The Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation was established in 1947 by Charles F. Noyes as a memorial to his wife.
Charles F. Noyes was born in 1878 in Norwich, Connecticut where his father, Charles D. Noyes, was co-publisher of the Norwich Daily Bulletin, the sixth oldest newspaper in the nation. Conscientious and hardworking, Charles at age 10 delivered his father’s paper to every house on his route on the morning after the famous Blizzard of 1888. At 12, with earnings from his paper route, he bought the newsstand concession on the summer steamer run from New London to Block Island. He added magazines and dime novels to his stock of newspapers, hired boys with bicycles to speed delivery on the island, and soon had a thriving business which he operated throughout his high school years.
After leaving Norwich Free Academy, Charles moved to New York City and formed a partnership in a small real estate brokerage business. Several years later, in 1905, he established his own firm, the Charles F. Noyes Company. From the start, he believed in the future of the skyscraper office building and the soundness of New York commercial real estate as an investment, and his firm prospered and expanded until it soon dominated the real estate market of lower Manhattan. Charles Noyes became known as ``The Dean of Real Estate’’ and his views - always optimistic - were widely published by the New York press.
His most famous deal was the 1951 sale of the Empire State Building, previously regarded as a white elephant, for the largest price at the time in real estate history. In 1959, he turned over all his stock in Charles F. Noyes & Co. to its employees, but remained active in business until 1965, when he became ill at the age of 88.
Mr. Noyes’ first wife, Eleanora Halsted, died in 1920. In 1926, he married Jessie Cooke Smith, the widow of his long-time friend, Rowland Holbrook Smith.
When he established the Foundation in 1947, Mr. Noyes set goals that are as valid and relevant today as they were then. It was his hope that those aided by the Foundation would share his devotion to the principles which had guided him throughout his life: fairness, integrity, and hard work. Charles Noyes died in 1969 at the age of 91.
Jessie Smith Noyes was born in 1885 in Brooklyn, New York, where she devoted much of her adult life to community needs. A woman of charm and wit with a deep love of beauty and a sensitivity to people, she was described by a friend as “an aristocrat and a democrat at one and the same time; she appreciated the fine things of life, yet never lost touch with the human equation.’’ Her warm personality attracted people and her quick recognition of their good qualities drew their best response. As vice president of the Brooklyn YWCA for many years, Mrs. Noyes worked hard for religious tolerance and for racial equality long before it became a public and popular cause.
From 1947 through 1959, the Foundation’s scholarship and loan program made individual grants for students to attend any accredited college or professional school in the United States. Half the grants were designated for minority students, mostly black. The number of grant applications increased as did Foundation assets, and administrative costs also mounted. To control these costs and to keep more money available for aid, in 1960 the Foundation began to award the grants to institutions which would then select the individual students. The Foundation requested that institutions continue, insofar as possible, equal distribution of funds to white and minority students. In some cases, to help a move toward integration, the Foundation designated grants specifically for black students.
A few years later, partly in response to pressure from the federal government, all-white colleges launched a major drive to recruit minority students. This initiative was so successful that it caused a severe cutback in enrollment at the predominantly black colleges. Convinced of the importance of black colleges and aware of their critical need for support, the Foundation made a decision to channel all future scholarship aid for black students through black colleges.
The federal government, in the early 1970s, set up student aid programs which, in conjunction with state programs, substantially increased public financial support of education for the disadvantaged. As a result, the number of students entering colleges increased dramatically; at the same time, however, there was an alarming rise in the dropout rate. In response to these developments, and to ensure the most effective use of grant funds, the Foundation changed its focus to programs for students of proven ability working toward specific careers in areas of critical need. From 1974 through 1984, the Foundation made grants to institutions for student aid, with specific grants in selected areas of the environment, health care (population, family planning, and adolescent pregnancy), and public school education, recognizing these as crucial areas of world need.
In 1985, the awarding of scholarships was phased out and the Foundation began making grants to non-profit organizations seeking to address irreversible damages to the natural and social systems. The areas of environment, agriculture and women’s reproductive health were chosen as priorities. The bulk of the Foundation’s grantmaking had been in the United States, although up until the mid-90s grants also were made in Latin America.
During the past 25 years, the Foundation revised and modified its grantmaking to assure relevance to contemporary society and to a sustainable future. Funding areas and interests were initiated and discontinued based on assessed needs and available financial and human resources.
The current Funding Priorities are Environmental Justice, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Reproductive Rights, and an Environmentally Sustainable New York City. The Foundation makes a particular effort to include in its funding portfolio a significant percentage of organizations led by people of color.
In 2011, a new strategic plan was adopted and the following mission statement was crafted: The Noyes Foundation will support grassroots organizations and movements in the United States working to change environmental, social, economic and political conditions to bring about a more just, equitable and sustainable world.