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Family Service Association of America: Part I

Family Service Association of America: Part I

By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note:  In October 1998, Family Service America (FSA) merged with the National Association of Homes and Services to Children (NAHSC) to form the Alliance for Children and Families.

Part I of this history of the Family Service Association of America (FSAA) provides: 1) a brief description of the FSAA; 2) an introduction to the three organizations and four social welfare pioneers most responsible for the founding of the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity; and, 3) an original time line of events from 1882 to 1911 that led to the founding of the new organization, the forerunner of FSAA.

Part II includes four original documents used to inform the participating actors/organizations as to the feasibility of creating a new national association of charity organization societies.  The documents include: 1) a report on existing national organizations conducted by Francis H. McLean and dated May, 1909; 2) a report of a committee formed in 1909 and charged with the responsibility to consider the question of the a national organization of societies for organizing charity that was adopted in May, 1910 in St. Louis; 3) a proposed constitution; and, 4) the consolidated constitution adopted for the National Committee of Charity Organization Societies.

Introduction:  The Family Service Association of America (FSAA) was formed as an independent national organization in Boston on June 8, 1911.  The name at the time was the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity and it began with 59 charter members from New England to the Pacific Northwest. Francis H. McLean was appointed general secretary. The goals of the association were extension of the charity organization movement, casework to help individuals and families attain self-sufficiency, and research and dissemination of knowledge to prevent the causes of poverty and other social ills.  The initiative for a national organization grew out of a number of meetings held at the National Conference of Charities and Correction as well as the work of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Charity Organization Department. The name of the organization was changed frequently: National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity (1911-1912); American Association of Societies for Organizing Charities (1912-1917); American Association for Organizing Charities (1917-1919); American Association for Organizing Family Social Work (1919-1930); Family Welfare Association of America (1930-1946); Family Service Association of America (1946-1983); and Family Service America (1983-1993).

The association’s constituency consisted of local agencies with a focus on casework, counseling, and other social services to families. These agencies were primarily voluntary sector, but included government agencies as well. Concern over social and economic conditions facing its member agencies’ clients led the association to undertake a number of studies, beginning in 1922 with a Committee on Industrial Problems to deal with rising unemployment. The organization’s concern with public welfare led it to create other committees such as the Homeless Committee (1920-1932), Committee on Relief Problems (1926-1933), Housing and Subsistence Committee (1934-1935), and a more general Public Issues Committee (1953-1968). After World War II, FSAA supported the development of counseling, psychiatric, and casework services designed to meet the specialized needs of seniors and children.

FSAA programs during the 1960s and 1970s reflected the social issues of that era. In 1965, the association began Project ENABLE, a government-funded demonstration project to test the efficacy of neighborhood coalitions as a means to combat the causes of poverty. Working with the Child Welfare League of America, it established the National Association on Services to Unmarried Parents. During the early 1970s, the FSAA thoroughly investigated the possibility of merging with the Child Welfare League of America and the Florence Crittenton Association of America, but ultimately it decided to continue its independent existence. FSAA and CWLA were involved in founding the Council on Accreditation for Services for Families and Children (COA) between 1973 and 1976. The COA, which operated briefly as a joint body of CWLA and the FSAA, became an independent entity in 1977.

In addition to its other programs, FSAA published a monthly journal, The Family, which began publication in 1920. It subsequently became Journal of Social Casework in 1946 and Social Casework in 1950. The association also published a newsletter entitled Highlights (later Family Service Highlights ) between 1940 and 1971.

