Sanger Hall donor the Colcom Foundation in discussion with Chatham about renaming room

Sanger Hall donor the Colcom Foundation in discussion with Chatham about renaming room

Maggie Susa

It’s been almost four years since Chatham students began rallying for the University to rename Sanger Hall, a lecture room inside Coolidge Hall. Many argue that some of the beliefs of Margaret Sanger — the founder of Planned Parenthood and a eugenics supporter for whom the hall is named– don’t align with the University’s mission statement.

Those in support of changing the name have been told that it’s not that simple. To remove Sanger’s name, the University would have to return the money it received for it to the donor.

On a plaque beneath a bust of Sanger outside the hall, that donor is listed as “anonymous.” The Communiqué learned in fall 2019 that it’s actually the Colcom Foundation.

University President, Dr. David Finegold, has been in conversation with leaders at Colcom about options for handling this situation. The Colcom Foundation is a local organization founded in 1996 by Cordelia S. May, a member of the wealthy Scaife family who thought of Sanger as a role model. May is described on the foundation’s website as “a dedicated conservationist” with a “lifelong concern about the negative effects of human overpopulation on the environment and quality of life in the United States.”

She served as chair of the foundation until she died in 2005. She was 76 years old.

According to the plaque outside Sanger Hall, the University, which was then Chatham College, dedicated the lecture hall in May 1999. Even though the donation is listed as anonymous foundation grants are public record, John Rohe, the Colcom Foundation’s secretary and vice president, said in an email interview.

“They have been, and continue to be, disclosed in the tax records annually. Colcom Foundation’s benefactor [Cordelia S. May] was engaged in philanthropy for the sake of philanthropy. Her charitable grants were never applied for personal recognition. The University likely knew her soft-heartedness was entirely for others,” said Rohe.

“It is difficult to retrieve [financial] records from two decades in the past,” said Rohe. He estimates the amount donated by Colcom at about $350,000 in 1998.

More recently, Colcom has donated money to other local organizations,
sustainability causes and groups associated with anti-immigration efforts. For example, it’s given millions of dollars to the likes of American Immigration Reform, Numbers USA and American Immigration Control Foundation.

Colcom’s history of giving to these kinds of organizations was brought up during a Chatham Student Government meeting Sept. 12. If Chatham did remove Sanger’s name and returned the money, many students said they would feel uncomfortable knowing that Colcom may then give those funds to more of those types of groups.

Rohe said he has been in discussion with Chatham University President Dr. David Finegold about options for returning the money and/or renaming the hall.

“Our cordial conversations with your President continue. A room number has been discussed. Based on our discussions, the forfeiture of a grant seems quite unlikely,” Rohe said.


Sanger Hall at Chatham University ongoing controversy

Chatham University receives donation to rename Sanger Hall