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: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha