Together, Martha Holden Jennings and her cousin, Arthur S. Holden, Jr., founded the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation in 1959. Their intent was to recognize and support Ohio’s public school teachers and students, a population they believed had been overlooked in philanthropic circles at that time in favor of higher education.
Martha Holden Jennings
The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation was founded in 1959 by Mrs. Andrew R. Jennings, a Cleveland native with a deep interest in improving elementary and secondary public school education in Ohio. She envisioned the Foundation as a means to provide greater accomplishment on the part of Ohio’s youth and their teachers. She hoped this would also bring greater recognition to the teaching profession. Mrs. Jennings lived for many years in Europe, where her husband was manager of foreign operations for IBM. She returned to Cleveland in 1930 and lived at Wade Park Manor until her death in 1962.
Arthur S. Holden
Did we do a little good today?
That question was often asked by Arthur Holden after listening to any report of the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation’s activities. Those fortunate to have had these conversationswith him were often touched by the simplicity of his query, knowing well the profound impact his generosity was having on thousands of lives in classrooms throughout Ohio.
In every aspect, Mr. Holden’s life was marked by a deep love for his work, his family, his faith, and his philanthropy. He was a man of vision, a man of wisdom, a man of great generosity and kindness. Humble and good-hearted, he believed in hard work and never sought personal recognition.
For almost half a century, Mr. Holden’s genuine concern for the well-being of Ohio’s children guided the Foundation in fulfilling its mission. As we move forward, we will continue to be inspired by his seemingly simple desire to “do a little good” for the teachers and students of Ohio.
A Family “Start-Up”
The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation bears the name of the woman who created the Foundation in her will, but the Foundation actually emerged from a relationship forged across branches of the Holden family tree that was rooted in the family’s long-standing commitment to community. Martha Holden Jennings and her cousin Arthur Holden, Jr. became friends when Martha returned to Cleveland after living in Europe for many years. Late in Martha’s life, Arthur worked with her to shape the decisions that led to the Foundation that has benefited education in Ohio for more than fifty years. The Foundation is truly the legacy of both these forward-thinking individuals.
Martha Florence Holden was born in 1873 in Cleveland and grew up at East 79th and Euclid Avenue. She married Andrew R. Jennings, another native Clevelander, in 1897. The young couple began a life that was most unusual for the time: they became early participants in what we now call the “global economy.” Andrew Jennings joined Thomas Watson in a business venture that became IBM, one of the great American companies. While Watson stayed in the United States, Andrew Jennings went to Europe to develop the business there.
He and Martha remained in Europe until June of 1930 when Andrew retired. They returned to Cleveland to live at Wade Park Manor in University Circle. On a return visit to Europe just a year later, Andrew suddenly took ill and died in a London hospital. Only fifty-seven-years-old, Martha had no children and had not lived in the United States for more than a quarter century. She returned to Cleveland and reconnected with family and old friends. Andrew left his wife $750,000 and many shares of IBM stock, a large sum for the time.
Over the coming years, Martha developed a strong relationship with her cousin, Arthur Holden, Sr., as well as his son Arthur, Jr. and his young family. Martha became a regular guest at picnics, Sunday dinners, and holiday gatherings. The younger Arthur welcomed the opportunity to learn from Martha and to serve as her confidante and support. Two branches of the Holden family had joined in a close, respectful relationship. Eventually, he introduced Martha to Harvey Hobson, an attorney who helped her shepherd her inheritance and make decisions about her finances.
Meanwhile, Arthur, Jr., a Case Institute of Technology trained engineer, was creating his own place as a businessman and community leader. Two years after graduation, he wanted to work in heavy manufacturing and he called a friend, Frank Milbourn, whose father owned Coe Manufacturing, a company with roots dating back to 1852. The elder Milbourn challenged Arthur to show “what you are really worth,” and sixty years later, Arthur still went to his office at Coe every day. Just as important as his business career, however, was Arthur’s devotion to the greater Cleveland community. He played major leadership roles at Lakeland Community College, Lake Erie College, the Cleveland Clinic, the YMCA, Kiwanis, and many other institutions.
As Arthur’s support for Martha grew, they discussed the legacy she hoped to create. She made generous gifts to the Cleveland Clinic, University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western Reserve University, and others. But she still had to determine what her major gift would be. She was clear about her interest in fostering the best in young people through education, but she hadn’t determined how best to do that. Then, in 1958, Arthur happened to read an article about President Eisenhower’s White House Conference on Education.
The work of this conference resonated with Arthur and it occurred to him that philanthropy focused primarily on higher education, but little was done to encourage primary and secondary teachers in our nation’s public schools. He later called this idea a “happy thought,” which he took to Martha to sell her on a new idea for that legacy gift. He later said, “She was a very intelligent woman, very alert and opinionated. You didn’t start out to tell her what to do, you sort of listened to what her thoughts were and then tried to encourage her thinking in what seemed to be a reasonable way to go.”
Arthur succeeded and the two branches of the Holden family tree, through two dedicated community leaders, joined together to create a lasting legacy that became the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. It was established in 1959 with $11 million in IBM stock. Although Martha passed away in 1962, her legacy had taken root.
Since its beginning, through careful stewardship of the assets, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation has made grants of $135 million and continues to provide millions of dollars each year to support K-12 public education throughout Ohio. Arthur Holden died in 2007, having spent almost 50 years guiding the Foundation in its important mission.