Skip to main content

Family Welfare Association of America

Family Welfare Association of America

Editor’s Note: The Family Welfare Association of America was a forerunner of the Family Service Association of America.  This entry is a document prepared in recognition of Mary Wilcox Glenn who was the president of the association for 16 years. A two-part history of Family Service Association of America is located under the tab ORGANIZATIONS.

A group of men and women from many sections of the country will meet in New York on November 20, 1936 to pay fitting tribute to Mrs. Mary Willcox Glenn who is retiring from the presidency of the Family Welfare Association of America after sixteen years in this position of leadership.

The name of Mrs.Glenn is written large in the pages of social work. Her active interest in efforts to meet the problems which human beings face in every community extends over a period of more than a third of a  century. As a member of a socially distinguished and well-to-do family, Mrs.Glenn might well have confined  her interests  to contacts  within  her own group, to travel, out-door life, and musical  and literary  pursuits, all of which have. always been attractive to her.

Early in her life, Mrs.Glenn was able, however, to see beyond the limitations of her own surroundings to the larger community in which people were faced by problems of poverty, poor housing, unemployment, disease and lack of opportunity. She was also able to relate these realities to her own life and to see that she might take a genuine part in systematic efforts to discover and remove some of the handicaps which seem to be   characteristic of our society.

As a young woman, Mrs. Glenn became a visitor in the Baltimore Charity Organization Society, and later a member of its board. Here she developed a professional interest in social work which was then only emerging from an early stage of voluntary non-professional philanthropy. Within the the next few years Mrs.Glenn became general secretary of the Henry Watson Children’s  Aid   Society in Baltimore and   then   general secretary of  the Charity Organization of Baltimore.  In this latter  position she   was   the successor of Mary Richmond who stands out as a great pioneer in laying a foundation for modern social  case work, and whose book “Social Diagnosis”  “remains a classic  in this  field.

Mrs. Glenn thus  in  a sense bridges  the  gap between the long period of awakening of the  social conscience which followed the Civil  War and  the modern era which has been devoted to the translation of conscience into terms of systematic, rational and effective social measures. Family social  work has its  origin in the interest aroused when this  country in the  early Seventy’s  first saw  the darker  side  of industrialization.  Great throngs of  workers were compelled to  depend on bread lines and soup kitchens for subsistence, and it soon became clearly evident that such philanthropy, impulsive and sporadic, did not meet the needs. The  necessity of  organizing  good-will and superior means became evident and  the result was the establishment of   societies which bore  such names as  Charity Organization  and  Associated  Charities.

At  about the time that Mrs. Glenn came to New York in 1908, still a newer conception of  social responsibility was  beginning to  form. People were beginning to  question  whether it was   enough to organize charity. Some  began to think that  perhaps efforts should be directed toward society itself in order to discover the reasons why large  groups of persons were in need of charity.

Mrs. Glenn at this time was active as a volunteer worker in the Charity Organization Society  of New York, and at the same time took part  in discussing the possibilities  of  a  larger movement, national in its  scope which would bind together local  groups in their efforts  to understand social  conditions as they influence family life. The outcome of these discussions was the  formation in 1911 of the  present Family Welfare Association of America, known originally as the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity.

It will be seen that the Association began  with a  name  which carried  over the older concepts of philanthropy  even though its purp0se was the promotion of  a newer concept.

The  first head of the Association was  Alice  Higgins  Lothrop, who  like Mary   Richmond,  is one of  the great figures  in  social work.  In 1920 Mrs. Glenn succeeded Mrs. Lothrop as  president of  the Association.  It was at this very time that  the principles  which from the  start to  the  present have dominated the Association were first clearly  enunciated and  generally  agreed upon. It is particularly to be noted that in a statement of its scope and policy in 1919 the Association declared that it is  the function of family societies “to bear unhesitating witness to bad conditions of   work and wages in industry  and to assume  responsibility  for furthering better  conditions.” Participation  in the larger  social  reforms by legislation and education was also agreed upon. The focus in method, however, was to be upon a  better understanding and adjustment of  the individual within his  family and his  community.  This is  social  case work, consistent with larger social aims in that  it is a means  of   interpreting  social needs and opportunities  in  terms of  individual  growth.

The  changing concepts  ofsocial work are well  symbolized by the changes  in name of   the Association. In 1924 it became the  American Association for Organizing Family Social  Work, and in 1929 it took  the present name, Family Welfare Association  of America, which implies  a concentration not upon organizing charity or upon organizing family societies,  but rather upon the promotion of family welfare. In this  span of  twenty·five  years  from its beginning to  the present  time,  the Association  has increased  from its original 59  member  agencies to 240  member agencies located  throughout the United States and Canada. Mrs. Glenn,through this  whole period, has exerted a constant leadership which has brought us into the closest co-operation the lay groups acting in response to their sense of social responsibility and the professional groups whose special function it is to actualize the aims of the lay sponsors.

In spite of the time and energy which Mrs.Glenn gave to the Associa­tion, she has also served in many other ways. She is president of the National Council of the Church Mission of Help.  She was one of the founders of the International Migration Service, and she has been active in the Association of Volunteers. During the War, Mrs. Glenn was the chairman of the Home Service Section of the American Red Cross in New York, a work to which she gave unstintingly of her energy.  In 1915 Mrs. Glenn’s great contributions were recognized by  her election as president of the National Conference of Social Work.  She took a prominent part in the International Conferences of Social Work, in Paris, 1928, and in Frankfort,· 1932.

It is impossible to evaluate properly the work of such a person as Mrs.Glenn. It cannot be done by listing her activities or affiliations, Her influence, like that of Mary Richmond, Alice Higgins Lothrop and Jane Addams, exerts itself directly on the lives of thousands of persons with whom she has been and is in contact, and indirectly on the lives of many more through the various organizations which she continues to serve.

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

One Reply to “Family Welfare Association of America”

Comments for this site have been disabled. Please use our contact form for any research questions.