A Massachusetts native, Mansfield Freeman graduated from Wesleyan University, served honorably in World War I, and studied at Edinburgh University before making the impetuous decision to join the staff at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1919. He taught English, philosophy, and Greek. That same year, Cornelius Vander Starr founded American Asiatic Underwriters in Shanghai. In 1925, Freeman and Starr met after Freeman’s students won a summer contest in Beijing. Starr invited the talented professor to Shanghai to join his company. Over the next half century, Starr and Freeman worked together to expand their business ventures across the globe, ultimately co-founding American International Group (AIG), the largest American company begun abroad.
Upon his retirement from AIG in 1978, Mansfield Freeman established the trust that would become the Freeman Foundation after his death in 1992. The goal of the foundation, Freeman wrote, was “to strengthen the bonds of friendship between this country and those of the Far East; to develop a greater appreciation of Oriental cultures in this country and a better understanding of American institutions in and purposes on the part of the peoples of East Asia, and to stimulate an exchange of ideas in economic and cultural fields which will help create mutual understanding and thus lessen the danger of such frictions and disagreements as lead to war.”
Mansfield’s son Houghton “Buck” Freeman and his wife, Doreen, served as co-trustees of the Freeman Foundation from 1993 until Buck’s death in 2010. The couple carried out Mansfield’s vision by donating hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a series of philanthropic endeavors designed to foster increased understanding between the United States and East Asia. This included scholarships for Asian and American students to study abroad, support for Asian studies professors and students at 84 colleges and universities in the United States, numerous endowed professorships, and tens of millions in disaster relief and forest preservation. It also created funding for the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, a program designed to infuse Asian-related content into middle and high schools, which includes the South Carolina Center for Teaching about Asia at Furman. Since 2010, Graeme Freeman has carried on the family philanthropic tradition by overseeing the foundation and launching the newest Freeman initiative, supporting students in the United States to engage in full-time internships in East or Southeast Asia. We would like to profoundly thank Mr. Freeman and the other trustees of the foundation for financially supporting The Furman Advantage: The Freeman Foundation International Internship Program in East and Southeast Asia.