For more than 70 years, Freedoms Foundation has kept the flame of freedom burning brightly by educating Americans about their past and the character and virtues that will ensure the country’s future.

Our History

Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge was born in 1949, amid post-war concerns about the future of the United States. Did Americans have full knowledge of the rights they had inherited – rights many had died defending? Did they understand their own role in perpetuating and defending those rights? Did they grasp the responsibilities that were part and parcel of the American compact?

The proposed answers to those questions came from three men representing the worlds of economics, advertising and finance – and a world-famous patron and co-founder, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was between jobs of saving the free world, as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, and leading it as President of the United States.

Founding Document

The founding document of Freedoms Foundation is The American Credo, a call to arms drafted by economist Kenneth D. Wells and nationally known advertising executive Don Belding.

The Credo is a roll call of the rights that protect the dignity and freedom of every American. In part, the list echoes the Bill of Rights, including calls for freedom of religion, free speech, and the right to privacy in one’s homes. But it also harkens to the then-new United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, with its outline of basic economic rights such as the “Right to go into business, compete and make a profit” and the “Right to bargain with our employers and employees.”

Ken Wells and Ike look over a prototype of The American Credo monument in New York in 1952.

At the end was a reminder of the duty of all good citizens: “To personally understand and maintain the American way of life, to honor by his own exemplary conduct, and to pass this credo intact to succeeding generations is the responsibility of every true American.”

Americans were not just to sit back and enjoy their rights. There was work to be done.

When The Credo was cast into marble years later and dedicated on the campus of Freedoms Foundation, then former President Eisenhower said in his remarks:

“Today we have the unveiling and the dedication of a monument that seeks to do something more to hold up to our eyes the very essence of the concepts, or you might say the philosophy, of the free life. … I hope … this monument stands forever as something that every American will view. And as he sees it, he will stand a little straighter, a little stronger in the determination just to be a good citizen of the United States of America.”

Home in Valley Forge

With The Credo as their guidepost, and the support of financier E.F. Hutton, the team set about finding an appropriate home for their new Foundation. Wells later wrote that he searched from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, for a site. Finally, he found a farm in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, just a short walk from General George Washington’s headquarters during the brutal winter of 1777-78. What better place to cheer on the cause of liberty? Hutton purchased the property for $1, and in turn leased it to Freedoms Foundation for $1 a year until the organization purchased it outright in the 1960s.

An eloquent Eisenhower spoke of the providential setting during the first awards program, held in the barn that would serve as the Foundation’s headquarters for years:

“Meeting on this spot to rededicate ourselves to the dream that is America, it is difficult to avoid giving away to emotion so intense as to still the tongue and to leave any American silently grateful, humble, reverent: Here Washington waged and won the greatest fight of a fighting career. …

“The freedom of the American people here experienced its greatest danger of extinction, here met its sternest challenge. Here also it fell heir to its finest example of courage and selflessness, of faith and conviction, of leadership and character.”

Awards and Education

The first step in promoting the American way of life was to reward those who exemplified, or at least strove to achieve, the ideal. Thus were born the National Awards, presented annually at Valley Forge on Washington’s Birthday. Awards juries sifted through thousands of applications in order to compile the hundreds of annual award winners, who came from across the country and all walks of life, from high school students to Hollywood celebrities. Awards were given for high school commencement addresses, for employee publications, for sermons, newspaper editorials, magazine articles, radio programs, and advertising campaigns. Ike and other well-known Americans presented the awards, guaranteeing coverage from national TV, radio and print media outlets.

In a biography of Wells written in 1983, Brigham Young University Professor Hyrum Andrus wrote, “The policy of the Foundation was to divide its annual fund into some 144 cash awards and hundreds of medals, in contrast to the policy of the Nobel program of five annual awards. … This approach put millions of Americans within possible reach of an award, without concern for race, creed, color or political party.”

Awards programs continue today, primarily run by more than 20 Freedoms Foundation volunteer chapters across the country.

The second step in helping Americans develop an understanding and appreciation of their heritage were the education programs. Since their start, millions of students, teachers and other citizens have come to Freedoms Foundation’s Valley Forge campus to learn, to share and to be inspired to serve once they are back home in their own communities.

The Eisenhower Legacy

The 1950s were an exciting time for Freedoms Foundation, thanks to Wells’ steady leadership as president and Belding’s advertising genius.

The American Credo would be reproduced millions of times in countless publications, including at least twice in Reader’s Digest, which was not only sold widely in the United States but boasted 40 international editions by 1962.

The Foundation’s message also was heard on radio and other media. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the honorary chairman was elected president in 1952. As a result, the board of directors would sometimes visit Ike at the White House. To emphasize his continued support, Eisenhower appeared at a board meeting while president-elect.

