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The Rhodes Scholarships owe their origin to the remarkable vision expressed in the Will of Cecil J. Rhodes, British colonial pioneer and statesman who died on March 26, 1902. He dreamed of bettering the lot of humankind through the diffusion of leaders motivated to serve their contemporaries, trained in the contemplative life of the mind, and broadened by their acquaintance with one another and by their exposure to cultures different from their own. Rhodes hoped that his plan of bringing able students from throughout the English-speaking world to study at the University where he took his degree in 1881 would aid in the promotion of international understanding and peace. Dedicated alumnus though he was, he was not moved merely by sentimental loyalty to establish the Scholarships at Oxford. Rhodes believed that, in addition to its eminence in the world of learning, Oxford University--with its emphasis on individualized instruction and on the community life provided by residential colleges--offered an environment highly congenial to personal and intellectual development.

Cecil Rhodes named nine beneficiary countries in his Will, and since 1904 other countries have been added to the list. In 1976, the scope of the Rhodes Scholarships was further extended when legal changes in the United Kingdom permitted the Rhodes Trustees to open the competition to women.

Rhodes described the qualities he sought in his scholars in the following terms:

My desire being that the students who shall be elected to the scholarships shall not merely bookworms I direct that in the election of a student to a Scholarship regard shall be had to

His literary and scholastic attainments

  1. His fondness of and success in manly outdoor sports such as cricket football and the like
  2. His qualities of manhood truth courage devotion to duty sympathy for the protection of the weak kindliness unselfishness and fellowship and
  3. His exhibition during school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in his schoolmates for those latter attributes will be likely in afterlife to guide him to esteem the performance of public duties as his highest aim.

The scheme was unprecedented in scale as well as vision. Rhodes' original will provided for 52 scholarships each year. 20 scholarships were for countries then forming part of the British Empire: two for Canada (one each for Ontario and Quebec), six for Australia (one for each colony or state), five for South Africa (one each for Natal and for four named schools in the Cape), three for Rhodesia, and one each for New Zealand, Newfoundland, Bermuda and Jamaica. 32 scholarships were for the United States: two every three years for each of the then States of the Union.

The administration of the scholarships was vested in a board of Trustees nominated in the Will.

More information on the history of the Rhodes Scholarships is available here