George Sullivan, son of Algernon and Mary, was the founder of the Sullivan Foundation
When Algernon Sydney Sullivan died on December 4, 1887, he was mourned by many, especially in New York, where the family had lived for more than three decades. Mary Mildred Sullivan outlived her husband by many years, dying in 1933 at the age of 96, and left behind a tremendous legacy of service in her own right.
It’s possible, however, that the Sullivans would be mostly forgotten had it not been for the efforts of George Hammond Sullivan, who, with his mother’s help, created the Foundation in 1930 and went on to define its purpose and ensure its continued existence.
While the charter for the Foundation was granted in 1930, it remained inactive for several years as George cared for his dying mother. After her death, however, he took an active role, serving as its first vice-president and determining how its resources would be put to use.
The first two grants made, at a meeting in November 1934, were $85 to Rollins College for prizes for the three best student essays on the life and character of Algernon Sullivan and $200 to Peabody College for four scholarships to be awarded to students picked by the faculty for their “character and meritorious service.” The beginnings of the Foundation as it is known today can be seen even that long ago.
The Foundation was tasked with continuing to bestow Sullivan Awards after the decline of the New York Southern Society, which created them. George Sullivan took it upon himself to expand upon that singular task and define the Foundation’s culture.
The Sullivan House, on West 11th Street in New York City, depicted during the Sullivans’ time in New York in a drawing by W.E. Mears on the left and in a modern-day photograph of the Sullivan House courtesy of Google at right.
One of his most important acts was the writing of a letter on the direction the trustees should take in the future, which he read aloud at a meeting. He told them he and his mother had always felt that “perpetuating the influential usefulness of (Algernon Sullivan’s) character would be of great value to others” and that he wanted the Foundation to draw on its income to grant scholarships and student-aid funds in “as many colleges or universities as possible.”
Many of the most identifiable traits of the Sullivan Foundation today—the focus on Southern schools, the inclusion of mostly small colleges and universities, and the focus on service over all other criteria in the handing out of awards and funds—are largely due to the work of George Sullivan.
Despite a lifetime filled with bouts of poor health, Sullivan lived a long and consequential life. He died on November 15, 1956, at the age of 96—the same as his mother—and lived in the same house he had shared with his parents until his death.