R. Stewart Rauch, Jr.

Jonathan E. Rhoads
Michael J. Sherman & Stephen Shutt

In 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the city of Philadelphia was on the brink of exploding. What kept the city from joining the fate of many other northern cities that long, hot summer was an unlikely coalition of black activists and white businessmen, one of whose leaders was Stewart Rauch.

T his was both a new, yet logical role for Rauch, given his past experience in civic engagement. Until that time Rauch was more likely known as the head of Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS), which he presided over as president or chairman for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1979. He was also a respected figure in the business community, who had played a vital role in the revitalization of Society Hill, the development of Penn’s Landing, and the establishment of the historic district. He was contacted by civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore, who told him that the business community had to act quickly to avert riots.

Calling itself the Good Friday Group, the group that formed was an uneasy coalition of white business leaders, black moderates, and black militants which first met in the board room of PSFS. Rauch committed $1 million from businesses to spend on projects developed by the black community focusing on job creation and social services. A determined Rauch then raised the money quickly. William Eagleson, a friend of Rauch’s and fellow banker, stated about this time: “Stew brought to the table a personal presence and integrity that engendered trust among the highly diverse people who had gathered with feelings of suspicion, anger, and even hate. It was Philadelphia’s great good fortune that he was in the right place at the right time.”

Under Rauch’s leadership, the Good Friday Group took on another morsel—literally. The Tastykake Company in the 1960s only hired African-Americans for menial positions. The Rev. Leon Sullivan (the 1965 Philadelphia Award winner and a member of the Good Friday Group), organized a boycott of that company. There were members of the business community who wanted to remove Sullivan from the Group because of this activity. Rauch not only blocked the removal effort, he also sponsored a Group vote to provide financial assistance to Sullivan for the boycott. The pro-Sullivan forces prevailed.

Rauch received the 1977 Philadelphia Award for his leadership of the business community. Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, who had chaired the meetings of the Good Friday Group, saluted Rauch for his longstanding concern and efforts to address the “unmet human needs” of the city. When presenting the award to Rauch, Higginbotham declared, “When you check the major agenda for the physical and human improvements [in the city] during the last 25 years, most often Stewart Rauch has been a key catalyst.”

Economic disparity, racial unrest: what other battles would Rauch have to tackle? The last one involved, perhaps oddly enough, his daughter Sheila. In 1979 Sheila Rauch had a much publicized marriage to the son of Robert F. Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy III. Yet after 12 years the marriage ended. But it didn’t just end; Joseph Kennedy sought an annulment from the Catholic Church, stating (basically) that the marriage never occurred. Kennedy succeeded in his endeavor, but not without the objections of Sheila who took her ecclesiastical appeal public and wrote a book about it: Shattered Faith. This must have been such a difficult time for Stewart Rauch and his wife Frances, who had, by all accounts, a loving 60-year marriage. As in many cases of a long, happy life together, Stewart passed away just two weeks after Frances.

Lee Arnold

Sources: William B. Eagleson, Jr. and William T. Coleman, Jr., “R. Stewart Rauch, Jr.,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 146, no. 4 (Dec. 2002); Melanie Burney, “R. Steward Rauch, 87,” Philadelphia Inquirer , Nov. 18, 2001; Frances Brewster Rauch,” New York Times, Nov. 3, 2001; Christopher Lydon, “A Woman Scorned,” New York Times, June 6, 1997; Matthew J. Countryman, Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Phila., 2006). Photo: Image courtesy of the American Philosophical Society. Comment: William T. Coleman, Jr., a lawyer and civil rights activist, wrote of Rauch’s ability to act as a bridge between the Black community and corporate boards: “[Rauch] was as simpatico with a man like Cecil B. Moore, who thought social and political change could be brought about only by masses of people in the street, as he was with those who populated the board rooms of major financial and industrial institutions.”