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The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996:
An Online Exhibit

History of the Fulbright Program

Introduction / Sources / History / Binational Programs / Board of Foreign Scholarships / Cooperating Agencies / Anniversaries / Grantees

"Of all the examples in recent history of beating swords into plowshares, of having some benefit come to humanity out of the destruction of war, I think that this program in its results will be among the most preeminent."

President Kennedy in remarks at ceremonies
marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Fulbright Program, August 1, 1961.

On August 1, 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Fulbright Act authorizing the Fulbright Program for the exchange of teachers, students, professors, and research scholars between the United States and participating countries. It amended the Surplus Property Act of 1944 so that foreign credits from the sale of U.S. surplus war properties abroad could be used for international educational activities.

On September 21, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Fulbright-Hays Act, consolidating all previous laws under which the U.S. exchange program operated. It remains the basic charter for all U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchanges.

China was the first country to sign a Fulbright agreement with the United States on November 10, 1947. The first American Fulbright grantee was Derk Bodde, a well-known Sinologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who worked on a translation of Chinese philosophy. He recorded his experiences in a book titled Peking Diary: A Year of Revolution (New York: Henry Schuman, 1950).

An educational exchange agreement with Burma, the second under the Fulbright Act, was signed on December 22, 1947. The first foreign Fulbright grantees were Burmese, among them nursing students associated with famed "Burma Surgeon" Gordon Seagrave's hospital and training school.

The first academic exchange agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union was signed in 1958. Alexander Yakovlev, long-time adviser to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, studied American history at Columbia University that year.

The agreements under the Fulbright Act provide for a binational foundation or commission to administer the Fulbright Program in each of the participating countries. The U.S. embassy or consulate performs these functions in countries where there are no commissions or foundations.

The presidentially appointed Board of Foreign Scholarships, composed of twelve members drawn from academic, cultural, and public life, supervises the Fulbright Program worldwide. The program was administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State until 1978, when these functions were merged with those of the United States Information Agency.

An amendment to the Fulbright-Hays Act, signed into law by President George Bush in January 1990, changed the board's formal name to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Hoyt Purvis, director of the Fulbright Institute of International Relations, was recently named chairman of the board.

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