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History

Agnes Wahl Nieman's generous gift of $1 million to Harvard in 1937 was accompanied by an idea that was more eloquent and visionary than anyone at the university could have recognized.

Her directive to "... promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate persons deemed especially qualified for journalism" ultimately gave virtue to the concept of continuing education for working journalists.

But in 1937, in the depths of the Great Depression when $1 million was an extraordinary sum to be given to a university and when newspaper work was done mostly by men who had not attended college, Mrs. Nieman's bequest was received with a deep sense of uncertainty.

After consultation with many at the university and many throughout the newspaper business, Harvard President James Bryant Conant committed the income from the Nieman gift to funding a sabbatical fellowship program for experienced journalists.

He was uncertain that newspapermen could benefit from intellectual enrichment at a great university, and as he announced the Nieman Fellowship program in early 1938, he allowed as how it was "a very dubious experiment."