Agnes Wahl Nieman’s generous gift of more than $1 million to Harvard University – revealed in a letter from her attorney shortly after her death in 1936 – was accompanied by a simple directive: “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism in the United States and educate persons deemed specially qualified for journalism.” To learn the story of Agnes Wahl Nieman, her will, and the creation of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, read Mother of Invention by Maggie Jones, NF ’12.
At the time, journalism was practiced primarily by those who had not attended college, and Harvard had neither a journalism school nor an intention to build one. But Agnes, widow of Lucius Nieman, editor-in-chief of The Milwaukee Journal, left decisions about the implementation of her bequest entirely to Harvard. For more on Lucius Nieman, read Lucius Nieman, Newspaperman, an edited version of a talk given to the Nieman Fellows in April 1941 by Harry J. Grant, who succeeded Nieman as publisher of The Milwaukee Journal.
President James Bryant Conant consulted with many at the university and in the newspaper business, eventually committing income from the gift to the Nieman Fellowship program, designed to provide working journalists with a year of study and professional development. Initially doubtful about the undertaking, referring to it as a “dubious experiment,” Conant ultimately called the fellowship program “an invention of which I am very proud.” To learn about the Nieman Fellowship’s evolution from “dubious experiment” to transformative experience, see The Nieman Factor by Julia Keller, NF ’98. For more about the Nieman Foundation’s evolution, see the 75th anniversary issue of Nieman Reports.