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Papers of institutions

Rothschild philanthropy

Brought up in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Nathan and his brothers were imbued with a strong sense of the tradition of Zedaka, which places expectations on members of the community to work for social justice by offering material support for those in need. As the family's wealth and influence grew, so did their commitment to this principle, along with their ability to apply it in more ambitious ways. 


In England, the almost military skills which Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) had used to transfer huge sums of money to Wellington's troops and Britain's allies during the campaign against Napoleon were put to the use of the Jewish community.  In addition to offering cash support to the synagogues in London, Nathan initiated a series of discussions which led eventually to the formation of the United Synagogue, thus streamlining the charitable work of the smaller constituent synagogues.  Nathan's children recognised their obligations just as keenly. His eldest son, Lionel, became the first Jewish Member of Parliament after an 11-year battle, paving the way for the removal of the final civil disabilities affecting the Jewish community.  As the children began to buy country estates, the areas around their mansions were transformed by planned improvements to housing for artisans, the implementation of social facilities such as health care provision, and an assurance that estate workers could rely on regular employment.

A broad commitment to welfare

The entire family preferred to become wholeheartedly involved in their favourite philanthropic interests, rather than simply making random payments to worthy causes.  In Frankfurt, Nathan's youngest child Louise and her seven daughters were responsible for many of the family's 30 charitable foundations in the city, including a dental clinic, a free public library, a swimming bath, old people's homes, orphanages, funds to pay school fees, soup kitchens and hospitals. Vienna perhaps had the most astonishing variety of foundations established by the family: alongside the more usual hospitals, orphanages and educational foundations were a municipal theatre and a foundation for destitute photographers, one member of the family being a particular enthusiast for this art form.

Education and support for young people is an enduring aspect of Rothschild family philanthropy. Members of the Rothschild family supported the Jews’ Free School in London’s East End school over several generations. In London and Paris, social housing was a shared interest, resulting in the formation of the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company Limited (London) and the Rothschild Foundation (Paris) both of which constructed housing to an exceptionally advanced standard for the time. Perhaps the most radical programme of Rothschild philanthropy was staged beyond the cities where the family established banking houses.  Israel owes many of its early economic successes to the work of Edmond de Rothschild, who founded numerous colonies for Jewish settlers.  A silk factory, vineyard and flour mill, as well as the introduction of crops such as grapefruit and avocado, enabled the settlers to establish their economic independence.

Archive sources

The Rothschild Archive holds a few papers (mainly printed material and secondary sources) relating to some of the institutions created or endowed by members of the Rothschild family. These are listed here, under the name of the institution. Administrative papers would naturally remain with the institutions or their successors, but in many cases where institutions are defunct or no longer in operation, few papers survive. The Rothschild Archive holds very few papers concerning support or patronage by the Rothschild family of individuals.

Papers, including reports and publications concerning Rothschild philanthropy and various institutions will also be found in The Lafite Papers and The Moscow Papers (58 series); papers concerning Rothschild estates and philanthropy in Austria will be found in The Moscow Papers (637 series).