Simon Nelson Patten was Director of the Wharton School from 1896-1912. Influenced by the Progressive Movement, he introduced concepts of "practical philanthropy" into Wharton's curriculum and established a two-year course in social work. With his leadership, Wharton was in a position to influence government administrators who sought advice from Wharton faculty on various social problems of the day.

Under Simon Patten, Wharton arguably became the premier center of American social science between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I. Continuing a strong urban emphasis, Patten enlisted Wharton undergraduates and graduate students in Philadelphia's progressive movement. As an eminent scholar, he exemplified that being actively engaged in public affairs could contribute to academic success.

This fund was established in his honor in 1965 by the American Academy of Political and Social Science.