The Origin of FSAA

Editor’s Note: To better understand and appreciate the documents shown below detailing early history of the FSAA, it is important to note that its origin was fostered by the existence of two very influential social welfare organizations at the time, the newly established Russell Sage Foundation and the experience, vision and efforts of several social welfare pioneers: Mary Richmond, Mrs. John (Mary Wilcox) Glenn, John M. Glenn and Francis H. McLean.  A brief description of each follows:

Charity Organization Societies

The first American Charity Organization Society (COS) was formed in Buffalo, New York in 1877.  By the end of the 19th century a large number of independent charity organizations had formed in local communities to ameliorate the problems of poverty caused by rapid industrialization, but each local organization operated autonomously with no coordinated plan. The primary emphasis of the COS movement was to employ a scientific approach to cope with the expanding problems of urban dependency, the proliferation of private philanthropies and charities and growing evidence that some individuals and families had learned to “game” the system by successfully appealing to multiple organizations for help.

Leaders of the local charity organization societies met informally each year at the National Conference of Charities and Correction.
By 1879, the charitable organization societies were so numerous and their issues so complex that the National Conference created a standing committee on charity organizations.

At the 1905 National Conference, executives of 14 charity organization societies agreed to more formally exchange records, information, and suggestions. Through an arrangement with Charities and the Commons, (a journal later called The Survey, a periodical published by the New York Charity Organization Society), along with the newly created Russell Sage Foundation, they formed the “Exchange Branch.” Mary Richmond, editor of the Charities and the Commons, and secretary of the Philadelphia Charity Organization Society help facilitate the Exchange Branch.

For a $30 annual fee, members exchanged letters, forms, records and other printed materials. They also received a subscription to Charities and the Commons plus numerous pamphlets intended to improve their work and promote extension of the movement.

National Conference of Charities and Corrections (NCCC)

The NCCC was organized in 1873 to provide a venue for members of State Boards of Charities and/or State Boards of Corrections to meet annually and share member’s experiences and ideas for how to provide better and more humane services in fulfilling their public responsibilities. In 1893, Hastings H. Hart, the current Presidentof the National Conference, delivered an address reflecting on the progress the organization had made in its first twenty years.  The following excerpt from his presidential address succinctly describes the mission and success of the NCCC at the turn of the century:

“…The truth is that this Conference is a part of the great movement of which we have spoken, and it cannot well be considered apart from that movement. There is a reciprocal action between the Conference and the State Boards, the charitable societies (COS) and the institutions. On this platform has been opened a free parliament where every shade of opinion finds free expression. The members come together fresh from the actual work of administering public institutions, caring for the poor, or studying sociological questions. They bring fresh thoughts, born of the necessities of practical work. They ask urgent questions, calling for instant solution; and having learned their lessons…they straightway set off to put them in practice, only to return the next year with new experiences for farther comparison. Thus the Conference has become the embodiment of contemporary thought, gaining strength with the increase of intelligent ideas, until the twenty members of the Conference of 1874 have increased to the five hundred of 1892….”

The Russell Sage Foundation

Over lunch at the 1907 National Conference in Minneapolis, members of the Exchange Branch discussed employing a field secretary to advise existing charity organization societies and extend the movement nationwide. The Russell Sage Foundation provided funding for a field secretary to perform this work and to facilitate correspondence among societies. Francis H. McLean, superintendent of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, agreed to take on this position.

Two years later, the Russell Sage Foundation took over responsibility for the Exchange Branch, creating a Charity Organization Department with Mary Richmond as chair and Francis McLean as chief executive. The department focused on nationwide extension and fieldwork to promote better investigation and treatment. A monthly bulletin focused on casework, investigation, and case record reviews enabled younger organizations to improve their techniques.

Social Welfare Leaders Most Involved in Founding FSAA

Mary Richmond had been general secretary of the charity organization societies in Baltimore and Philadelphia before joining the New York COS and teach in its Summer School of Applied Philanthropy, the forerunner of the Columbia University School of Social Work. She also led the field department at the Russell Sage Foundation.

As a young woman, Mary Wilcox (nee Brown) Glenn was a friendly visitor in the Baltimore, Maryland Charity Organization Society, and later a member of its board. In 1897, when Mary Richmond moved to Philadelphia, Ms. Brown assumed the position of General Secretary of the Baltimore COS.  In 1902, she married John M. Glenn, a successful attorney and prominent social welfare leader in Baltimore. :  In 1907, John M. Glenn was invited to be the executive director of the Russell Sage Foundation; in 1908 Mary Wilcox Glenn moved to New York City.  She served as a volunteer and council member of the COS of New York from 1908 – 1939.

