The Dewey Home Fund – A Crowdfunding Scandal

Stereo card of Admiral George Dewey’s home at 1747 Rhode Island Avenue in the District of Columbia. Money for the home was raised through public donations as a gift of appreciation to the Admiral. (Library of Congress)

A grateful nation cannot do better than provide liberally for Admiral Dewey’s comfort in a home fitted to his tastes worthy in some measure of his services and indicative in a small degree of the gratitude which is not of a day but of all time. A popular subscription will afford all the privilege to join in such a testimonial in which patriotism will have a monument. . . . On his return from the scene of his victories and his statesmanship the official duties of Admiral Dewey will be performed in Washington. He should have a home there. . . . It is for a home for Admiral Dewey in Washington that subscriptions are invited. . . . Subscriptions may be sent at once to the Treasurer of this fund at the Treasury Department, Washington, DC. Temporary receipts will be promptly returned and as soon as it can be prepared a duplicate of the same date and number bearing a fine portrait of Admiral Dewey will be forwarded to every subscriber

Excerpts from the announcement of the formation of the Dewey Home Fund Committee

It undoubtedly seemed like a good idea at the time. A group of prominent American officials formed a committee to accept donations to purchase a home for Admiral Dewey upon his return from the Philippines in 1899. The Committee consisted of Assistant Treasury Secretary Frank A. Vanderlip, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Allen, Brigadier General Henry C. Corbin, Assistant Postmaster General Perry S. Heath and Treasurer Robert H. Ellis.

Bismarck Tribune, October 12, 1899.

The appeal received wide publicity throughout the country and regular updates were published. Over $60,000.00 was raised from approximately 44,.000 contributors. Most contributions were a dollar or less. Major newspapers, civic groups and other organizations made sizable donations. The names of all the contributors were hand inscribed in a three volume set of books that were presented to the Admiral.

Goldsboro (N.C.) Daily Argus, October 17, 1899.

The Committee chose a house at 1747 Rhode Island Avenue. It cost $50,000.00 and was purchased just before Dewey returned in September 1899. In early November 1899, Dewey married his second wife, Mildred McLean Hazen, widow of General William Babcock Hazen. His first wife had died shortly after the birth of their son in 1872.

The World, November 23, 1899.

Their honeymoon was short-lived. In mid-November 1899, it was learned that title to the home was transferred to Mrs. Dewey. As word spread — aided by partisan newspapers who were trying to squelch talk of Dewey running for president — many contributors became upset.

Cheap shots in the Atlanta Constitution from November 1899 regarding the Dewey Home Fund.

Hundreds of letters were sent to Robert Ellis’ office in the Treasury Department from contributors demanding their money be returned. On November 24, 1899, John R. McLean, Mrs. Dewey’s brother, announced that the Dewey’s would return contributions to anyone who requested it. How much was actually returned was not reported.

Wisconsin State Journal, November 22, 1899.

What was not widely covered was the fact that on the same day that Admiral Dewey transferred the house to his wife, she conveyed it to his son, George Dewey, Jr., retaining the right for her and the Admiral to occupy the residence.

Receipt for a donation to the Dewey Home Fund. The receipts were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The BEP Director’s Report for 1900 indicates 1,565 sheets of these receipts were printed.

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