It was March 1937. Pennsylvania was mired in the midst of the Great Depression and overtaken by a wave of public corruption and mismanagement.
Samuel S. Fels, a leading Philadelphia entrepreneur and philanthropist, met with the Dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to organize a conference of government experts to address the pressing question of public sector leadership. Several months later, as the lead donor to the University's bicentennial fundraising campaign, Mr. Fels made a gift to found what is now known as the Fels Institute of Government. His intent was clear, simple and practical: to improve the quality of government by developing and disseminating promising practices in public management and by training professional managers in those practices.
The Fels Institute quickly became the nation's leading school for city and county managers, boasting near continuous leadership of the International City Management Association. Over time, the Fels Institute expanded its reach and for almost 75 years has prepared graduates for a much broader range of public leadership positions in city, state and federal agencies, elective politics, nonprofit organizations, and private firms with close connections to the public sector.
But the practical, problem-solving focus that Sam Fels hoped for remains to this day, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund which he created in 1935 remains a key supporter of the Institute. Over the years, the Fels Fund has helped hundreds of young men and women receive the kind of rigorous and thoughtful education and training that Sam Fels hoped for when he set out to turn his vision into a reality.