Who Was Mrs. Whiting?
Flora Ettlinger Whiting was the daughter of Louis E. Ettlinger who owned the Crowell, Collier Publishing Company and the Persian Rug Manufactory. In 1899, she married Giles Whiting, an architect and designer, who joined the Rug Manufactory and eventually became its president. He died in 1937.
Mrs. Whiting lived most of her adult life in Manhattan and at her Briarcliff Manor home, an estate known as Ash Ridge. She supported the Girl Scouts and collected antiques, especially English lusterware. A great friend of Herbert Hoover, she had a guest house built on the grounds for his use. She met Thomas Watson and was so impressed with his business sense that she made an early investment in IBM when they still made cash registers. Her wealth rose, and at the time of her death in 1971 she was able to set aside a $10 million bequest for the Foundation. Four museums received her collections of art and furniture including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What has the Foundation done with the $10 million?
The Foundation has given away over $50 million, most of it to writers and Humanities scholars who are near the beginning of their careers.
At the start, Mrs. Whiting’s executors, who became the Foundation’s first trustees, consulted educators who identified the Humanities as the neediest area in academia. With finite resources they decided that supporting the very ablest young scholars would indirectly help many others. In 1973-74 the Foundation gave 56 graduate students a year’s stipend to work undistractedly on their dissertations at a half dozen private universities with large and strong Humanities programs. In 2010, the Foundation gave over $1.5 million to this program.
In 1985, the Foundation began a program under the direction of Dr. Gerald Freund to give ten writers an opportunity to devote themselves fully to writing for a year. In the early years of the Whiting Writers’ Awards, some recipients were senior writers, although for the past twenty years the Awards have been given only to writers in early career. The 260 authors who have received these awards have often gained other recognition later on. In 2011, the Foundation gave $500,000 for this purpose.
In 2001, the Foundation opened a pilot program to select extraordinary teachers of the Humanities and give them the year off they often need to establish their scholarly credentials. The program had some impressive results, but the Foundation lacks the resources to turn it into a full program. The 2013-14 academic year will be the last.
How can one apply for a Whiting Fellowship or Writers’ Award?
One can’t. The dissertation and the teaching fellowship recipients are selected by committees within the universities that award them. For the Writers’ Awards, nominators suggest candidates to a committee that reads the work of the hundred or so candidates under consideration. Both nominators and selection committee work anonymously. Processing hundreds of applications would require Foundation funds better given to scholars and writers. It is also felt that a system without grant application can spot talent.
Mrs. Whiting was devoted to the Humanities in the broadest sense of the word. She was not only generous in giving them her financial support, but was always ready to volunteer her personal help as well in those fields where she had become a connoisseur.
Chauncey Belknap, Whiting Foundation’s first President