Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925)

By Unknown author - Here, Public Domain,
By Unknown author - Here, Public Domain,

Joseph Rowntree (24 May 1836 – 24 February 1925) was a York-based English Quaker benefactor and merchant. Rowntree is most known as a social reformer, Charles Booth's colleague and friend, and for his time as a chocolatier at the family business Rowntree's, one of the most prominent in Britain. Even as a powerful businessman, he was passionately concerned with improving the quality of life for his employees, which drove him to become a philanthropist and support numerous philanthropic initiatives. In 1904 he established three trusts: the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust (JRVT), which was established to build and maintain New Earswick's garden village, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), and the Joseph Rowntree Social Services Trust (JRSST). The latter two were both established to effect social reform, with the difference being that, whereas the Charitable Trust was established as a charity, the Social Services Trust was established as a limited company so that, if necessary, it could engage in social and political work that a charitable Trust could not. He suggested that only the JRVT would be permanent, but all of the trusts still exist today, though the Social Services Trust has changed its name to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, and with the separation of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust from the Village Trust in 1968, there are now four trusts.

Joseph Rowntree was the second of three sons born to Joseph Rowntree and Sarah Stephenson in Yorkshire. They were Quakers, like Elizabeth Fry. In York, the father owned a profitable grocery store. Following his father's death, the younger Joseph took over the firm and eventually collaborated with one of his brothers to grow his tiny chocolate business into a flourishing industry. Joseph was in charge of finances, while Henry Isaac was in charge of logistics and machinery. They had roughly 30 employees when Joseph joined in 1869. Thirty years later, the figure had risen to far over 2000!

Joseph Rowntree was extremely concerned about his generation's societal challenges

Joseph Rowntree, on the other hand, was not a cold-blooded capitalist whose skills were limited to operating and increasing his business. He was also extremely concerned about his generation's societal challenges. He challenged those who stated that poverty was mainly the result of drunkenness during a meeting in 1899 and set out to examine the problem. In the same year, he co-wrote and published The Temperance Problem and Social Reform with Arthur Sherwell. He became a social reformer and active philanthropist. Charles Booth (UK) and Benjamin Franklin are two other historical instances of philanthropists (USA). These days, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are renowned philanthropists. Some regard the use of private wealth to advance public values as a useful supplement to, or even replacement for, the welfare state.

Joseph Rowntree's Main Goal

Rowntree's primary goal in his charitable activities was to remove poverty and other social ills of the day. He believed that methodical study could be used to combat social ills. In 1904, he divided his fortune into three trusts, each of which works independently to achieve his objectives. In 1990, one of them became the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It stimulates social work in the UK and internationally through its numerous research programs. One example is their Contemporary social evils program, which investigates current social issues.

The foundation's efforts not only carry on the legacy of its founding father, but also of his son, Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871—1954). Following in his father's footsteps and inspired by Charles Booth's research on poverty in London, Seebohm Rowntree conducted a house-to-house survey of York, which he published as Poverty, a study of town life in 1901. According to the findings, 6.8% of York's working-class population did not have the minimal income required to subsist. Another 18% of the population was living in what he referred to as secondary poverty. In 1941, Seebohm Rowntree released the results of a second survey, and in 1952, the results of a third study. Many people followed in Booth and Seebohm Rowntree's footsteps, resulting in a strong heritage of examining poverty and perfecting the methodology for doing so. The spirit level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is the most recent challenging and exciting addition to this tradition.

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