In 1936 a highly successful businessman, Monroe D. Anderson, pondered how best to invest his fortune to the benefit of working men and women in Houston and to the general welfare of his city. Though in failing health, he had lived a long and fruitful life, noted not alone for his massive material accumulations but also for his devoted community leadership and service to his fellow man. His deliberations culminated in a decision to form the M. D. Anderson Foundation, a charitable fund that has become well known for the benefits it affords those in need, mainly in health care. The first trustees of the foundation included John H. Freeman, William B. Bates,and Anderson. Freeman and Bates were Anderson's close friends and partners in a law firm that had long served him and his cotton business, Anderson, Clayton and Company. When Anderson died in 1939, Horace Wilkins, then a Houston bank president, was selected to serve as an additional trustee.
From the foundation's inception the trustees considered establishing a medical center for Houston. The charter of the foundation noted that among its major purposes would be "the establishment, support and maintenance of hospitals, homes and institutions for the care of the sick" and "the promotion of health, science, education and advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people." The foundation's first opportunity to move into the health field came in 1941, when a news item reported an appropriation by the state legislature of $500,000 to the regents of the University of Texas for establishment of a cancer-research hospital somewhere in the state. The Anderson Foundation trustees contacted the university regents and offered to match the legislative appropriation and to provide both temporary and permanent quarters for the new cancer hospital if it were named for Monroe Anderson and located in Houston. The proposal was accepted, and the establishment of the M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute (now the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center) set the pattern for development of the new medical center.
The site for the medical center was selected two years after the hospital plan had been approved. The foundation trustees approached the city fathers with their thoughts of acquiring a large tract of city-owned property, and a special election was called. Thus in 1943 the people of Houston agreed to sell to the foundation the 134 acres that became the site of the Texas Medical Center. Shortly after the publicity about plans for the cancer hospital in Houston began, the foundation trustees were approached by representatives of Baylor University. They explained the university's interest in moving its medical school from Dallas to Houston. The Anderson trustees promptly offered the Baylor board a site in their new parcel of land, $1 million to assist in construction of a building, and a like sum to be paid over a ten-year period for research and faculty development. The Houston Chamber of Commerce then provided an additional $500,000 to the school, and the medical center had its second unit. A third institution was the Texas Dental School. It had been founded in Houston in the early 1900s. The Anderson Foundation trustees offered the legislature a location for the school in the new medical center and a $500,000 construction grant. The legislature accepted and made the dental school a part of the University of Texas.
The variety of services at the center, and the promise of more, led the foundation trustees to involve a broader leadership in the center than the trustees themselves. The new organization, Texas Medical Center, Incorporated, was begun in 1945. Initially its board included the foundation trustees and representatives from each center institution. Later the board membership was much expanded, to include forty men and women chosen from Houston's cultural and business leadership. All center land was deeded to the new corporation. The corporation's bylaws specified that these lands and all other resources would be used solely to promote and provide for the establishment of health institutions devoted to education, research, and patient care. The purposes of the corporation and its organizational format have remained constant. The M. D. Anderson Foundation has made grants to many charitable and educational institutions, totaling more than $120 million. The foundation trustees in 1993 were Charles Hall, Uriel Dutton, Jack Trotter, and Gibson Gayle, Jr.