Origins of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
The Wilder Foundation is the namesake of Amherst H. Wilder (1828-1894), a wealthy businessman who established a trust fund at the turn of the 20th century in his will that would “relieve, aid and assist the poor, sick and needy people of the city of Saint Paul.” This fund established the Amherst H. Wilder Charity, which made its first expenditure in 1906 to assist a family in Saint Paul.
Additional funds left by Wilder’s wife Fanny and daughter Cornelia upon their deaths in 1903 established separate Wilder Charity corporations. In December 1910, under an act of the state legislature, the three Wilder charities were merged into the Amherst H. Wilder Charity, with total assets of $2.6 million. In 1953, the name of the Amherst H. Wilder Charity was changed to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. Since its inception, the Wilder Foundation has endeavored to provide responsive human services and adapt to the changing needs of the Greater Saint Paul community.
Critical History Report
The Wilder Foundation—an organization more than a century old—has an identity and history linked to Minnesota’s past, along with many other organizations that have served our community. As we seek to create the world we want to be part of, it is important to understand how the organization’s origins, history, and role in community inform our work and relationships today.
The following report was commissioned to better understand the critical influences of 19th century history upon the roots of our organization from an equity lens. The report documents key historical events in Minnesota’s history, and outlines how Amherst H. Wilder and other wealthy industrialists accumulated wealth in the late 19th century through industries such as railroads, lumber, cattle, banking, construction, government contracting, and land speculation. The report examines the effect of these colonial industries—and Wilder’s businesses specifically—on Indigenous people and highlights, when possible, the dependence of such industries on laborers who were enslaved or oppressed.
As an organization and as individuals, we acknowledge that Amherst Wilder participated in, and benefitted from, a system of institutional racism. We take responsibility for our organization’s history, and understand that we are active participants in shaping the future of this organization.
Sharing this report is an important step toward strengthening relationships and establishing trust that will help us work in partnership toward a future where all people have opportunities to thrive. In the coming months we will determine how this report can inform our actions to advance equity within our organization and throughout the community.
Our Executive Leadership Team, Board of Directors, and staff throughout the organization will support our ongoing journey toward equity. We hope that the community will continue to engage with us on this journey of discovery, reflection, healing and co-creation of our future.
Early Services of Amherst H. Wilder Charity
Many of the services were available no place else in Saint Paul. They included:
Public Health Nursing. Trained nurses visited ill people in their homes for 37 years until the Ramsey County nursing program took over.
The Wilder Relief Department. Cash relief was given to persons suffering chronic illness and the effects of aging, or what was then termed, "worthless husbands."
Wilder Baths and Pool. Opened in 1914, the baths were designed to meet the needs of the many Saint Paul residents without adequate bathing facilities. It offered 85 shower baths and a 35- by 70-foot swimming pool. The baths were operated for 60 years.
Wilder Dispensary. It provided free medical and dental care to persons without financial resources when it opened its door in 1924. Physicians and residents worked free of charge. A headline from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press heralded the dispensary to be “…one of the most modern and best equipped in the world.” It remained a viable Wilder program until 1960 when it was taken over by a hospital association.
Wilder Child Guidance Clinic. The Child Guidance Clinic is an outpatient psychiatric clinic for children and their families. The clinic is nationally known as a treatment and training center and is one of the oldest continuously operated children’s clinics in the country serving emotionally disturbed children.