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Olivia Sage

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage was an American philanthropist who established the Russell Sage Foundation. Dedicated "to the improvement of the social and living conditions within the United States," the Russell Sage Foundation was founded April 11th, 1907. The organization later grew into one of the world's foremost philanthropic organizations.

Biographical fast facts

Full, original or maiden name at birth: Margaret Olivia Slocum *

Date and place of birth: September 8, 1828, Syracuse, New York, U.S.A.

Date, place and cause of death: November 4, 1918, at 604 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (Natural causes)

Spouse: Russell Sage (m. November 24, 1869 - July 22, 1906) (his death)
Wedding took place at the First Presbyterian Church, Albany, New York, U.S.A.

Father: Joseph Slocum (a businessman/politician) (b. 1800 - d. March 1863)
Mother: Margaret Pierson Jermain (b. March 4, 1804 - d. July 19, 1891, Long Island, New York)

Burial site: Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse, New York, U.S.A. **

Error corrections or clarifications

* Throughout her life, Margaret Olivia Slocum, was called by her middle name.

** Note: Her burial took place at the Oakwood Cemetery, in Syracuse, New York. This is not the same Oakwood Cemetery, at which her husband is interred in Troy, New York.

Biography - Residences

Margaret Olivia Slocum was the only daughter of Joseph Slocum and Margaret Pierson Jermain. Her paternal roots could be traced back to the Mayflower, and they were direct descendents of Miles Standish. Olivia--as she was known throughout her life--was born into a world of wealth and privilege.

After completing her education at the Troy Female Seminary (later called the Emma Willard School), she waited in vain for the hand of a proper suitor. With no marital prospects on the horizon, she began her career as a schoolteacher. Educator Emma Willard had been a significant influence in her life, so it was only natural that she pursued a teaching career.

It was through her father's business contacts that she first crossed paths with the man with whom she'd spend the latter half of her life. Russell Sage was a married businessman who would later reach the pinnacle of the business and financial world. She and Mr. Sage were nothing more than friends as she continued to teach for more than two decades.

In 1869, two years after the death of his first wife, they entered into a loveless marriage. Sage hoped the marriage would rehabilitate his public image following a messy public trial and return him to favor with New York's upper crust. The couple occupied separate bedrooms, and some historians claim their marriage was never consummated. It was truly a marriage of convenience. Her husband gained the return to respectability he wanted, while Olivia, who had long since resigned herself to the fact she would live out her life as an old maid, found financial security, and a proper, if somewhat incompatible life companion.

Following the death of her husband in 1906, she was dubbed "the richest woman in the world." He was said to be worth between $70 and $100 million. Understandably, she was besieged by literally thousands of requests for financial aid.

Mrs. Sage founded the Russell Sage Foundation April 11, 1907, as a memorial to her late husband. Initially endowed with $10 million, Olivia later added millions more. She dispensed a total of $35 million between 1907 and her death in 1918. In addition to giving millions to more traditional charities, the Russell Sage Foundation studied the root causes of social problems, so their organization could offer practical solutions to poverty, hunger and disease, rather than just a temporary "Band-aid."

In the first year alone, she gave away millions of dollars. Medical charities, Christian organizations, and charities focused on women's issues, were among her favorites. Over the years, The Emma Willard School, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and New York University each received sizable donations, with worthy organizations such as the American Red Cross, Camp Fire Girls, Salvation Army, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Tuskegee Institute, YMCA, and countless others, also receiving substantial financial assistance from the Russell Sage Foundation.

In 1916, Mrs. Sage founded the Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Named in honor of her late husband, The Sage Colleges later grew to include not only Russell Sage College (a four-year college for women), but also the Sage College of Albany, a coeducational college, and the Sage Graduate School.

Olivia Sage suffered from a serious thyroid condition from an early age, yet lived to the age of 90.

Four decades after the foundation was formed, its influence was waning, returns on financial investments were declining, and the gradual attrition of its staff prompted reorganization within the Russell Sage Foundation. In 1948, they shifted their focus to basic research in the social and behavioral sciences and the strengthening of social welfare methodology.

Millions have benefited from her generosity, yet the pioneering female philanthropist is not widely remembered today. Her humanitarian efforts went far beyond simple philanthropy. By seeking the root causes of social problems and sponsoring practical solutions based on those scientific studies, she proved to be a true philanthropic visionary.

Residences of Olivia Sage:
Note that these residences may no longer exist, and it's possible the addresses have changed over the years. This is not to suggest that Ms. Sage owned each and every one of these structures. We're only reporting the fact that she resided in them at one point or another in her life.
506 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
632 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
604 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York, U.S.A.


The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was the biography, Russell Sage: The Money King, by Paul Sarnoff (1965).

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