Congress Creates the Fulbright Program

To foster mutual understanding among nations in the wake of World War II, Congress passed the Fulbright Act, which created the Fulbright program. The program, which awards one of the most prestigious international fellowships, was established to last a few years only, but its success prompted Congress to extend and expand the program.

Summary of Event

On August 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed into law what has become the biggest and most important international educational exchange program, created largely by the efforts of J. William Fulbright, then a young senator representing Arkansas. Senator Fulbright studied for four years (1925-1928) as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, and his experience there led him to a lifetime interest in education (he was named president of the University of Arkansas at the age of thirty-four) and international affairs (he was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for fifteen years). Fulbright’s tutor at Oxford, Ronald Buchanan McCallum, would have a significant impact on the senator’s life and intellectual growth, and the two would remain close friends until McCallum’s death in 1973. [kw]Congress Creates the Fulbright Program (Aug. 1, 1946)
[kw]Fulbright Program, Congress Creates the (Aug. 1, 1946)
Fulbright Act (1946)
Education;fellowships and scholarships
Fulbright Act (1946)
Education;fellowships and scholarships
[g]North America;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
[g]United States;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
[c]Education;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Aug. 1, 1946: Congress Creates the Fulbright Program[01820]
Fulbright, J. William
McCallum, Ronald Buchanan
Truman, Harry S.
[p]Truman, Harry S.;education policy
Bodde, Derk

Fulbright’s experience at Oxford, the emergence of the United States after World War II as a world leader, and its new role in international affairs, convinced Fulbright that educational and cultural exchanges would promote international understanding among peoples of the world. Fulbright believed that isolationism and nationalism had led to aggression and war, and that only when nations appreciate and understand one another could they exist in a peaceful world.

Fulbright’s original Senate bill was a short thirty-line amendment to the 1944 Surplus Property Act Surplus Property Act (1944) , earmarked to authorize funds from the sale of surplus war property overseas for financing international student exchange. He introduced a broader bill in November, 1945, and lined up support from the executive branch, especially the State Department, which was primarily responsible for foreign policy. Fulbright then skillfully moved the bill through legislative committees and added clauses, including giving preferences to U.S. veterans of World Wars I and II, limiting the amount that could be spent in any one nation, and ensuring that foreign students could not deprive any U.S. citizen of an educational opportunity. Both the House and the Senate approved the bill without debate, and on August 1, 1946, Truman signed the Fulbright Act into law, marking the creation of the Fulbright program.

The first U.S. citizen to receive a Fulbright fellowship was Derk Bodde, a sinologist from the University of Pennsylvania, who spent his 1948-1949 fellowship year in China. Soon, exchange agreements were signed with the Philippines, Greece, and Burma. The program’s Foreign Scholarship Board Foreign Scholarship Board, Fulbright was soon confronted with thousands of persons applying for grants, but by the end of 1947 the board established criteria for selecting individuals. The new criteria stipulated that not only scholars and teachers would be eligible for the fellowship but also those working in a variety of educational spheres—including libraries and museums—as well as writers, artists, and musicians. For applicants to be selected they also had to be approved by the planned host country and the institution with which they would be affiliated. To help screen potential fellowship recipients, the board turned to the Institute of International Education and U.S. Office of Education, among others organizations and institutions.

Fulbright recipients have included well-known individuals such as actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, and opera singer Renée Fleming. Recipients include members of Congress, university presidents, and journalists. Most recipients, however, are scholars and teachers from a variety of disciplines.

The Fulbright program was expanded and more clearly defined with the passage of the Fulbright-Hays Act Fulbright-Hays Act (1961)[Fulbright Hays Act] (Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act), signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The act encouraged other governments to finance participation in the Fulbright program, and by 1966 ten foreign governments were contributing directly, with many more providing indirect support through university housing, tuition wavers, and salary support. The primary financial support for the program is an annual appropriation by Congress. The Fulbright-Hays Act also supported efforts to increase foreign-language expertise among educators in the United States. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. within the U.S. Department of State administers the Fulbright program, and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, comprising twelve members appointed by the president of the United States, establishes policies and procedures and is authorized to select candidates for the award.


After passage of the Fulbright Act in 1946, thousands of teachers, researchers, and students have traveled overseas and thousands of foreign scholars and students have come to the United States for study and teaching. What began, in part, as a reaction to the death and destruction of World War II has become a major educational program in promoting international understanding and cooperation.

The Fulbright program is considered a post-World War II success along the lines of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after the war; Fulbright is certainly the most successful international scholarship program. It remains the flagship of international exchange programs with nearly 300,000 persons from the United States and other countries having participated. The program operates in more than 150 countries. Each year sees more than five thousand new exchanges.

J. William Fulbright’s experiences as a student in England, traveling throughout Europe, and as a university president convinced him that international exchange was instrumental to cultural knowledge. He believed strongly that the United States must play an active role in promoting democracy throughout the world and in establishing the means to prevent global war in an atomic age. Fulbright Act (1946)
Education;fellowships and scholarships

Further Reading

  • Apple, R. W., Jr. “J. William Fulbright, Senate Giant, Is Dead at 89.” The New York Times, February 10, 1995, p. A1. A lengthy obituary of J. William Fulbright, highlighting his career and his enormous influence on U.S. foreign policy and global education.
  • Arndt, Richard T., and David Lee Rubin, eds. The Fulbright Difference, 1948-1992. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1993. A collection of essays by Fulbright scholars examining the influence of the program during a period of four decades. Concludes with a chapter on the future of the Fulbright program.
  • Dudden, Arthur Power, and Russell R. Dynes, eds. The Fulbright Experience, 1946-1986: Encounters and Transformations. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1987. Firsthand reminiscences by Fulbright scholars, who share the stories of their experiences living and learning outside the United States.
  • Fulbright, William J. “The Most Significant and Important Activity I Have Been Privileged to Engage in During My Years in the Senate.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 424 (March, 1976): 1-5. Fulbright discusses why he considered the Fulbright program the most important piece of legislation in which he engaged.
  • Glazer, Nathan, ed. “The Fulbright Experience and Academic Exchanges.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 491 (May, 1987): 10-163. This special issue discusses the creation of the Fulbright program and its impact on participating individuals and countries.
  • U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Fulbright Program. http://exchanges The program’s official Web site.
  • Woods, Randall Bennett. Fulbright: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. An excellent biography of Fulbright, with details of his political career and personal life.

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