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Religious Organizations 

Knights of Columbus
Knights of Columbus, 1917
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph.3g10131



Religious organizations have been a powerful influence in American social welfare history.  In many significant ways, religious organizations and churches have contributed to advancing more humane programs and policies concerning orphans, slaves, the poor, the sick and others in need of assistance.






  • African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) ChurchWritten by Michael Barga. "The vision of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church has remained consistent throughout its existence and is a strongly social and service-oriented spiritual community."
  • African Union SocietyWritten by Michael Barga. "In 1780, The African Union Society (AUS) was created in Newport, Rhode Island. While most blacks from Rhode Island were free by 1807, strong prejudice and oppression were present before and after that date. The AUS developed partly in response to these difficulties, as well as a forum for black cultural discussion. The society is considered one of the first formal organizations founded by free blacks in the United States."
  • Amana Colonies: A Utopian Community"The Amana Colonies were one of many utopian colonies established on American soil during the 18th and 19th centuries. There were hundreds of communal utopian experiments in the early United States, and the Shakers alone founded around 20 settlements. While great differences existed between the various utopian communities or colonies, each society shared a common bond in a vision of communal living in a utopian society."
  • American Friends Service CommitteeThe American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems.
  • Americanization - selected publications
  • Bresette, Linna EleanorLinna Eleanor Bresette: Teacher, Advocate for Women Laborers, Catholic Social Reformer (1882-1960). By Michael Barga
  • Catholic Charities USA"Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) is a national association of local and diocesan Catholic charitable agencies founded as the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC) on the campus of The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. in 1910. The organization, which became CCUSA in 1986, has grown into one of the largest social welfare associations in the nation, and currently has 1,735 branches throughout the United States." Written by Jack Hansan
  • Catholic Community Service Organizations in War Time"American Catholics supported the nation’s efforts in the First World War by founding the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) in 1917."
  • Christ Child SocietyWritten by Michael Barga. "The Christ Child Society was founded in Mary Virginia Merrick’s home at the end of the 19th century as a small relief organization which sewed clothes for local underprivileged children."
  • Church of All Nations, New York City"A Long History of Community Service at the Church of All Nations," by Cristina Vignone. "...the Church of All Nations 'was always a community-oriented building…[cutting] across ethnic boundaries.'"
  • Citizenship Survey (1914)"A Citizenship Survey in Chicago," by Philip L. Seman for the Chicago Hebrew Institute (1914). "In accordance with the original suggestion made two years ago at the Baltimore conference, the Chicago Hebrew Institute began a house-to-house survey, the object being to ascertain the citizenship status of the residents as well as their literacy, particularly with reference to English."
  • Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De PaulWritten by Michael Barga. "Originally founded in France, a congregation of sisters was started in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809 by Elizabeth Ann Seton which would later become associated with the Daughters of Charity in 1850. The congregation, dedicated to work in social ministry and education, was the first sisterhood founded in the United States."
  • Educational Alliance"Educational Alliance: A History of a Lower East Side Settlement House," by EJ Sampson. "The Educational Alliance...balanced the growing professionalization of settlement house work by becoming community-based, and kept its emphasis on encouraging public civic culture even as in other ways it aligned with a social service “agency” model. And it kept it eyes on its Jewish origins not only in its neighborhood work, but in negotiating its internal ethos. "
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation USAThe Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR-USA) was founded in 1915 by pacifists opposed to U.S. entry into World War I. Open to men, women, and people of all classes and races, its membership would include Jane Addams, Bishop Paul Jones, Grace Hutchins, A. J. Muste, and Bayard Rustin.
  • First Methodist Parsonage in the United StatesWritten by Christopher J. Anderson, Head of Special Collections, Archives, and Methodist Librarian @ Drew University Library.
  • Friends (Quakers) in Prison ReformThis entry was in the files of Charles Richmond Henderson (1848 – 1915), a notable sociologist and prison reformer. The new note that it struck was its emphasis upon the fact that all the interests of society were affected by the existence of the depraved and unfortunate classes, and that therefore the work in their behalf was a social task which must be shared by the whole community.
