The Spencers’ Philanthropy: Cultural Organizations

Helen gave generously to educational and humanities-based organizations, in both monetary support and gifts-in-kind. Many of her most significant Foundation and personal projects involved building and acquisition campaigns for libraries and art museums. She also frequently gave smaller amounts to performing arts organizations and provided scholarships for students pursuing artistic careers.


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Top: Photograph, Spanish gates at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, September 1977

Bottom: Remarks, given by Helen Spencer at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art dedication, September 1977

In his capacity as President of the KU Endowment Association, Dolph C. Simons, Sr. first contacted Helen about providing funds for building a new art museum on KU’s Lawrence campus in March 1972. The Foundation provided over $3 million for the construction of the building. In her typical fashion, Helen also privately donated works of art and funds for the purchase of objects. These objects include the 17th- or 18th-century Spanish gates shown in the photograph, framing Helen and others at the 1977 museum dedication.


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Top: Card, Ted Coe to “Aunt Helen,” February 16, 1976

Bottom: Photograph, Helen Spencer with Laurence Sickman, Director of the Nelson Gallery of Art, in front of Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines, January 1973

Ted Coe was a curator at – and later the director of – the Nelson Gallery of Art, now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Coe was also briefly married to Helen’s niece. Helen continued to have a strong relationship with Coe after the marriage ended, seeking his curatorial advice in artistic matters. In the 1970s and until her death, Helen ensured the Nelson had funds available to support the acquisition of major works of art, including the Monet painting in the photograph and the Odilon Redon pastel referenced in Coe’s note. This greeting card was produced by Kansas City-based company Hallmark. It shows the Monet painting on the front.

Photograph courtesy of the Society of Fellows Records, RG 43/01, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.



Photograph, Ross Taggart, Curator at the Nelson Gallery of Art, and Helen Spencer in the museum’s new Spencer Art Reference Library reading room, undated [1978]

Helen supported the Nelson Gallery of Art’s library in a variety of ways. In 1962, she provided major funds to help the gallery grow its small reference collection. By the mid-1970s, she recognized that the library had outgrown itself. Through the Foundation, she provided a major amount of money to excavate a new library space underground. Most significantly, the project included a reading room where patrons could have space to conduct their research. The reading room reflected Helen’s decorative tastes for Georgian English details.

Photograph courtesy of Event Planning Records, RG 45, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives, Kansas City, MO.



Photograph, Helen F. Spencer Theatre in the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City, undated [late 1970s]

The theatre, which houses the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, was one of the last substantial projects undertaken by the Foundation before its dissolution.

Photograph courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri-Kansas City.