THE FIELD FOUNDATION OF ILLINOIS was established by Marshall Field III in 1940, grandson of the famous merchant who came to Chicago in the 1800s and established the Marshall Field’s department stores. Marshall Field III went into the bond business rather than the retail business. Moved by the despair created during the Great Depression, he was inspired to help those struggling with poverty and endorsed a wide range of New Deal policies, activists and progressive thinkers. Assembling an impressive board of advisors that included some of the country’s leading social scientists, scholars, business leaders and judges, Field III wanted the Foundation to create “a few ideas and social techniques (that may) germinate and eventually prove to be of enough value to be adopted by the community.” A passionate integrationist, he had a deep interest in matters of race and juvenile behavior. Grants were made to among others, the American Council on Race Relations, Provident Medical Associates in Chicago (assisting African American physicians acquire specialized training) and the Research Center for Human Relations in New York (which worked on racial integration in housing).
Following Field III’s death in 1956, it was apparent that the Foundation was being pulled in different directions. At one end was his widow, Ruth Field, based in New York and interested in national funding and on other, Field’s son, Marshall Field IV, who wanted to make the Foundation more Chicago-based. In 1960, the Foundation was divided into two separate entities: The Field Foundation of New York, which was led by Field III’s widow, Ruth, and the Field Foundation of Illinois, led by Field’s son, Marshall Field IV. By 1989, as Ruth Field had directed, the Field Foundation of New York fully spent its assets and closed.
Marshall Field IV envisioned the Field Foundation of Illinois to be an active member of Chicago’s philanthropic community and a key supporter of the city’s major cultural institutions. In June 1965, just before he died, Marshall Field IV offered to contribute $8 million to the Field Foundation of Illinois if the Field Building at 135 South LaSalle St. were to be transferred at its fair market value, which then was worth $32.5 million.
Following Marshall Field IV’s death, his son, Marshall Field V, entered the family business. At just twenty-four years of age, Marshall Field V took over Field Enterprises Inc., and was elected to be the Publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News, making him the youngest publisher of any major newspaper in the United States. Following in his father’s footsteps, Marshall Field V has dedicated much of his life to furthering and redefining philanthropy. While strongly believing he should not be board chair, Marshall ushered in an era where the last three Presidents of the Foundation were African American, the board is a mix of 20% family members, 80% people of color and 80% women. For over thirty years, the Field Foundation has become known for its site visits, its warmth, its eagerness to learn from its grantmaking and its willingness to make bold investments before many others.
In addition to the leadership of the Field board, the Field Foundation of Illinois has seen many spectacular chief executives in its recent history. Handy Lindsey served as the Field Foundation’s president for nearly sixteen years, from 1988-2003. Aurie Pennick became the first female executive director of the Field Foundation in 2003 and retiring in 2016 when Angelique Power took the reins until 2021.
Today the Foundation makes more than $2 million in grants each year that represent a wide spectrum of organizations. The Field Foundation’s board and staff are committed to measuring their impact through community empowerment; especially within some of Chicago’s divested communities most in need of financial resources. Field Foundation seeks to support organizations working in the areas of Justice, Art, Media & Storytelling and Leadership investment. For more on our areas of vision, areas of focus and approach visit here.