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Albert Roothbert
About Albert Roothbert
Antonie von Horn Roothbert
About Toni Roothbert

Albert Roothbert

Albert Roothbert was born in 1874 in Frankfurt, Germany to a long assimilated German Jewish family that had lived in that city since 1504. Albert was the second son in a family of five siblings--three brothers and two sisters.

Albert Roothbert
(photo by Toni Roothbert)

Albert's father Emil Rothbart was a prosperous hops merchant with a Bavarian background. His mother Franziska was from a long-established Frankfurt family, the Budges. It was Franziska's brother (and Albert's uncle) Heinrich who brought Albert to the United States in 1902 to join him in the Wall Street investment house of Hallgarten and Co. Thus at age 28, Albert entered upon a banking career in New York City and soon became a partner.

Albert pursued a successful career as an investment banker throughout the cataclysmic events that shaped the early 20th Century--including the Panic of 1907 and the 1917 victory against Germany in World War I.

Diverse Interests
In 1925, at the age of 50, he retired from his firm and corporate directorships. Thereafter his life was increasingly a search for a way to combine the art of living, expressed in his many cultural interests, with a strong desire for social betterment. Shortly after World War I, Albert met the British trade union leader Mary A. MacArthur and was strongly influenced by her. He traveled to Sweden and Finland to study the housing of the Cooperative Movement.

As a result of his interest in the ancient Egyptian ruler Akh-en-Aton, said to have proclaimed a belief in one God, Albert Roothbert sponsored an archeological expedition to Egypt by the Viennese Egyptologist, Prof. Hermann Junker. Albert made gifts of art and archeological artifacts to the Boston Museum, the Harvard University Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. A friend of artists and an avid collector, he traveled widely in Europe and the American Southwest. He acquired numerous works by American and European masters, including watercolors by Native American artists. His interests included American Indians. He also volunteered as a Salvation Army adviser to prison inmates and worked for the establishment of prison rehabilitation centers for parolees returning to society.

He wrote passionately, particularly during World War II, about the need for greater spiritual consciousness.

In 1937, on the eve of World War II, Albert arranged for his sister's grandson, Fred Schwab, to emigrate from Germany. Ultimately, he was able to help at least 10 family members escape from Hitler's persecution and find safe haven in America.

Also in 1937, at age 63, Albert married Toni von Horn, a fashion photographer. In that same year, he formally converted to Protestantism, although he later distanced himself from anything like a formal religious tie, preferring instead to voice a strong commitment to spirituality.

Creating the Roothbert Fund
In 1949, in the wake of the devastation of World War II, Albert Roothbert wrote of the need for young people to "proceed upon a subtly ascending curve of ethical and spiritual consciousness" that would lead to a "regenerated democracy." These ideas finally led him to the idea of creating a foundation with the aim of seeking out candidates "whose daily actions appear to be prompted by spiritual motives."

In 1958, he and Toni established the Roothbert Fund with that aim, and as president for the first five years, Albert started it on its way. In the Fund's by-laws, he wrote of the "many young men and women--students, teachers, poets and other gifted souls--who realize that dedication to spiritual concepts, affirmed by example and evocative work, may well range as the most essential requirement of our time."

Because of its small size, the Fund was able to maintain a degree of personal informality, innovation and flexibility that that neither big government nor large foundations could emulate. In particular, his view of spirituality left its stamp on the Fund and the Fellowship that evolved from it with the help of his wife Toni. In 1963, Albert Roohtbert authored a new preamble to the application form for the Fund:

"The word spiritual is not to be confused with mere discontent with materialism, nor vague otherworldliness. And certainly there is no implication of creedal commitment nor correctness of belief. The emphasis would be more upon the direct awareness which the individual has of a spiritual Force or Being in the universe to which he feels responsible. The way in which this responsiveness would be expressed would be, of course, his own concern."

The spiritual, as so defined, was understood to be expressed in all sorts of different ways, including those far outside the realm of institutional religion. Among early recipients of Roothbert scholarships were persons who had integrated lunch counters in the South at the height of the civil rights movement, those who were drafting a program for federal crime control, studying the poetry of W. H. Auden, directing a Neighborhood Youth Corp program and teaching third graders in Washington, D.C. These candidates reflected the Fund's view that such life choices can reflect a deep presence of spiritual connection, even when it is neither conscious nor acknowledged.

Along with his wife Toni, Albert Roothbert actively shaped the purpose and direction of the Roothbert Fund until the time of his death on October 21,1965 at age 90.


This history excerpted from:
The Roothbert Fund, Its Program, Background and Development (1958-1968) by Carl Solberg

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