The will of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) created the Rhodes Scholarships, and appointed Trustees to oversee their implementation. Rhodes designed the Scholarships for the purpose of educating future leaders for the world who would be committed to service in the public good, and whose interactions in Oxford would promote international understanding. He had studied at Oriel College and believed that Oxford's collegiate system fostered broad views and personal development. Rhodes Scholars were to be chosen on the basis of innovative criteria - excellence in intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service. There were originally 57 Scholarships each year - in effect, 32 for the United States, 20 for various parts of what was then the British Empire (later the Commonwealth), and five for Germany. In 1901, Cecil Rhodes wrote, in providing for the German Scholarships: 'The object is that an understanding between the three great powers will render war impossible and educational relations make the strongest tie.'
Cecil Rhodes expected his Trustees to adapt his plans to respond effectively to changing circumstances. Soon after his death his Trustees created several more Scholarships for Canada than he had done. The adaptation continued through three Acts of the British Parliament and other important changes to his will – for example, during World War I, abolishing the German Scholarships, which were twice re-created by his Trustees (in 1929-30 and 1969-70); in 1929, wholly remaking the geographic basis on which the Scholarships are awarded in the United States; opening up all but four of the Scholarships to women as well as to men in 1976; the opening up of those four remaining Scholarships (for named schools in South Africa) to women in recent years. During the first 100 years after Cecil Rhodes's death, the Trustees added at one time or another nearly another 40 Scholarships, though not all have continued.
Outstanding figures in establishing the Rhodes Scholarships in practice out of Cecil Rhodes's vision and funding were the first organizing secretary, Sir George Parkin, a Canadian educator; the first Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, Sir Francis Wylie, and Lady Wylie; and the first American Secretary to the Rhodes Trust, Frank Aydelotte. In the early decades of the 20th century, they and others created a Scholarship that was uniquely prestigious internationally and highly sought after, with a high quality of Rhodes Scholars, rich engagement of Scholars in the life of Oxford, and strong continuing links with Rhodes alumni.
In 2003 to mark the centenary of the Rhodes Scholarships and to continue the historic commitment of the Rhodes Trust to Africa and specifically to leadership development for Africa, the Rhodes Trust joined in the creation of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. It provides scholarships for African students, chosen on criteria very similar to those for the Rhodes Scholarships, to undertake postgraduate study in South Africa. Several Mandela Rhodes Scholars have now won Rhodes Scholarships to study at Oxford.
Cecil Rhodes wished current Scholars and Rhodes alumni (in the words of his will) to have 'opportunities of meeting and discussing their experiences and prospects'. This has been reflected, for example, in the initiation by the first Warden (Sir Francis Wylie) of an annual Warden's Christmas letter (now supplemented by Rhodes e-News and other communications); the creation of alumni associations in several countries, most prominently the Association of American Rhodes Scholars (which publishes The American Oxonian, founded in 1914, and oversees the Eastman Professorship); and the holding of reunions for Rhodes Scholars of all countries, such as for the 25th anniversary of the Trust and the opening of Rhodes House in 1929, the 50th anniversary in 1953, the 80th anniversary in 1983, the centenary in 2003 and the recent celebration of the 110th anniversary. This event also saw the announcement of the Rhodes Trust's first Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain, who together with his wife Marcy McCall MacBain, donated £75 million to support the Rhodes Scholarships.
There are many books and articles about Cecil Rhodes and the Rhodes Scholarships. Some of particular interest are:
- George Parkin, The Rhodes Scholarships (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1912) - available here.
- Frank Aydelotte, The vision of Cecil Rhodes (Oxford University Press, 1946; also published under the title The American Rhodes Scholarships: A review of the first forty years).
- Lord Elton (ed), The first fifty years of the Rhodes Trust and the Rhodes Scholarships 1903-1953 (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1955) - available here and here.
- R.I. Rotberg, The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988).
- Sir Anthony Kenny (ed.), The History of the Rhodes Trust (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001). Sir Anthony Kenny's chapter on 'The Rhodes Trust and its Administration' is here.
- Philip Ziegler, Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008).
- Donald Markwell, To 'render war impossible': the Rhodes Scholarships, educational relations between countries, and peace, speech at the 'Sailing Dinner' of the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars, Ottawa, 24 September 2011 - available here.