Over a half century of keeping the flame of freedom burning bright through delivering education on America’s past and on the character development that will ensure its future, while recognizing its accomplishment in our teachers and students.

The History of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge

The idea for Freedoms Foundation was conceived by the late Don Belding, a founder of the national advertising firm of Foote, Cone and Belding. Belding, along with E.F. Hutton and Kenneth Wells, founded the institution in November 1949. Shortly thereafter, they enlisted the active support of General Dwight D. Eisenhower to draw up a summary of basic freedoms – The American Credo – which became the heart of the new organization’s message and the philosophic basis of its programs.

Two decisions made in the early 1950’s would shape the Foundation’s public image:

  1. First was the decision to offer a special awards program for school systems, educators and students. Announced in 1950, these awards marked the beginning of the Foundation’s emphasis on educational activities, specifically for young people.
  2. On February 22, 1951, another tradition was established that’s endured for 30 years. On Washington’s birthday, the Freedoms Foundation presented its distinguished awards and publicly announced its entire list of awardees. The National Awards continues today and are presented at ceremonies conducted by our Volunteer Chapters throughout the country.

1960’s To 1970’s: A time of growth

The sixties were a time of great expansion for the Foundation. A surge of support from the public and many national organizations coincided with a doubling of the size of the campus. Part of this expansion included the Medal of Honor Grove. Consisting of 42 wooded areas divided equally among each of the fifty states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, the Grove is a permanent memorial to the more than 3,500 recipients of the nation’s highest decoration for military valor, the Medal of Honor.

In 1965, the Freedoms Foundation began what was to become its most widely recognized educational program, the Freedom and Leadership youth conference. That same year also saw the birth of the graduate seminars for educators.

On September 9, 1967 the nine-foot bronze statue depicting General George Washington at Prayer, overlooking the Congressional Medal of Honor Grove, was presented as a gift to the Freedoms Foundation by the Pennsylvania Masons.

The Foundation’s national reputation was greatly enhanced with the formation of the first Volunteer Chapters: The Delaware Valley (now Valley Forge), Los Angeles, and Orange County. Other chapters soon followed throughout the country as the volunteers became the “action arms”, promoting and sponsoring students to its programs, raising its visibility and seeking out additional contributors.

In the early seventies, the General MacArthur Building, a modern three-floor educational facility, was added to the campus. The educational programs more than tripled their number of participants.

The American Historical Heritage workshops for teachers were added to the program offerings in 1977. The graduate teacher programs surpassed all expectations in 1979, when almost 1,000 teachers applied for the various courses.

The 100-foot flagpole, a bicentennial gift from Montgomery Ward and Company in 1976, towered over the Foundation’s National Headquarters and continues to this day to fly twenty-four hours a day.

The first Awards for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education were presented to twelve business and economic teachers in 1977. These awards were made possible by a special five-year grant from the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation. The Leavey Awards for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education were permanently endowed in the early eighties with a $2 million grant from the same foundation.

By the end of 1979, 42 Womens Chapters in 23 states were actively affiliated with the Freedoms Foundation. The Medal of Honor Grove had officially dedicated 42 states by the end of the decade.

The 1980’s

The 1980s saw the establishment of the Center for Responsible Citizenship. Under the auspices of the Center, a symposium on citizenship responsibility was held in Washington, DC. Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, served as chairman of the conference. As an outgrowth of the national symposium, a steering committee of prominent American academics and legal scholars was established and led to the development of the Bill of Responsibilities. A 14-foot marble Bill of Responsibilities Monument is located on the Freedoms Foundation campus.

By 1989 some 18,000 students from all corners of America attended the Freedom and Leadership Youth conferences. In addition, over 25,000 teachers participated in the Foundationís graduate courses.

1990 to 2000

Following a three-year pilot program in 1992, the R. B. Pamplin Corporation endowed the Distinguished Awards program with a million dollar gift. The Distinguished Awards name was changed to the Pamplin Distinguished Awards. First recipients of this award included Roger Milliken, General Norman Schwarzkoff and the USO.

Several new educational programs for high schools students were initiated in the nineties, beginning with the Medal of Honor Adventure. The seed for this program was planted by Ruritan National and was developed to give scouts an opportunity for fellowship with other scouts from across the nation, gain a greater appreciation for the Medal of Honor, participate in a leadership program, and perform service work in the Medal of Honor Grove.

The Free Enterprise Institute, designed by Leavey Award recipient David Kaplan, was introduced in 1997 for eighth through twelfth graders and has since been offered annually. The first Voice of Democracy program for state winners of the VFWís annual essay contest was also conducted.

Into the future

The 21st Century saw the development of The Spirit of ’76 Award, honoring the commitment to community exemplified by Foundation Volunteer Chapter members.  During this time frame, seven new Volunteer Chapters were chartered with another two in the planning stages.

Sixty-five years later, Freedoms Foundation continues to partner with corporations, veterans and service organizations, foundations, schools and all those who recognize the importance of responsible, engaged citizenship.