in programs that provide the strongest returns.
Pew’s public opinion research began in 1995 when the Times Mirror Center became the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In 2004, the Pew Research Center was created as a separate operating subsidiary, bringing together all of our work on public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis, and other empirical social science research. As a neutral source of data and analysis, the center does not take policy positions.
In 2004 The Pew Charitable Trusts became a public charity, giving us more flexibility to engage in new initiatives and operate programs for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Expanding our work internationally, with new partners and an emphasis on action, we created projects to strengthen environmental and energy policies; protect our oceans and wild lands; improve health through investments in child nutrition; increase the safety of foods and drugs; provide consumers with better information about financial products; and help states invest in programs that provide the strongest returns.
After opening a small office in Washington, D.C. in 2003, we moved to a larger space in 2009 to allow for more collaboration with other non-profit organizations and facilitate educational programs for policymakers and the public. The building includes state-of-the art conference facilities available to outside organizations.
Over the past six decades, we have remained committed to the civic life of Philadelphia. Inspired by the founders’ belief in the importance of an informed democracy, we provide timely, impartial research and analysis that helps Philadelphia’s citizens and leaders understand and address key issues facing the city. We also support the best of the regional cultural community, in large part through the efforts of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. And we work with the region’s leading health and social service organizations to serve some of the most vulnerable members of the community – disadvantaged children and families; adults with multiple complex issues such as those related to homelessness and mental health problems; and the frail elderly. Today The Pew Charitable Trusts is a global non-governmental organization with three broad goals:
- Improve public policy by conducting rigorous analysis, linking diverse interests to pursue common cause and insisting on tangible results;
- Inform the public by providing useful data that illuminate the issues and trends shaping our world;
- Stimulate civic life by encouraging democratic participation and strong communities. In our hometown of Philadelphia, we support organizations that create a thriving arts and culture community and institutions that enhance the well-being of the region’s neediest citizens.
For more information on our formative years through 2001, read A History of The Pew Charitable Trusts. (PDF)