Document Type


Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


Discussions of boards in the third sector literature usually proceed from assumptions grounded in Weber’s rational-legal authority and international management principles like those of Henri Fayol. The generalizations made about boards are based on rational-legal views of the board as the principal governing body of a nonprofit organization. Much less frequently examined are the roles and functions of boards in organizations grounded in other forms of authority. In particular, the relationship between charismatic authority and boards has seldom been studied. This paper will examine the role of one such board, the Board of Trustees of the Hull House Association through a critical reading of more than 40 years of board minutes and related documents. It concludes that the Hull House board existed primarily to manage the properties of the social settlement and was never a source of institutional legitimation or authority. Hull House was successful and effective primarily because legitimation and authority came from its charismatic leader, Jane Addams, and such a role for the board would have been redundant or conflictual. The Hull House Association Board does raise questions of how far this model of charismatic boards may extend whether it may account for at least some of the behavior attributed to “weak” boards today.

Source Citation

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Bi-annual meeting of the International Society for Third Sector Research in Dublin, Ireland. July, 2000.



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