John Eisenhower (center, above) served as executive vice president and his son David (at right) lectures frequently on campus.

“These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he said to laughter. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell these people who are friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the Foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.”

Eisenhower’s impact on the Foundation lasted long after his death in 1969. His son John Eisenhower would serve as the organization’s executive vice president and his grandson, historian David Eisenhower, frequently lectures about Ike’s role in World War II, specifically the planning for D-Day.

In addition, several presidents would follow Ike’s lead and be involved with Freedoms Foundation, often serving as honorary chairman. Gerald Ford visited campus while he was president and Ronald Reagan made a promotional video for the organization from the White House.

Growing a Campus

Because of the support that flowed from the Foundation’s growing national profile, and with the backing of a board of directors that consisted of leaders in the worlds of business, finance, politics and entertainment, Wells was able to embark on an ambitious expansion program in the 1960s. Three colonial style dormitories – named for Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and General Douglas MacArthur – would eventually be constructed. A national headquarters, the Martha Washington Building, with office space and a banquet hall, was also built.

Also in the ‘60s, the Foundation embarked on creating a living memorial to recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. The initial plan was an acre per state, with additional acres for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, where recipients from that state or territory would be honored first on an obelisk and then on ground plaques scattered about the acre – with the initial intent of having a tree planted in honor of each of those recipients. A few state areas were dedicated per year, often with Medal recipients and other dignitaries from that state in attendance, until all 52 areas were completed by the end of the 1970s.

Overlooking this hallowed ground is a nine-foot statue of Washington at Prayer, by renowned sculptor Donald De Lue. The statue was officially presented to Freedoms Foundation by members of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons on Sept. 9, 1967. Both Wells and Belding were Masons. According to The Pennsylvania Freemason, more than 20,000 Masons and their families attended the dedication and “the 1,800 persons who attended the banquet that followed … made it one of the largest banquets ever sponsored by the Grand Lodge.”

More statuary and monuments would follow, many in honor of founders or military units. Additional buildings would also be added to campus, including the Faith of Our Fathers Chapel – the Rev. Billy Graham attended the dedication – and the Henry Knox Building, home for 17 years to Sr. Mary Veronica, IHM, the resident archivist of the Medal of Honor Grove. Sr. Veronica hand wrote each Medal of Honor citation and would seek out recipients or their family members for pictures or other memorabilia related to Medals of Honor awarded.

Chapters and Partners

Chapter members during the 50th Chapters and Partners Conference in 2018.

As educational programs grew for students and teachers, and the awards programs continued to flourish, Freedoms Foundation’s first Volunteer Chapters were formed. The initial sites were Delaware Valley (now Valley Forge), Los Angeles and Orange County. These action arms would grow to number in the 40s, and their duties included promoting programs, raising scholarship money to send students to Valley Forge, and securing additional funds for the foundation.

Just as crucial during this time, the Foundation was beginning its work with dozens of partner organizations AMVETS, National Sojourners, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and more who also sponsored student and teacher programs, supported their state areas in the Grove, and raised money for a variety of campus improvement projects.

The signature 100-foot flagpole, now a cell tower, arrived in the nation’s bicentennial year, 1976. It was a gift of Montgomery Ward and Co., once a national department store chain. The 30-by-60-foot flag serves as a landmark for passers-by to and from nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park. In his promotional video made for the Foundation in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan urged that the giant flag “serve as a banner of hope for all who love freedom throughout the world.”

The next year saw the creation of the Leavey Awards for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education, which are administered by Freedoms Foundation. Named for Farmers Insurance founder Thomas Leavey and his wife Dorothy, the Leavey Awards honor outstanding educators who bring passion and creativity to the teaching of entrepreneurship and the free enterprise system. More than $4 million has been awarded to about 600 teachers since the program began.

Looking Ahead

A solid foundation of educating, honoring and challenging Americans has allowed Freedoms Foundation to continue bringing 1,500 students to campus each year for History Encounters and Spirit of America Programs.

Teacher graduate courses, often held in partnership with the Medal of Honor Foundation and its Character Development Program, have grown in the last five years from about 40 participants to nearly 400. These sought after professional development programs bring educators from around the country to our Valley Forge campus or to partners such as the Center for American Values in Pueblo, Colorado. The traveling programs allow teachers to get up close and personal while exploring the history of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Virginia presidents or the Civil Rights Movement.

Seventy years after its start, Freedoms Foundation continues to partner with schools, foundations, corporations, veterans and service organizations, and all those who recognize the importance of responsible, engaged citizenship.