Francis H. McLean was a pioneer of field service, an innovative idea for the time. He believed that the fundamental work of charity organization societies was not only casework with clients, but cooperation between charitable organizations. Sharing knowledge and experience would, ultimately, lead to prevention of poverty and other social ills.

McLean led the charity organization societies in Montreal and Brooklyn before joining the field department of the Russell Sage Foundation. He then became general secretary of the Exchange Branch. From this position, he was instrumental in formation of the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity.

John Mark Glenn was a native of Baltimore and attorney who early in his career made a financial success of his family’s business and real estate holdings.  Thus, at the age of 29, he was free to become heavily involved in local charitable activities.  He became chairman of the executive committee of the Baltimore COS and he served as a member of the Board of Supervisor for City Charities from1888 to 1907.  In 1901, he gained national recognition when he was elected president of the National Conference of Charities and Correction.   In 1907 Glenn was invited to become executive director of the newly created Russell Sage Foundation and in this position Glenn was able to help facilitate and fund efforts to create a national organization of COS.

A Timeline on the Origins and Founding of the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity, a Predecessor to the Family Service Association of America


(Editor Note:  This document was transcribed from a faded copy in the files of the FSAA collection at the Social Welfare Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries. The words and grammar were transcribed as they appear on the original document.)

1882 (?)   The Reverend S.H. Gurteen, who guided the launching of the Buffalo COS in 1877, suggested that there should be a COS in every City and that a national and international society were also needed, “so that by an interchange of information with regard to the most successful methods of helping the poor, or reforming abuses, the experience of one may benefit to all.” (Handbook of Charity Organization by S.H. Gurteen, pub.1882; p. 207)

1879   A Committee on Charity Organization was appointed by the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1879; it was continued under different titles until 1907 when it became a joint committee with settlements; yearly reports were made on charity organization from 1880 to 1907. This committee planned the program for what was really a charity organization section of the conference.

1883   The Committee said (in its report) “as the societies increase it would seem advisable that some means be taken to secure a unity of object and to effect exchanges of experience and the suggestion has been made that a national organization of these societies be perfected.”  (Proceedings of National Conference for 1883; p.72)

1887    The Committee mentions a “council of Charity officers, a purely voluntary body composed of the paid officers of the several charity organization societies of the country which has undertaken the following experiments: Central Registration- at Buffalo- of all traveling mendicants and imposters based on reports of affiliated societies; preparation of a telegraphic code for charitable purposes; the compilation of a primer on organized charity for use at new centers; a plan to secure uniform information concerning the methods and results from all kindred societies as a basis for intelligent action upon the social problems which confront them; an effort to introduce the teaching of charity organization principles into high schools, colleges and seminaries; devise a statistical card.”  (Proceedings of National Conference 1887; p. ?)

1888     The Committee reported that the charity organization societies throughout the country are of constant use to each other in exchanging reports, correspondence and visits and in meeting persons sent from one city to another making inquiries about individual families. (Proceedings, National Conference 1888; p. 126)

1890     The Committee agreed that “the societies should organize some systematic method of encouraging the creation of societies in communities where they do not now exist and of assisting those societies which need help in one way or another,” (Proceedings, National Conference 1890; p 25)

1891    “It seems of great importance that some system of cooperation and chexhange of information (among charity organization societies) should be inaugurated for there is a sense of isolation among smaller societies.” Proceedings, National Conference 1891; p 109)

1897      It has seemed to many of the Committee that the time is ripe for an organized effort to plant the approved modern methods of charitable administrations……… throughout the entire country. Such a missionary movement should be pushed by and organised  executive force dedicated to the purpose….. An entirely separate organization called congress for Organized Charity or some other suitable name has been suggested, to undertake a broad, energetic movement to bring order out of the unorganized charitable chaos throughout the entire country.” The question was referred to a committee. (Proceedings of Section on Organization of Charities of National Conference 1897; p. 7) This page reference is to the volume which was printed separate from the rest of the Conference proceedings)

