The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis originated in 1920 as a program created by Meta Bettman for the St. Louis section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Its mission was to make financial resources available to young Jewish St. Louisans of limited means so they could pursue their dreams of higher education. The first loan — $15 — helped a young immigrant woman attend business college. In 1929, the organization incorporated as the St. Louis Jewish Scholarship Foundation.
In 1953, eligibility for the Foundation’s interest-free, no-fees loan program expanded to include all qualified applicants without regard to religion. African-American students from St. Louis received the first financial awards made to non-Jewish residents.
In the early 1960s, the organization became independent and non-sectarian as The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.
In 1960, St. Louis marketing entrepreneur and philanthropist Evelyn Newman conceived and launched the first ScholarShop, a retail store that sold high-quality donated clothing and accessories, generating a dedicated stream of revenue for The Scholarship Foundation’s education programs. Proceeds from ScholarShop, students’ exceptional loan repayment rate, and increasing philanthropic support allowed The Scholarship Foundation to grow significantly in the next two decades.
In 1989, the Foundation hired its first executive director and initiated a long-term strategic plan to improve and expand services, including increased opportunities through its student loan and grant programs.
In 1994, the Foundation created the Student Advocate and Advising Program to address students’ need for information and assistance in navigating the increasingly complicated process of applying for college admission and financial aid.
In the early 2000s, the Foundation launched its Bravo Grant program, which provides scholarship grants to specially selected recipients of the organization’s interest-free loans. It also opened a second location of ScholarShop in Webster Groves.
In 2009, The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis helped lead the effort to create St. Louis Graduates (originally known as St. Louis Regional College Access Pipeline Project), a nonprofit collaborative project involving leaders of area educational institutions, community service providers, businesses, and philanthropic organizations. The group’s goal is to increase the percentage of St. Louis area residents who have postsecondary degrees from about 25 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025.
In 2016, responding to changing retail dynamics, the Board of Directors voted to close ScholarShop and focus on maximizing assistance to area students. In 2017, both ScholarShop locations ended operations after 57 years of providing upscale resale to the community. Also in 2017, The Scholarship Foundation relocated to new offices on Clayton Avenue in the City of St. Louis, in a facility more centrally located to the students served.
In 2020, the Foundation celebrated 100 years of supporting local students. In honor of the anniversary, Foundation volunteers created several timelines chronicling 100 years of Scholarship Foundation history. They can be viewed here.
Since its founding, the Foundation has distributed approximately $93 million in interest-free loans and grants for higher education to more than 12,000 students from the St. Louis regional community.