Anita McCormick Blaine was born on July 4, 1866. Before she was eighteen she inherited great wealth from her father, Cyrus H. McCormick, contributing inventor of the mechanical reaper and later founder of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company.
Growing up with inherited wealth and privilege, she imposed great responsibility on herself to use her great fortune to benefit those caught in the web of poverty, miseducation and violence.
Those who knew Anita admired her passion, energy, and dedication in the face of personal tragedy. Her husband, Emmons Blaine, died in the early years of their marriage and shortly after the birth of their only child, Emmons Blaine, Jr. Thoughtful and scholarly about all of her commitments, Anita now prepared herself for her son’s education through study. She attended teacher training and became an accomplished teacher, with expertise in primary education. Her family admired her seriousness of purpose. But tragedy struck again when her son Emmons Blaine, Jr. died soon after his own marriage.
At this point, Anita dedicated herself even more deeply to the work of relieving the extreme pain and misfortune of others. Members of Anita’s family were in awe of her sustained grit and determination in not allowing the past to define her legacy—she was resolute in devoting her life to thought and work for human welfare.
When Anita chartered the New World Foundation in 1954 with a bequest of $7,000,000, she was starkly aware of the enormous societal injustices of the time—racial segregation,voter disenfranchisement, unsafe working conditions resulting from the industrial revolution, disease, educational disparity, the languishment of dissenters under the oppressive shadows of McCarthyism, and the overall inequitable experience of those Americans who were most flagrantly and persistently denied full participation in society.
Under Anita’s pioneer leadership, the New World Foundation became one of the few foundations then willing to support beleaguered Southern efforts to further civil rights and desegregation. Anita also began funding John Dewey’s experimental school practices that gave center stage to the development of children rather than the well-being of the educational establishment. As a result, she founded the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, and the School of Education at the University of Chicago. Due to Anita’s interests in worker safety and relations between employers and employees, she was an ardent supporter of union organizing and insisted that workers in her Chicago mansion had to be union members. Some people who knew her thought that this was extreme, but Anita was committed to both individual and social conditions. At the beginning of the Cold War, Anita opposed aggressive U.S. foreign policy and became a major donor to independent politics and the peace movement in funding the World Federalist Movement and the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.
As Anita herself put it,
“NWF aims to bring about better international understanding and a condition in which…all people might live in amity, and in recognition of their responsibility toward one another.”
Following Anita’s death, her granddaughter, Anne Blaine Harrison, continued Anita’s work. As a result, over several decades, the New World Foundation built a reputation of innovation and effectiveness, which was so well recognized as a serious force that the Foundation became known for always punching way above its weight.
Almost sixty years after New World’s founding, Anita’s commitments—to education, democratic participation, economic equality, children, civil rights, workers, peace and the health and equal opportunity for the entire global community—continue to shape our central mission and match that purpose to both time and place.