In 1910 a precocious and clever 17-year old girl named Marie Barth won an essay contest. Little did she know that her essay was a foreshadowing of what was to come 106 years into the future. Here’s how it all happened.
In late 1909 the Security Trust Company of West Virginia announced an essay contest for local high school students. The topic was “What I Would Do if I had the Money.” Students were to write an essay describing what they’d do if given a large sum of money. A total of 444 essays were submitted and Marie Barth won first prize.
The announcement was made in the January 1910 Security Trust Company publication called The Busy Dollar.
“The Busy Dollar presents its congratulations to Miss Marie Barth, of St. Joseph’s Academy, who gains the Grand Prize of $20 gold. As Miss Barth takes also the first prize of $10 in her school, she has a fairly good start on the road to fortune.”
Here is an excerpt from her essay:
“Knowing that cents make dollars and that small coins, if used properly, accomplish great ends, if I had money I would endeavor to use it to the best of my ability in bringing sunshine and happiness to the poor and homeless, joy and comfort to the afflicted; in erecting schools; establishing libraries, and endowing hospital wards so that many might be benefited by the blessings showered upon me. But what occurs to me to be the best way to help these institutions would be to deposit a certain amount in bank or invest in bonds or securities, the revenue of which I would assign to them."
In the summer of 1922, Marie Barth married Howard Phillips at her family home in Moundsville, West Virginia. Marie and Howard set up their home in Washington, DC and in 1926 had a son named Howard Watson Phillips Jr.
Howard Sr. and Marie's Wedding, 1922
Howard Phillips Jr.
Marie Barth Phillips
Howard Phillips Sr. was a successful businessman and a wise investor. The family lived simply, despite business success, and they continued to put money in the bank and “invest in bonds and securities” as Marie had suggested in her winning essay. Their roots trace back to the American Revolution, fostering their passion for Early American history and leading to a collection of spectacular antiques and artifacts. Howard Sr. passed away in 1976 and Marie passed away in 1985.
Howard Phillips Jr. continued the legacy of his parents as he grew the family business, lived simply, and invested wisely. In early 2016, he made the decision to request that the Phillips Charitable Foundation be formed. Howard Jr. passed away at the end of 2016, leaving his entire estate to the foundation. His generosity will “accomplish great ends” as his mother described long before his birth.
Just imagine if Marie had known, back in 1910, that her dream would come true! Her dream and her “road to fortune,” as the $20 gold and $10 cash prize was described, eventually led to a charitable foundation that will improve people’s lives and enrich communities for years to come.
Howard intentionally left the specifics of the core mission statement and funding priorities to the Foundation’s first board of directors. It was only after the Board had the first draft of their funding priorities and mission statement that Marie’s essay was found. To everyone’s amazement, the funding priorities and mission statement matched with her dream from 1910. Even in her explanation of how she would fund her special interests, she was foreshadowing exactly how a foundation operates. The board knew that in addition to their larger annual giving they would include small grants to grassroots organizations where funding is scarce. Just as a young Marie said "knowing that small coins, if used properly, can accomplish great ends.”
The Board of Directors of the Phillips Charitable Foundation will carry on the wishes of the young Marie Barth, and continue forward in honor of the life and memory of the Phillips family. As Marie had dreamed, we hope to bring “sunshine and happiness” and “joy and comfort” to those we serve.