Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A lasting tribute to two centuries of generosity

PHILANTHROPY THROUGH THE YEARS: An architect's rendering of the MGH Donor Wall

DURING THE BICENTENNIAL YEAR, the MGH will erect a donor wall to honor and thank the people behind generous gifts that have transformed the hospital over the last 200 years. Located in the White Lobby, the wall will include the names of individuals and organizations whose generosity has propelled the success of the MGH since its founding in 1811.

The very first gift to the hospital came more than a decade before its establishment, when prominent Bostonian William Phillips bequeathed $5,000 to the "Town of Boston" for the creation of a hospital. His son of the same name would follow in his father's philanthropic footsteps, pledging an additional $15,000. Both men will be among those whose name is included on the MGH Donor Wall.

The younger Phillips' gift came with a caveat, however. He would only deliver the money once the hospital trustees raised another $100,000, perhaps providing some of the impetus for the Circular Letter, which was distributed only a month after Phillips' offer to increase his father's bequest.

Following the successful appeal of the letter and the subsequent signing of the hospital charter in 1811, donations to the MGH poured in. More than 1,000 of the charter's signatories contributed to the cause, and gifts ranged from cash -- in amounts as little as 25 cents and as large as the Phillips' $20,000 -- to more unusual items, such as the Egyptian mummy Padihershef, which still resides in the Ether Dome, and a 273-pound sow.

Regardless of the size or weight of the gifts, each was influential in the hospital's founding, and today, two centuries later, philanthropy is as important as ever. Just last year, Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon donated $100 million -- the largest gift in MGH history -- toward the founding of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard to bring together scientists, clinicians and engineers in the fight against AIDS and other infectious diseases and cancers. Their name also will be among those on the donor wall.

The MGH Donor Wall will include the names of donors whose cumulative lifetime giving to the MGH totals $1 million or more as of Feb. 28, 2011. For more information on the MGH Donor Wall and how to be included, contact Leslie Kearney, director of Donor Services, at 617-724-3790 or

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