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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.
(photo by Toni Roothbert)
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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
Fund, Its Program, Background and Development (1958-1968)
by Carl Solberg
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