2013 Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award Recipient
The American Historical Association is pleased to present the 2013 Roosevelt-Wilson Award for Public Service to David M. Rubenstein. The Roosevelt-Wilson Award honors individuals outside of the historical profession who have made a significant contribution to the study, teaching, and public understanding of history. Rubenstein’s philanthropic dedication to providing public access to historical resources, and his continued support of historic preservation efforts, make him an ideal recipient for this award.
Co-founder and co-chief executive officer of The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset management company, Rubenstein has long held a commitment to promote and support the community and institutions that have inspired him. The son of a working-class family in Baltimore, Rubenstein developed an early appreciation for history during his weekly trips to the library in the 1950s and 1960s. Following his remarkable success in the private sector, Rubenstein signed a “giving pledge” to offer at least half of his fortune to charity, ranking him among the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s most generous donors. Over a lifetime of philanthropic work, Rubenstein has retained his love for history and his commitment to making the discipline he loves accessible to a wider audience.
Rubenstein has shown his commitment to ensuring the public access to the treasures and artifacts of its past through his continued support of the National Archives and Records Administration. After purchasing the last privately owned extant copy of the Magna Carta at Sotheby’s for $21.3 million in 2007, Rubenstein returned the document to the National Archives on permanent loan. The Magna Carta had resided there for more than 20 years before its owner auctioned it through Sotheby’s; Rubenstein’s purchase and loan returned one of the most important documents in history to the public. It remains the only copy of the landmark British document on permanent display in the United States.
Four years later, in 2011, Rubenstein again demonstrated his dedication to the National Archives through a $13.5 million gift for a new gallery and visitor’s center, one which will emphasize the archives’ role in preserving and making accessible central aspects of the nation’s past. The largest single contribution ever received by the foundation for the National Archives, Rubenstein’s gift was described by foundation chairman and president Ken Lore as “critical in offering visitors the opportunity to explore the story of America through the records that tell of the ongoing struggles and triumphs in perfecting our democracy.”
In 2012, Rubenstein donated $7.5 million toward the repair of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, which had sustained extensive damage during an earthquake the previous summer. When asked by the Washington Post about his contribution, Rubenstein explained: “I am committed to philanthropy ... I am very involved in [supporting] historic kinds of things ... [and] this is something that is quite historic.” Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit group that raises funds for improvements there, told the Washington Post that Rubenstein is “one of those people who’s made a commitment to pass on his wealth and invest in this country, and I know that he feels passionately about the history of this country and preserving it.”
Rubenstein’s gifts make up part of what he calls “patriotic philanthropy.” Celebrating at Mount Vernon in 2013 to honor George Washington’s birthday, Rubenstein recalled visiting the historic home as a child, and taking his own son to visit as well. His appreciation for history informs his philanthropic choices; as he told the Washington Post, “[I try] to give back to things that remind people of American history.”
In February 2013, Rubenstein assisted the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, located on the grounds of the former president’s home, with a donation of $10 million, including a $4 million endowment for rare books and manuscripts. The library is a center for scholarly research and leadership training for government, military, nonprofit, and corporate officials, as well as for students and educators. It houses Washington’s books and papers and a replica of his personal library. Curt Viebranz, Mount Vernon’s president and chief executive officer, told a reporter, “[Rubenstein] shares our interest in ensuring that these rare Washington and founding-era documents are there for the people.”
An interest in the Declaration of Independence led Rubenstein in early 2013 to Monticello, home of the Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson. Inspired by his visit, Rubenstein donated $10 million to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to support projects at the site that could better tell Jefferson’s story. Rubenstein’s contribution, which ranks among the top five gifts in the foundation’s history, will be used not only to restore the home’s second and third floors, but also to restore Jefferson’s original road scheme and reconstruct at least two log buildings on Mulberry Row, the community where slaves lived on the Virginia plantation. Monticello has been a site for interpreting the enslaved experience for decades; Rubenstein’s critical donation to the buildings on Mulberry Row will help make clear the ways that African American history is essential to Monticello’s history. When announcing the gift, Rubenstein explained his intentions this way: “I think it’s important to tell people the good and the bad of American history, not only the things that we might like to hear.”
The AHA is proud to acknowledge David M. Rubenstein for his sustained and generous support of historical work and his determined efforts to ensure citizens’ access to their nation’s past.