Szczepan Mierzwa, the Father of the Kosciuszko Foundation
November 13, 2020 Marek Skulimowski
On November 12, 2020, the founder and father of the Kosciuszko Foundation is celebrating his 128th birthday. We would like to remind you of his story to commemorate his achievements and inspire future generations of Polish-Americans.
Szczepan Mierzwa, known to Americans as Stephen Mizwa, was born to a peasant family on Nov. 12th, 1892 in Rakszawa, Poland. In 1910, the 18-year-old Mierzwa boarded a German steamship, the S.S. Princess Irene headed for the land of opportunity, America. His new life at first was not easy and neither prosperous.
He worked during the day building wooden boxes, peeling potatoes, and washing dishes while studying at night. He earned a scholarship to Amherst College and later completed a master's degree at Harvard University.
In 1922, Mizwa became an Associate Professor of Economics at Drake University. During his academic career, Mizwa met Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken who shared his passion to also create a cultural exchange program between Poland and the United States. One of his first purchases was a portable typewriter to type letters requesting contributions for the Polish American Scholarship Committee. The first donation was $5. He later said, “the principles of Economics did not teach me how to ask people for money for which they would not receive anything in return except a promise that their donations would help young people.”
Stephen sacrificed his doctoral studies at Harvard University and his professorship to focus on educating Poles. The first scholarship brought nine students from Poland to study at American universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, and also sent an American professor to teach at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
To this day his legacy continues to be realized at 15 East 65th Street in New York and it is named the Kosciuszko Foundation. His humble life and inspiring story continue to resonate with the current mission of the Foundation. Since 1925, the
KF has continuously raised funds to grant financial aid, encourage the exchange of professors, scholars, and lecturers between Poland and the United States.
Please consider donating to the Kosciuszko Foundation to keep his legacy alive.
Founded in 1925, the Kosciuszko Foundation promotes closer ties between Poland and the United States through educational, scientific and cultural exchanges. It awards up to $1 million annually in fellowships and grants to graduate students, scholars, scientists, professionals, and artists, and promotes Polish culture in America. The Foundation has awarded scholarships and provided a forum to Poles who have changed history.