shirley ryan


Top 31 Chicago Female Philanthropists


make it better


Chicago hosts the National Symposium on Women, Philanthropy and Civil Society, which is produced by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, on March 14 and 15. This is wonderfully appropriate for many reasons. A 2015 study by the school proves that Chicago is the most philanthropic city in the country by a generous margin. Plus, statistics abound proving that women drive philanthropy and control a greater share of wealth each year.

In honor of our online media sponsorship of this Symposium, and just because it is the right thing to do, we proudly share our list of Chicago’s top 30 female philanthropists with you.

The word philanthropy means love of humanity. Therefore, donating service or donating money qualifies anyone to be considered a philanthropist. Women are particularly powerful philanthropists because they are inclined inherently to donate their time and connections, as well as their dollars, to support causes, as established by Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute Debra Mesch, MBA, PhD.

The biggest philanthropic news in Chicago this year is the merger of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with Pathways and the opening of the new world class hospital Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Follow the lead on every major gift cited here and you will quickly see the connection, too. Women’s philanthropy is changing the world for the better, faster than ever.


29. Shirley Ryan


Ryan is founder of Pathways, which merged with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to become the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and opened a new facility in March. She’s advised multiple U.S. presidents from both parties, serves on the Executive Committee of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Board of Directors and as director of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Alain Locke Charter Academy, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Recently, she received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Notre Dame and was honored by the Chicago History Museum for distinction in civic leadership. With husband Pat Ryan, she founded the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera for emerging singers and directors and the Ryan Education Center of the Art Institute of Chicago and has endowed multiple facilities at Northwestern University.

See the complete list on 

Save now, read later.