Ideas are powerful, but they’re also perishable. While they can change lives, they need to be defended and passed on to each new generation. The Fund for American Studies champions a core set of principles – freedom, individual responsibility and free markets – which we believe define the essence of the American political tradition. We strive to have a profound effect on the lives of our students by passing on the ideas that offer the greatest opportunity for personal fulfillment and human accomplishment.
TFAS was established in 1967 in response to the political and social upheaval of the 1960s. As that decade was drawing to a close, there were widespread protests of government policy, and confidence in the American system of government was eroding. This was especially true for college students of the time. The counterculture and many of the youth movements of the 1960s not only rejected the American political tradition, but also actively worked to undermine and subvert the ideas and principles on which America was built.
Surveying this political and social landscape, Charles Edison, former governor of New Jersey, secretary of the Navy and son of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison, recognized that college students needed a balanced perspective on political and economic institutions. And in 1967, he took the first steps toward establishing the institution that is today known as The Fund for American Studies.
Edison recruited Dr. Walter H. Judd, David R. Jones, Marvin Liebman and William F. Buckley, Jr., all of whom shared his concerns. And, on February 6, 1967, the group incorporated the Charles Edison Youth Fund. But, in 1969, as they were discussing how to best reach the young people of that era, Governor Edison died suddenly. To honor him and carry on his mission, the organization was renamed the Charles Edison Memorial Youth Fund. In the summer of 1970, the Youth Fund partnered with Georgetown University to organize the inaugural Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems. Fifty-seven students attended.
TFAS’ early partnership with Georgetown University was based on a shared commitment to academic integrity and a belief in the power of ideas. The relationship was established through the diligent efforts of Georgetown Professor Lev Dobriansky and a student named Robert Schadler.
TFAS has been successful because its programs are based upon a solid academic foundation. Its summer programs offer eight weeks of classes for academic credit, evening guest lectures by renowned speakers and site briefings at key government institutions. Students are assigned to internships at some of Washington’s most important institutions. Semester-long programs offer the chance for students to come to Washington during the academic year and continue their education while they intern. TFAS international programs introduce promising foreign students to the ideas of liberty and civil society.
Once students recognize how the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility and a free-market economy relate to a given policy question, they can apply these principles again and again through their careers and lives. This truly does change lives. It allows them to draw connections to the historical debates that have shaped America, and become better, more reflective citizens.
With a renewed commitment to its mission, continued support from thousands of generous donors, wise leadership from the Board, strong management and dedicated alumni, TFAS has all the ingredients for continued success for decades to come.