History of the Foundation

Bownelogo-squareThe Robert Bowne Foundation was established in 1968 by Edmund A. Stanley, Jr. and named in honor of Robert Bowne (1744-1818), founder of Bowne & Company.

At a time when there was very little organized concern for the plight of the poor, the sick and the uneducated in New York City, Robert Bowne was a pioneer in his efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged. He founded the Manumission Society, throigh which he sought to “exert all lawful means to ameliorate the sufferings” of the American slave and “ultimately to free him from bondage.” He aslo founded the Society for Establishing a Free School in the City of New York, where scholars would be chosen on the basis of need, irrespective of “sect, creed, nationality, or name.” He played an active role, too, in New York’s first hospital, its first public health organization, and its first fire insurance company. When he died, one of his many good friends said of Robert Bowne, “His active mind, open purse, expanded heart, and willing feet knew no bounds.” Through The Robert Bowne Foundation this tradition continued.

Supporting Literacy Development in Out-of-School-Time Programs

Since 1987, The Robert Bowne Foundation provided grants and technical assistance to New York City Out-of-School Time (OST) programs that supported the literacy development of children and youth. The Foundation defines literacy as engagement in reading, writing, listening and speaking in order to better understand oneself, others, and the world. Literacy takes many forms as it develops according to principles believed to be fundamental.

  • Literacy happens in community. The OST programs Bowne supported were typically part of community-based organizations with deep roots in their neighborhoods. An OST program can, for example, enable children of immigrants to explore the values and cultures of their homes and adopted cultures through literature, song, dance and art.
  • Literacy develops through active engagement. The OST time programs Bowne supported got children to do things. Programs got children who were stuck indoors and whose recess took place on asphalt out into the open air of the Bronx River bank to row boats they had built or to conduct science experiments.
  • Literacy is a means to self-determination. The OST programs supported by Bowne were youth-centered. Youth themselves provided leadership and had a primary role in designing activities. Such programs can affirm adolescents’ selfhood and their solidarity with others through group sharing and service projects or bring shy preadolescents out of their “shells” by performing in a play they composed with their peers.
  • Literacy is a fundamental part of being human in 21st century America. The OST programs supported by Bowne integrated literacy with a wide variety of activities, from sports to career exploration to the arts and beyond. Such integration not only engages children, but also illustrates that literacy is not a set of isolated skills useful only in school.

An Emerging Field

Celebrating the fact that Out-of-School Time education was emerging as a field in its own right, distinct from K-12 education, The Robert Bowne Foundation provided research grants and fellowships to OST education providers and scholars. The Foundation also disseminated their work and that of others through their publications, and now, the Youth Today OST Hub. The Foundation believed that all young people are entitled to quality programs that support their development–intellectual, artistic, physical, emotional, and spiritual–to its fullest potential. Its research and advocacy efforts in the ever-growing out-of-school time community contributed towards making that dream a reality.

For a more extensive history of the Foundation, see The Legacy of the Robert Bowne Foundation (Hirota &  Schwabacher, 2012), 


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