history of the Fulbright Program
J. William Fulbright (1905-1995)
J. William Fulbright was a prominent and gifted American statesman of the 20th century. His political career of over thirty years in the U.S. Congress was distinguished by his unequaled contribution to international affairs and marked by his tenure as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had profound influence on America’s foreign policy, and his vision for mutual understanding shaped the extraordinary exchange program bearing his name.
With the support of the United States government and through binational partnerships with foreign governments, the Fulbright Scholarship Program sponsors U.S. and foreign participants for exchanges in all areas of endeavor, including the sciences, business, academe, public service, government, and the arts and continues to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
His legislation establishing the Fulbright Program passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 1946 and drew strength from the U.S.’s national commitment to develop post war leadership and engage constructively with the community of nations. The first participants in the Fulbright Program went overseas in 1948, funded by war reparations and foreign loan repayments to the United States. This program has had extraordinary impact around the world. There have been more than 250,000 Fulbright students, scholars and teachers; many of them have made significant contributions within their countries, including the U.S., as well as to the overall goal of advancing mutual understanding.
J. William Fulbright was born on April 9, 1905 in Sumner, Missouri. He was educated at the University of Arkansas where he was awarded the B.A. degree in Political Science in 1925. He then attended Oxford University where he received an M.A. degree and was transformed by his international experience.
When Fulbright returned to the United States, he studied law at George Washington University in Washington, DC. During the 1930's, he served in the Justice Department and was an instructor at the George Washington University Law School. In 1936, he returned to Arkansas where he was a lecturer in law and, from 1939 to 1941, president of the University of Arkansas, at the time the youngest university president in the country.
He ran for political office in 1942 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he entered Congress in January 1943 and was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee. In September of that year, the House adopted the Fulbright Resolution supporting an international peace-keeping mechanism encouraging United States participation in what became the United Nations, and this brought national attention to Congressman Fulbright.
In November 1944, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and served there from 1945 through 1974, becoming one of the most influential and best-known members of the Senate. In 1949, Senator Fulbright became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From 1959-1974 he served as chairman of the committee.
His Senate career was marked by notable instances of principled dissent. In 1954, he was the only Senator to vote against an appropriation for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was chaired by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy; and, in 1961, he lodged serious objections to President Kennedy in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion. But, Senator Fulbright also worked to build national consensus, for instance, he supported creating a national center for the arts, and his initial legislation led to the founding of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
He was particularly in the spotlight as a powerful voice in the turbulent Vietnam War era, when he chaired the Senate hearings on United States policy and the conduct of the war. In 1963 Walter Lippman wrote of Fulbright: "The role he plays in Washington is an indispensable role. There is no one else who is so powerful and also so wise, and if there were any question of removing him from public life, it would be a national calamity."
After serving five consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate, Senator Fulbright was defeated in Arkansas’ 1974 Democratic primary. He then served as counsel to the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson and remained active in support of the Fulbright Program. He received numerous awards from governments, universities, and educational organizations around the world for his efforts on behalf of education and international understanding. In 1993 he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton.
Senator Fulbright was married to Elizabeth Williams Fulbright for more than fifty years, from 1932 until her death in 1985. They had two daughters, Roberta Fulbright Foote and Elizabeth Fulbright Winnacker. Senator Fulbright married Harriet Mayor in 1990.
On February 9, 1995, Senator J. William Fulbright died in Washington, DC at the age of 89.
At the close of the second World War, J. William Fulbright, then a freshman senator from Arkansas, envisioned an exchange program whereby future leaders would visit and observe the cultures and institutions of countries and peoples other than their own. He hoped this would increase mutual understanding among the nations and societies of the world. The US Congress passed the legislation, which was signed into law in 1946 by President Truman. The first participants took their Fulbrights two years later.
The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the United States Congress to the Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions in foreign countries and in the United States also contribute financially through cost-sharing and indirect support, such as salary supplements, tuition waivers and university housing.
The Congressional appropriation for the Fulbright Program in fiscal year 2008 was $215.4 million. Foreign governments, through binational commissions or foundations abroad, contributed approximately $60 million directly to the Program
The Fulbright Program is administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State under policy guidelines established by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB) and in cooperation with a number of private organizations.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs develops policies to ensure fulfillment of the purposes of the Fulbright Program and administers the Program with the assistance of binational commissions and foundations in 50 countries, U.S. embassies in more than 100 other countries and a number of cooperating agencies in the United States.
The J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, composed of 12 educational and public leaders appointed by the President of the United States, formulates policies for the administration of the Program, establishes criteria for the selection of candidates and approves candidates nominated for awards.
Binational commissions and foundations abroad propose the annual country programs, which establish the numbers and categories of grants based on input from local institutions. In a country without a commission or foundation, the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy develops and supervises the Fulbright Program. Currently, 50 commissions are active, 47 of which are funded jointly by the United States and the respective government. Each commission or foundation has a board, which is composed of an equal number of Americans and citizens of the participating nation.
Some Fulbright programs are administered directly by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Others are administered with the assistance of cooperating agencies. (Contact addresses and telephone numbers for each cooperating agency are provided on page five of this fact sheet.) Foreign citizens interested in the Fulbright Program should contact the Fulbright Commission or Foundation in their home country or, where no commission exists, the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy.