The Teagle Foundation was established in 1944 by Walter C. Teagle (1878-1962), longtime president and later chairman of the board of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), now Exxon Mobil Corporation. Mr. Teagle gave the Foundation a broad mandate, “to advance the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world,” mentioning many areas of concern and possible recipients of its support. Over the intervening decades the Foundation has pursued many of these avenues, always, however, including among its grants the aid Mr. Teagle envisioned for “institutions of higher learning and research,” and assistance to family members of employees of his corporation who needed resources and were “desirous of obtaining some form of educational advantage.”
Walter Teagle graduated from Cornell University in 1899 and maintained close ties with the university throughout his lifetime. He served as a trustee from 1924 to 1954 and made generous contributions to it. Reflecting Mr. Teagle’s wish, the Foundation includes among its directors a person nominated by the president of Cornell and another nominated by the chair of ExxonMobil. The Teagle Foundation’s assets derive from gifts and bequests from Walter C. Teagle, his wife Rowena Lee Teagle, and their son Walter C. Teagle, Jr.

1940s & 1950s

In the Foundation’s earliest days, the predominant grants program was Needy Cases, which was dedicated to helping employees, retirees and surviving spouses of Mr. Teagle’s corporation who had fallen upon hard times usually through no fault of their own. In 1945, the Scholarship Program began, providing funds for employees or members of their families to attend a number of institutions. Funding was also committed to nursing education, seminaries, and medical research. 

1960s & 1970s

Walter C. Teagle passed away in 1962, and the Foundation endowed a chair in neurology in Mr. Teagle’s name at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. In the mid-1960’s, the Foundation turned its attention away from support for medical research; the cost of such research had become much higher, and the potential for a significant role for Teagle, given its limited resources beyond the Scholarship Program, was much reduced.


The range of institutions receiving scholarship funds grew rapidly. From 1978-1988, 97 different institutions received 566 grants. A large number of the grants were directed toward small liberal arts colleges, pursuant to the board’s commitment to support historically black and Appalachian institutions.


As the field of philanthropy became more professionalized, so did the work of the Teagle Foundation; the grantmaking began to focus more on institutional capacity-building and less on supporting individuals. By 1990, the Small College Grant program began, an initiative directed at small colleges which were known to enroll a high proportion of economically disadvantaged students. In 1991, the Foundation formalized what long had been the practice of making grants to New York City agencies serving youth. In 1995, the Teagle Collaborative Ventures program launched, which brought institutions together in ways that helped them share resources, coordinate purchasing and develop joint programs.


After a one-year moratorium on grantmaking in 2003-2004 to determine the Foundation’s future focus within higher education, the Teagle Foundation began its work to encourage fresh thinking about the goals and systematic assessment of outcomes in liberal education—always in collaborative and faculty-led ways. Believing in “knowledge-based philanthropy,” the Foundation committed to widely disseminating the results of its work throughout the higher education community. Also in 2005, the College-Community Connections program was established, linking community-based organizations with colleges and universities in the New York City metropolitan area to introduce high school students from underserved communities to liberal arts education.


The Teagle Foundation granted to collaboratives or consortia working to strengthen teaching and learning in the arts and sciences. Given that robust assessment of student learning became a norm in higher education, it was embedded in all of the Foundation’s grantmaking rather than treated as an independent initiative. The Foundation focused on encouraging innovation in curriculum and pedagogy with an eye towards combining improvements in quality with considerations of cost. It continued to affirm the power of teaching and learning and the centrality of educational opportunity. 


The Teagle Foundation remains committed to supporting liberal arts education, with increased attention to underserved populations. The Foundation focuses on revitalizing the humanities through general education, access for students who hope to complete a baccalaureate in the liberal arts, and encouraging study of the history, ideals, and challenges of American civic life.