  • Harmony Society: A Utopian CommunityThe Harmony Society, also called the Rappites, were similar to the Shakers in certain beliefs. Named after their founder, Johann Georg Rapp, the Rappites immigrated from Württemburg, Germany, to the United States in 1803, seeking religious freedom. Establishing a colony in Butler County, Pennsylvania, called Harmony, the Rappites held that the Bible was humanity's sole authority.
  • Healy, Bishop James Augustine (1830-1900)James Augustine Healy: The First African American To Be Ordained a Roman Catholic Priest
  • Home Missionary Society of PhiladelphiaWhile some children required long-term placement, assistance was often temporary. One worker describes a case below which particularly displays the “uplift” mentality of the Society: "After a meeting, I called on a widow with four children. She is sick. To secure daily bread, her boy, twelve years of age, sells papers. He called to see me, asking for a situation in the city, whereby he might help his mother. I knew a man of business who wanted a boy, took him with me and secured the place. He has been with him three weeks, and gives such good satisfaction that his wages have been raised, and he is promised permanent employment with a knowledge of the trade. When the mother had sufficiently recovered she came to thank me for the interest I had taken in her son. In this case it was not the money given which called forth her gratitude, but the fact that I had helped the family to help themselves."
  • Jewish Community Council of Washington, DC"Early History of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington (1938 – 1942)," compiled by Mrs. Henry Gichner. "The Jewish Community Council of Washington grew out of a desire on the part of many citizens for the creation of a body composed of representatives of all Jewish agencies and organizations authorized to speak for the Jewish community on matters of common concern. In 1938 the community was faced with a specific problem, that of the refugees, on which no one agency wished to set policy. "
  • Jewish Social Service Agency of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.The Jewish Social Service Agency of Metropolitan Washington has its origins in two different agencies. The United Hebrew Charities was incorporated in 1893 "…to assist in relief of needy Hebrews" in Northwest Washington; the Hebrew Relief Society of the District of Columbia was organized to "…provide relief for needy Orthodox Hebrews" in Southeast Washington. The two agencies merged and incorporated in 1921 as the United Hebrew Relief Society of D.C.
  • Josephine Newbury Demonstration Kindergarten, Richmond, Va.Before the Newbury Center opened in 1957, there was no education available in a school setting in Richmond or the surrounding counties for children younger than five. Preschool itself was an innovative concept then. The facility was purpose-built to become a model preschool for the training of teachers and the design of innovative curriculum.
  • Knights of St. Peter Claver (1909- )The Knights of Peter Claver organization was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama. It is the largest African American Catholic lay organization in the United States.
  • Lutheran Social Service of MinnesotaLutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) is the largest private, nonprofit human service organization in Minnesota. It offers a comprehensive array of support services tailored to the unique needs of individuals, families and communities.
  • Lutheran Social Services of MichiganThis entry was copied with permission from the book "This Far By Love: The Amazing Story of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan" by Nancy Manser. Motivated to serve others as an expression of the love of Christ, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan continues today to help those in need regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin.
  • Martyrs of MemphisIn 1878 the city of Memphis, Tennessee was struck by an epidemic of yellow fever, which so depopulated the area that the city lost its charter and was not reorganized for fourteen years. Almost everyone who could afford to do so left the city and fled to higher ground away from the river. There were in the city several communities of nuns, Anglican or Roman Catholic, who had the opportunity of leaving, but chose to stay and nurse the sick. Most of them, thirty-eight in all, were themselves killed by the fever.
  • Menace Of Racial And Religious Intolerance (1925)Presentation by Professor Charles Ellwood at the National Conference Of Social Work. Dr. Ellwood was concerned that intolerance seemed to be growing in every form of American life and he concluded that intolerance was a handicap to social progress.
  • National Catholic Community ServiceThe National Catholic Community Service (NCCS) served the spiritual, social, educational, and recreational needs of the military and defense workers and their families from 1940 to 1980.
  • Neighborhood House, Richmond VA
  • On The Duties And Advantages Of Affording Instruction To The Deaf And Dumb (1824)A sermon by Thomas Gallaudet, 1824. Gallaudet saw deaf education in general and sign language in particular as the means by which an evangelical vision could be universalized.
