"Most people know Pullman as the legendary manufacturer of the railroad sleeping car and founder of the Pullman Palace Car Co.," said Bonnie Miller, President of the Foundation and widow of the industrialist's great-grandson, Phillip Lowden Miller. "But few may know of his passion and philanthropic work to provide educational opportunities for young people.
"Pullman always thought on a grand scale," Miller noted. "But I think even he might be surprised at the number of young lives that have been transformed by his educational legacy."
Since 1950, the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation has awarded more than $27 million in Pullman Scholarships and related grants and programs, helping nearly 11,000 students achieve their educational aspirations. For the 2009-2010 school year, the Foundation awarded more than $637,000 to 38 students in first-time awards and 142 in scholarship renewals. Current Pullman Scholars are pursuing their undergraduate studies at more than 80 colleges across the United States, including Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Howard University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Morehouse College, Vanderbilt University, Wesleyan University and the University of Illinois.
"Pullman Scholarships ease the debt load for students who have talent and ambition, but lack sufficient financial resources as they aspire to careers in such fields as business, education, engineering, law and social work," Miller noted. "The median family income for 2009-2010 award recipients was around $31,000. Fifty-one percent of recipients are minorities."
Each year, up to 300 high school students are nominated for a Pullman Scholarship by their high school guidance counselors or an approved sponsoring college access program. They must be residents of Cook County, with the exception of children or siblings of current or former Pullman Scholars. From 30 to 60 are selected to receive first-time awards, based on academic achievement and financial need. The annual stipend for first-time awards and scholarship renewals averaged $3,539 for the 2009-2010 school year. The awards are renewable throughout the duration of a student's undergraduate study, contingent upon academic performance and continuing financial need.
During the Foundation's early years, the Pullman stipend was usually the largest single source of assistance to recipients. With the expansion of government and institutional college financial assistance programs, Pullman awards now make up the financial shortfalls that might otherwise prevent talented students from attending first-choice institutions of higher learning.
The George M. Pullman Educational Foundation has awarded scholarships over the years to several scholars who have gone on to pursue distinguished careers, including musical great Herbie Hancock; Northwestern University School of Law faculty member Robert Bennett, who served as Dean of the School of Law from 1985 to 1995 and who sits on the Foundation's board; and Donald Stewart, former President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, currently a visiting professor at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy Studies.
"Some Pullman Scholars have achieved great fame through their careers," Miller said, "but all of our scholars are extraordinary individuals who have achieved much. Many are first-generation college students in their families, most are low-income, many are first-generation U.S. citizens and all are leaders in their schools and their communities."
In his will, George M. Pullman left $1.2 million, the equivalent of more than $30 million today, for the building and endowment of a "free school of manual training" for the benefit of the children of employees of the Pullman Company and residents of the Pullman and Roseland area.
The Pullman Free School of Manual Training opened its doors in September 1915 at 250 E. 111th Street, now the location of the Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep High School. The first class included 106 boys and girls studying a variety of vocational subjects from machine shop to home economics in addition to core academic subjects.
During the next 35 years, the school, affectionately and commonly known as "Pullman Tech," became widely recognized for the excellence of its programs and for its service to the Pullman and Roseland communities.
By the late 1940s, the once critical vocational training offered by Pullman Tech had become more common throughout CPS, and the costs of providing free tuition to a student body that had grown to 600 were becoming prohibitive. The decision was made to close Pullman Tech and create an educational foundation to provide much needed scholarships for higher education to students in Cook County.
In 1949, the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation was chartered as a not-for-profit corporation. The first scholarships were awarded in 1950 to the students who would come to be known as Pullman Scholars.
George Pullman's granddaughter Florence Lowden Miller led the family educational endeavors for 50 years, serving first as President of Pullman Tech and then as President of the Foundation for 29 years. Her son, Phillip Lowden Miller, assumed the Presidency in 1978, guiding the Foundation for the next 31 years. Bonnie Miller assumed the Presidency in 2009.The Foundation's current Board of Directors includes three former Pullman Scholars.
Many Pullman Scholars share their subsequent success in life by donating to the Foundation to help others receive the assistance from which they benefited. These donations are an important component of the Foundation's fundraising program to augment investment income from the Pullman legacy.
The Pullman Educational Foundation has established a variety of programs over the years to provide ongoing support to students to enable them to succeed in the higher education setting. The Foundation provides guidance and encouragement to prospective applicants and recipients, and stays in touch with its scholars through peer and mentoring networking.
"George Pullman was an innovator who transformed not only rail travel, but the travel industry as a whole," Miller said. "As the largest employer of African-Americans, the Pullman Company gave rise to the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters. He also played a critical role in the development of modern day Chicago. History buffs may even know that Pullman was an engineer who early in his career devised a way to raise Chicago's early skyscrapers up off their marshy base, including raising the massive Tremont House hotel while the guests remained in residence.
"The Foundation is poised to take his legacy of education philanthropy to new heights in the 21st century, constantly adapting to better serve talented Cook County youth in financial need," Miller said. "We will continue to provide them the nurturing they need to make the most of the higher education opportunities Pullman Scholarships provide them."
To learn more about the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation, go to pullmanfoundation.org