1898   Committee appointed in 1897 recommended that an Advisory Committee be appointed to plan and raise funds for a program to establish and extend methods of organization and administration of charities. (Proceedings, National Conference 1898; p. 483)

1905    Executives of 14 charity organization societies agreed to exchange form letters, printed material record forms, material describing charity organization, etc., each month. Charities, the periodical issued by N.Y.C.O.S. (later Charities and Commons, later the Survey) undertook to handle the mechanical details of the Exchange- the cost of printing, postage, etc., to be met by a membership fee of $30 annually from each participating agency. It was known as the Exchange Branch; it was supervised by a special committee of Charities, Miss Richmond was Editor (she was then general secretary of the Philadelphia society.)

1907    A correspondence was added to answer by letter inquiries about starting ne charity organization societies or strengthening old ones, with Francis H. McLean, Superintendent of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities in Charity.  His title was “Associate Editor.” (See letters from Miss Richmond et al; for program and list of pamphlets see card)

1907    Field Service established with Mr. McLean as Field Secretary; relationship with Exchange Branch and Charities was continued but service was financed by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation. (see letters)

1909    During sessions of National Conference at Buffalo suggestion for a national committee or association was presented to the Exchange Branch and other charity organization societies; this has been preceded by correspondence and interviews with leaders in the societies; a committee was appointed to prepare plan for presentation in 1910.

1909    Russell Sage Foundation set up Charity Organization Department with Miss Richmond as Director (Oct. 1909); C.O.D. took over Field Department with staff and Exchange Branch. (Exchange Branch continued under C.O.D. until 1920’s)

1910    At National Conference at St. Louis plan for organizing national was presented (the Exchange Branch as the only formally organized group in charity organization had assumed responsibility for appointing the planning committee in 1909 and for transmitting its recommendations to the meeting of C.O.S in 1910) It was voted to ser  up a temporary organization to prepare for final action in 1911.

1911    National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity launched at Boston, June 8 (during National Conference) 59 charter members; Francis H. McLean, General Secretary.

Source: Family Service Association of America Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2013). Family Service Association of America: Part II. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=8379.

3 Replies to “Family Service Association of America: Part I”

  1. Stuart – thanks for your information, sounds like we are part of the same Rich family Anglo-American lineage, which I have now traced back to Saxon ancestral roots in 1280 AD. If you see this note please contact me for exchange of more genealogic information.

  2. Margaret Elden Rich, a great aunt on my mother’s side, had 3 publications with FSAA during 1928-1962. In her 1956 obituaries in the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune she was said to be a leading advocate in family-oriented social work. Thanks to the inspiration of her aunt, my mother, Joan Rich Brown Sylvester (1918-2002; MSW, Smith College 1942) was also a career social worker who became the Executive Director of FSA in Bucks County PA (1961-1978).

    Do you have any information about my great aunt or my mother, regarding their contributions to FSA/FSAA and any journal publications they may have authored or co-authored? This would help me gain a deeper understanding of the cultural aspects of my family lineage, to pass along to younger family members as an important part of their heritage.

    Thank you very much –
    Nathaniel Brown MD

    • Regarding Nathaniel Brown, MD’s comment, Margaret Elden Rich is also a great aunt of mine. She had three brothers, Waldo, Alfred, and Philip (my grandfather). We have the complete Rich line back to 1623 Richard Rich, Dover, NH. Several notable ancestors are Joshua Gross Rich, naturalist of Bethel, ME; Capt. John Elden, Massachusetts Militia,1775 Bunker Hill; Stephen Hopkins 1620 Mayflower, signed Mayflower Compact.

      Contact me for more info on Rich Family Association.

      Stuart Elden Rich, PhD

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