William Church Osborn (December 21, 1862 – January 3, 1951) was the son of a prominent New York City family who served in a variety of civic roles including president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, president of the Children’s Aid Society, and president of the New York Society for the Relief of the Ruptured and Orphaned.
Osborn was born in 1862 in Chicago. He was a son of Virginia Reed (née Sturges) Osborn (1830–1902) and William Henry Osborn, a prominent railroad tycoon who served as president of the Illinois Central Railroad and, later, became a philanthropist who exposed the Boss Tweed ring. His older brother was Henry Fairfield Osborn, a paleontologist who served as president of the American Museum of Natural History for twenty-five years.
A trained lawyer, Osborn was generally regarded as one of New York’s first citizens and mostly served in philanthropic positions during his career. At the time of his death, he was the senior partner is the law firm of Osborn, Fleming & Whittlesey located at 20 Exchange Place. He also served as director of his mother’s family business, Phelps Dodge, as well as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad the Picacho Mining Corporation, the Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad Company, the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, and was the chairman of the executive board of the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
Osborn unsuccessfully ran for New York State Senate in 1894 and 1904 as an Independent Democrat, and sought the governorship in New York in 1918. Although he was endorsed by then Assistant Secretary of the NavyFranklin D. Roosevelt and put forth at the convention by Samuel Seabury, he lost his bid to Alfred E. Smith, who was elected Governor. He was, nevertheless, very active in the political life of New York City and the wider state, serving as president of the Society to Prevent Corrupt Practices at Elections, as chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee. In 1911, he was legal adviser to Gov. John Alden Dix. He was also the founder, in 1932, president, and chairman of the Citizens Budget Commission.
For fifty years, he served as the president or chairman of the board of the Children’s Aid Society and was a trustee of Princeton University for almost forty years.