  • Oneida Community (1848-1880): A Utopian CommunityThe Oneida Community (1848-1880) was a religiously based, socialist group, dedicated to living as one family and to sharing all property, work, and love. They called their 93,000 square foot home the Mansion House.
  • Religion In Nineteenth-Century AmericaWritten by Dr. Graham Warder, Keene State College. "Converts to the new religious ways ardently strove to eliminate sin from themselves and from their society. The result was a faith that promoted social reforms of various kinds, among them abolitionism, temperance, health reform, and the asylum movement."
  • Roosevelt, Eleanor and the AFSCWritten by Jack Sutters, former AFSC archivist. "Eleanor Roosevelt's association with the AFSC began before Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration in March 1933."
  • Shakers - A Utopian Community: Founded In U.S. 1776Formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, the Shakers developed their own religious expression which included communal living, productive labor, celibacy, pacifism, the equality of the sexes, and a ritual noted for its dancing and shaking.
  • Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, OHWritten by Michael Barga. "The work of the SCCs includes the creation of orphanages, schools, and hospitals... SCCs make vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience to God and strive to live simply, be in solidarity with the poor, and embrace multiculturalism in ministry and membership."
  • Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, KYWritten by Michael Barga. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky (SCNs) are a religious order in the Catholic Church whose social concern and traditional spirituality stem from Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Their initial local efforts in education, health care, and social service have expanded to the international level today.
  • Sisters of Charity of New YorkWritten by Michael Barga. "Some of the earliest sustained social service institutions and health care facilities in New York City were started by the sisters. Their allegiance to local Catholics in the city came in conflict with their obedience to their superiors ... eventually leading to the establishment of a separate order recognized as the Sisters of Charity of New York (SCNY)."
  • Temperance MovementWritten by Alice W. Campbell, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. "During the first half of the 19th century, as drunkenness and its social consequences increased, temperance societies formed in Great Britain and the United States. These societies were typically religious groups that sponsored lectures and marches, sang songs, and published tracts that warned about the destructive consequences of alcohol."
  • The United Order of Tents of J.R. Giddings and Jollife UnionThe United Order of Tents is a Christian benevolent organization, founded in 1867 by two formerly enslaved women, Annetta Minkins Lane of Norfolk, Va., and Harriet R. Taylor of Hampton, Va. The largely secret society is the oldest Black women’s organization in the United States.
  • Theological Foundations of Charity: Catholic Social Teaching, The Social Gospel, and Tikkun OlamA look at theological principles that have motivated Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to charitable acts.
  • Turner, Henry McNealHenry McNeal Turner (1834 1915): Minister, Chaplin in the Union Army and Advocate for Emigration to Liberia
  • Twilight, Alexander (1795 - 1857)For the next twelve years he learned reading, writing and math skills while performing various farming duties. He was able to save enough (probably with some assistance from the farmer for whom he labored) to enroll in Randolph’s Orange County Grammar School in 1815 at the age of 20. During the next six years (1815-1821) he completed not only the secondary school courses but also the first two years of a college level curriculum. Following his graduation from Randolph he was accepted at Middlebury College, entering as a junior in August of 1821. Two years later he received his bachelor’s degree. Middlebury College claims him to be the first African-American to earn a baccalaureate degree from an American college or university.
  • Vasa Children's Home"History of the Vasa Children’s Home (1865-1955)," translated by Mrs. Dennis M. Lundell. The Vasa Children's Home is the oldest Home in Minnesota and the Augustana Lutheran Church.
  • Volunteers of AmericaThis entry is about the Volunteers of America. It was excerpted from the booklet “Maud and Ballington Booth: The Founding of Volunteers of America – The Seeds of Change 1890 – 1935” authored by Anne Nixon and produced by The Human Spirit Initiative.
  • What Religion Means to Me (1932)Article by Eleanor Roosevelt, Forum, 1932. " all cases the thing which counts is the striving of the human soul to achieve spiritually the best that it is capable of and to care unselfishly not only for personal good but for the good of all those who toil with them upon the earth."
  • Woman’s Christian Temperance UnionThe WCTU was a religious organization whose primary purpose was to combat the influence of alcohol on families and society. It was influential in the temperance movement, and supported the 18th Amendment.