Modest means grew to major gift Giving: One-time poor boy Emanuel Chambers built a fortune through frugality and wise investment. He used it to benefit city institutions and those in need.


For 30 years, Emanuel Chambers served financiers, attorneys, businessmen and physicians as a "gentleman's gentleman" at the Baltimore and Maryland clubs. But it was his philanthropy that preserved his place in the city's history.

Chambers, a bachelor who invested wisely and lived frugally on his salary and tips, had become one of Baltimore's wealthiest blacks at the time of his death in 1945, with a portfolio of stocks, bonds and property valued at more than $154,000.

He had established the Emanuel Chambers Foundation two years earlier, and his will stipulated that his money be used to "advance and promote the physical, mental, moral and social condition of the inhabitants of Baltimore regardless of race, color, or creed."

He was especially interested in the work of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Provident Hospital and the Visiting Nurses Association of Baltimore, as well as in the care of "children, the poor, the sick, the aged, [and] the helpless."

The foundation was placed under the direction of S. Sterett McKim, Stuart Olivier, Ellicott H. Worthington and E. McClure Rouzer, prominent businessmen and Maryland Club members.

FTC Later trustees included B. Carter Randall, Gaylord Lee Clark, Roger B. Hopkins, William A. Fisher and Roger B. Hopkins Jr.

By 1965, the foundation's value had grown to $530,000, with beneficiaries of its largess ranging from Morgan State College, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Provident Hospital to scholarships for voice students at the Peabody Institute.

Chambers, who was born and raised on his father's Harford County farm, came to Baltimore in the 1870s. He worked as a janitor and at other odd jobs until becoming the part owner of a Lexington Market stall.

Fascinated with the world of finance, he later went to work for the brokerage firm of McKim and Co., putting up stock figures on a blackboard.

When McKim closed in 1907, he entered the employ of the Baltimore Club at Baltimore and Madison streets, and remained there until its merger with the Maryland Club in 1933.

Missions impossible

His reputation for solving nearly impossible problems became almost as legendary as his financial acumen.

"In fact it was generally believed there was nothing Emanuel couldn't do," wrote Francis F. Beirne in "The Amiable Baltimoreans."

"A club member wanted seats to grand opera at the Lyric which had been sold out for six months. He appealed to Emanuel who produced the seats. A club member sought in vain for a Pullman reservation to Chicago; Emanuel came up with a whole section. Once he is said to have arranged for an express train to stop at Laurel Race Track to pick up two friends of members of the club who wanted an afternoon at the races before returning to New York," wrote Beirne.

In an emergency, he could always provide white ties, shirt studs and collar buttons. He even reminded a club member of the exact hour of his impending wedding.

"He had connections everywhere," Ellicott Worthington told The Evening Sun in 1960.

In the days when the District of Columbia authorities required that a motorist carry a D.C. license, a club member who wanted to drive his car there asked Chambers if one might be available.

"Yes, sir," he replied, "but you must return it before 10 a.m. tomorrow because it belongs to a hearse," reported The Evening Sun.

"He got to know their families, their women friends, their associates. He knew whom the clubmen wanted to see and talk to by phone; he knew how to ward off others," said The Sun.

A man who had known him for years asked one day, "Manuel, where do you expect to go when you die after all the lies you've told for other people?"

He replied, "I often thought about that, sir. But I've always told those stories to help other people."

"Emanuel was always cheerful, always refined and courteous, with a keen sense of humor and an intuitive knowledge of the true values in life," said Stuart Olivier in The Evening Sun.

The majority of Chambers' fortune consisted of short-term government bonds and a selection of blue-chip common stocks that included American Telephone & Telegraph, Arundel Corp., Bendix Aviation, E. I. DuPont, General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and United States Steel.

Once when he lost $30,000 on the market, he calmly replied, "I guess it's a matter of easy come, easy go."

'A great Baltimorean'

After retiring in 1937, he moved to Plymouth Hall Apartments, at Madison Avenue and Wilson Street, where he lived until his death at age 84. Many of the city's most prominent citizens attended his funeral at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian


"As he left the graveyard yesterday a man influential in Baltimore affairs said: 'We're leaving a great Baltimorean behind,' " reported The Sun.

In recognition of his generousity, a portrait of Chambers by Mary Lewis Carey was unveiled in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's outpatient department. The hospital further honored him in 1973 when it opened the Emanuel Chambers Primary Care Center.

In 1972, the trustees voted to dissolve the foundation, and in accordance with Chambers' will its assets were distributed among the schools, hospitals and other charitable institutions.

In an editorial after his death, The Sun said, "In creating a trust foundation out of an estate exceeding $100,000 the late Emanuel Chambers has added his name to the city's list of distinguished benefactors. Like Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt and George Peabody and many other benefactors of less wealth than those three, Mr. Chambers was no doubt conscious of an obligation.

"He came to Baltimore as a poor boy and through his industry and a rare personality that made him many friends, he prospered.

"The city treated him kindly and he evidently felt that by the creation of a foundation for the welfare of its people he was repaying the community for the opportunity it had given him and of which he made such good use."

Pub Date: 2/09/97

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad