Early support for Jewish causes
In England, the almost military skills which Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) had used to transfer huge sums of money to Wellington's troops and Britain's allies during the campaign against Napoleon were put to the use of the Jewish community. In addition to offering cash support to the synagogues in London, Nathan initiated a series of discussions which led eventually to the formation of the United Synagogue, thus streamlining the charitable work of the smaller constituent synagogues. Nathan's children recognised their obligations just as keenly. His eldest son, Lionel, became the first Jewish Member of Parliament after an 11-year battle, paving the way for the removal of the final civil disabilities affecting the Jewish community. As the children began to buy country estates, the areas around their mansions were transformed by planned improvements to housing for artisans, the implementation of social facilities such as health care provision, and an assurance that estate workers could rely on regular employment.
A broad commitment to welfare
The entire family preferred to become wholeheartedly involved in their favourite philanthropic interests, rather than simply making random payments to worthy causes. In Frankfurt, Nathan's youngest child Louise and her seven daughters were responsible for many of the family's 30 charitable foundations in the city, including a dental clinic, a free public library, a swimming bath, old people's homes, orphanages, funds to pay school fees, soup kitchens and hospitals. Vienna perhaps had the most astonishing variety of foundations established by the family: alongside the more usual hospitals, orphanages and educational foundations were a municipal theatre and a foundation for destitute photographers, one member of the family being a particular enthusiast for this art form.
Members of the Rothschild family supported the Jews’ Free School in London’s East End school over several generations. Nathan, together with his wife Hannah, helped support the school through benefactions and subscriptions. In 1837, Hannah Rothschild established an accumulating fund for the permanent endowment of the school. As well as financial support, members of the Rothschild family were office holders of the school. Other members of the family established and supported schools in France, Austria and Israel.
Social housing and employment
In London and Paris, social housing was a shared interest, resulting in the formation of the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company Limited (London) and the Rothschild Foundation (Paris) both of which constructed housing to an exceptionally advanced standard for the time. Perhaps the most radical programme of Rothschild philanthropy was staged beyond the cities where the family established banking houses. Israel owes many of its early economic successes to the work of Edmond de Rothschild, who founded numerous colonies for Jewish settlers. A silk factory, vineyard and flour mill, as well as the introduction of crops such as grapefruit and avocado, enabled the settlers to establish their economic independence.
It has been estimated that the Rothschild family has given more than 60,000 works to public institutions within the space of a century.
Rothschild philanthropy today
Many members of the Rothschild family have established philanthropic trusts with a variety of aims, and members of the family continue to be involved with institutions founded by their forebears such as the Evelina London Children's Hospital, and the Industrial Dwellings Society. Family foundations include the ERANDA Foundation, The Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, and the Fondation de Rothschild.