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The Russell Sage Foundation and the Pittsburgh Survey

The Russell Sage Foundation (RSF) was a philanthropic organization that funded research efforts to analyze social problems and campaigned for reform initiatives to solve the very social problems that it studied. Russell Sage (1815–1906) was a wealthy financial speculator from New York who amassed a huge fortune through his ownership of several Western railroads and the Western Union Telegraph Company. After his death, his widow, Margaret Sage (1828–1918), established the RSF in New York City in 1907, which she launched with a gift of $35 million. In her husband's honor, Margaret also founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, in 1916. From 1907 to 1947, the RSF focused on exposing social problems through studying labor and industrial relations, child welfare, and public welfare.

Shortly after the RSF was founded, it funded a pioneering investigation of Pittsburgh to examine the civic and industrial needs of the people. Pittsburgh, the largest US producer of steel and iron at the time, was experiencing rapid industrial growth and massive immigration, making it the perfect place for the RSF to study the social problems afflicting a flourishing industrial center. The survey was organized by Paul Underwood Kellogg and employed over 50 social-science researchers. Under Kellogg's direction, the investigators documented the working and living conditions of Pittsburgh steelworkers and the social challenges facing their community, including child labor, work accidents, inadequate sanitation, poor living conditions, and the assimilation of diverse immigrant groups. The survey also employed photographer Lewis Hine, whose pictures of the daily lives of Pittsburgh steelworkers showed the world what it was really like to be a working-class steelworker.

The Pittsburgh Survey was one of the first sociological projects in the United States to combine scholarly social research with the political activism characteristic of the Progressive Era. The findings of the Pittsburgh Survey were used by social activists to lobby for much-needed political reforms, such as abolishing child labor, improving public health, and instituting better city planning. For the next half-century, the RSF would continue to commission numerous studies to examine and solve social problems, until budget problems in the late 1940s caused it to reduce the number of studies like the Pittsburgh Survey. Today, the Russell Sage Foundation studies a wide variety of important issues for American society, including race relations, immigration, and the future of the American economy.

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