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Our History

Coretta Scott King joins an antinuclear protest in 1963.

Throughout its history, the Compton Foundation has embodied values of partnership, innovation, risk-taking, and humility in its grantmaking and progressive activism. Even as times have shifted and many people have served in positions of Board and staff leadership, the Foundation has been unwavering in its commitment to social change and justice for all.

Towards the end of World War II, Dorothy and Randolph Compton’s youngest child, John Parker, was killed in the mountains of Italy. From this personal tragedy and their identification with all the other grieving families around the world, Dorothy and Randolph created the Compton Trust (later the Compton Foundation) in 1946 to build the foundations for peace and to help prevent another world war. In 1955, another child, Dan, died of polio only months before the Salk vaccine was approved.

These two personal tragedies only sharpened the Comptons’ determination to eliminate the conditions that provoked armed conflict and to invest in solutions that would ensure that other families would not experience the losses that they had endured.

Their ability to engage in significant philanthropic activity was possible because Dorothy Compton was an heir to the fortune created through the Ralston Purina Company, founded by her grandfather, William Danforth. Her family’s deep involvement in philanthropy infused in her a commitment to youth education, racial justice, and public service. Early grants from the Compton Foundation to the NAACP, the American Youth Foundation, Morehouse College (where she served as a trustee), and numerous scholarship funds at educational organizations reflected her family legacy and personal interests.

Building on the Founders’ Legacy

The founders’ imprint on the Foundation’s work is best captured in the enduring values that have characterized the Foundation throughout its life. While there have been many tough decisions, and often disagreement, these values have provided an anchor to return to:

Over the years, four generations of Compton family members have participated in the Foundation’s work, each bringing their own commitment to fulfilling its core purpose of making this a safe and healthy planet for all people, now and in future generations.

The Foundation has a proud legacy of activism as well as grantmaking within the fields in which they worked:

Our Timeline

  • 2016 Women, Peace, and Security Initiative

    This three-year effort invests in advocacy, journalism, film, and academia to advance an inclusive, gendered perspective in U.S. foreign policy and national security decision-making.

  • The Climate Initiative invests in civic engagement and public art to mobilize for climate action ahead of the 2015 UN climate negotiations and the 2016 presidential elections.

  • This 5-year effort increases availability, affordability, and accessibility of emergency contraception in the U.S. and abroad. Compton’s $5-million grant is matched by other foundations.

  • The pooled-donor Fund raises over $7 million to support efforts to stop the Iraq War, ranging from Democracy Now to Taxpayers for Common Sense; from to the National Council of Churches.

  • Direct grants and strategic networking enables organizations to engage young people interested in foreign policy through a 5-year, $5-million collaboration with the Danforth Foundation.

  • Partnerships with HBCUs and other colleges support the education of more than 400 American and international students interested in the environment and reproductive health.

  • James Compton, Randolph’s son, takes over this on-going think tank/foundation focused on the most pressing issue of the Cold War era: nuclear non-proliferation.

  • Randolf Compton and Dorothy Danforth Compton create a charitable trust in John Parker’s honor. Their other children — Ann, Dan, and Jim — also join the Board.

  • John Parker Compton, son of Dorothy Danforth Compton and Randolf Compton, and grandson of William Compton, is killed in a German attack in Italy.

  • William Danforth founds a St.Louis-based charity which, by 2011, will distribute more than $1 billion to education and other institutions.

  • William Danforth creates American Youth Foundation, which supports outdoor activities for “inner city” youth.

  • Danforth’s renamed company will, over time, generate the assets of the Danforth and the Compton Foundations.

  • William Danforth founds Robinson-Danforth Commission Company, specializing in farm animal feed.

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