Our History & Impact
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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).