History & Purpose

The Helen Hay Whitney Foundation was established and endowed by Mrs. Charles S. Payson, the former Joan Whitney, in 1947, and named in honor of her mother, Helen Hay Whitney. Originally established to stimulate and support research in the area of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, the Foundation later expanded its interests to include diseases of connective tissue and, ultimately, all basic biomedical sciences.

To attain its ultimate goal of increasing the number of imaginative, well-trained, and dedicated medical scientists, the Foundation grants financial support of a three-year duration to young men and women planning careers in biological or medical research. Under this program, approximately 24 three-year research fellowships are awarded annually, resulting in a total of 72 outstanding fellowships. Since its inception the Foundation has awarded over 1,100 research fellowships.

At the organizational meeting of the Fellowship program in 1956, the newly assembled Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) proposed to the Trustees that there be an annual 2-3 day meeting of fellows, scientific advisors, a few selected outside scientists and trustees (if they wish to attend). The purpose was to provide a forum for semiformal presentation of ongoing and proposed research by the fellows before their peers and to allow evaluation by the SAC of their progress and potential. It was also designed to encourage free interactions between all the participants. The meeting was to be held in a secluded,attractive location, with all expenses paid. This meeting has been held annually, is an integral part of the Foundation’s program and there is much reason to believe it is successfully serving its intended purposes.

The most critical and long-lasting investment in the research enterprise is the development of career scientists who contribute through both their own research and, eventually, their training of future generations of scientists. Whitney Fellows have gone on to become some of the most highly regarded medical and scientific professionals in their respective fields, and have served as mentors to succeeding generations of scientists.