Our History & Impact

Supporting a legacy of innovation and impact—yours.

The Morehead-Cain Foundation’s mission is to sustain and enhance the excellence of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Its story began in 1945. On November 21 of that year, John Motley Morehead III signed the indenture that created the John Motley Morehead Foundation. His vision was to better his beloved alma mater, and by extension, the state of North Carolina, the country, and the world.

One of John Motley Morehead’s first philanthropic acts was to build the Morehead Planetarium and then donate it to the University in 1949. The creation of the Morehead Scholarship came next, and in 1951 the first scholars were selected. Inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, the scholarship’s goal was to attract bright young leaders to Chapel Hill.

John Motley Morehead III

Scholar Impact

  • Since the Program began, 31 of UNC’s 34 Rhodes Scholars have been Morehead-Cain Scholars. Fourteen scholars have received the prestigious award to attend England’s Oxford University since 2000.
  • Five of Carolina’s past ten student body presidents have been Morehead-Cains.
  • Scholars have founded or co-founded dozens of well-known campus organizations, including Students for Students International, the a cappella groups the Clef Hangers and the Loreleis, and the UNC Dance Marathon.

Alumni Impact

  • Morehead-Cain Alumni serve their communities in all levels of government, including one sitting governor (Gov. Roy Cooper ’79, North Carolina) and four current or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • An alumnus led the team that completed the Human Genome Project, the effort to map and sequence all of the human DNA.
  • Morehead-Cains are pioneers in entrepreneurship; they founded, co-founded, or lead organizations recognized for changing the world including: Indiegogo, Ellevate and Ellevest Networks, GlobalGiving, Habitat for Humanity, M-KOPA Solar, and the National Institutes of Health.

The first class of four-year Morehead Scholars graduated from Carolina in 1957. Their impact was immediate. In 1962, the first of many scholars received the Rhodes Scholarship. The first Morehead Alumnus won an election to serve in the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1966. And three years later, the first British scholar joined the Program.

The following decades brought more innovation, progress, and firsts. Voters elected two Morehead Alumni to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972—the Program’s first alumni to serve in Congress. The trustees implemented the Summer Enrichment Program in 1974. A year later, women joined the Program. Carolina’s first international and female student body presidents were both Morehead Scholars.

Mary and Gordon Cain

The 1990s saw Morehead Alumni give back to the Foundation and University in new and meaningful ways. Alumni endowed a professorship on campus, contributed $3 million in support of Carolina’s bicentennial, and founded the Morehead Alumni Forum. As the alumni base grew, so too did their impact.

An act of profound generosity brought extraordinary change in 2007. The Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation, seeking to support young leaders to learn and grow, made a $100 million grant to the John Motley Morehead Foundation in the late Gordon Cain’s honor.

The Cain Grant allowed the creation of the Discovery Fund, Alumni-in-Residence and Alumni Speaker Series programs, and much more. It allowed the now Morehead-Cain Program to focus on sustaining, enhancing, and expanding the excellence of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Morehead-Cain has served as a model for countless merit awards throughout the United States. These include the Jefferson Scholars Program (University of Virginia), Benjamin N. Duke Scholars Program (Duke University), and the Woodruff Scholars Program (Emory University).

Our Benefactors

John Motley Morehead III

John Motley Morehead III (1870–1965), native North Carolinian and founder of the John Motley Morehead Foundation, achieved international acclaim as a successful businessman, chemist, civil servant, engineer, inventor, and author.

Shortly after his graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1891, Mr. Morehead and his father discovered acetylene gas while searching for an inexpensive method for manufacturing aluminum. He later developed an economical process for the manufacture of calcium carbide, laying the groundwork for the founding of Union Carbide Corporation. At the time of his death, Union Carbide had more than seventy-three thousand employees worldwide and produced more than six hundred products.

Mr. Morehead’s illustrious and varied career included the invention of an apparatus for analyzing gases, the publication of an authoritative book on that subject, a stint as mayor of Rye, New York, and service as envoy and minister to Sweden from 1930 to 1933.

Throughout his later life, Mr. Morehead gave generously to Carolina—one of his greatest loves. Together with Rufus Lenoir Patterson, Mr. Morehead donated the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower to the University in 1931. In 1945, he created the Morehead Foundation to provide funds for constructing the Morehead Building on campus and establishing the Morehead Scholarship, the first merit scholarship in the United States.

John Motley Morehead III died January 7, 1965.

Gordon A. Cain

Gordon A. Cain (1912–2002), a native of Louisiana and an extraordinarily successful businessman and entrepreneur, earned his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Louisiana State University in 1933. After beginning his career in the chemical industry, he enlisted in the army during World War II and served in the Pacific. Wounded on Okinawa, Mr. Cain received two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

Following his service, Mr. Cain began a distinguished career in the petrochemical industry, serving as chairman of the board of a number of chemical companies, including Cain Chemical, Inc., and the Sterling Group. He was also a director of Texas Petrochemicals Corporation; Atlantic Coast Airlines, Inc.; Agennix, Inc.; and Lexicon, Inc.

At age 60, Mr. Cain embarked on a remarkable career as an entrepreneur, becoming in the process a pioneer in the evolution of business management and the implementation of employee stock ownership programs. Buying chemical plants and working with management and employees to improve profitability at those plants, Mr. Cain shared the subsequent proceeds with his employees, believing that success is more likely if everyone has a stake in the business. This conviction is reflected in the title of his autobiography, Everybody Wins!

In 1988, Mr. Cain and his wife, Mary, established the Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation. Gordon A. Cain died in 2002.

In 2007, Mary Cain chose to honor her late husband by making a $100 million grant to the Morehead Foundation in support of the Morehead Scholars Program. Subsequently, the Foundation and scholarship were renamed Morehead-Cain to reflect the significance of the gift from the Cains.