Mary Wilcox Glenn (1869-1940) – Charity Organization Society Leader, Social Case Work Advocate and Long-Time President of the Family Welfare Association of America (Later the Family Service Association of America)
By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
Introduction: As a young woman, Mary Wilcox Glenn became a friendly visitor in the Baltimore, Maryland Charity Organization Society, (COS) and later a member of its board. In that capacity she developed a professional interest in social work that was just emerging from the era in which philanthropies relied on voluntary workers and leaders. Within the next few years Glenn became general secretary of the Henry Watson Children’s Aid Society in Baltimore and then general secretary of the Charity Organization Society of Baltimore. In this latter position she was the successor of Mary Richmond who stands out as a pioneer in laying a foundation for modern social case work, and whose book Social Diagnosis remains a classic in the field.
Glenn moved to New York in 1908 just at the time a newer conception of social responsibility was beginning to form. People were beginning to question whether it was enough to just organize charity. Some began to think that greater effort should be directed toward society itself in order to discover the reasons why large groups of persons were in need of charity. During this time Glenn was active as a volunteer worker in the Charity Organization Society of New York. She also took part in discussions about the possibilities of a larger movement, national in its scope, which would bind together local charity groups in their efforts to understand social conditions as they influence family life. The outcome of these discussions led to the formation in 1911 of the present Family Welfare Association of America, known originally as the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity. Below are copies of original documents from 1936: one is a news release announcing a dinner to honor Mrs. Glenn, and the other is a testimonial describing her contributions to the Family Welfare Association of America.
Biographical Information: Mary Wilcox Brown was born December 14, 1869 in Baltimore, Maryland, the oldest daughter in a family of thirteen children. Her parents were John Wilcox Brown, a prominent banker, and Ellen Turner (nee McFarland) Brown. She was home-schooled until she enrolled in Miss Hall’s, a private college in Baltimore. The family was Protestant Episcopalian and her religion was a strong influence in her decision to become active in charitable and other worthy causes. On May 2, 1902, she married John Mark Glenn a wealthy Baltimore attorney and prominent social welfare leader. They had no children. It is important to note that John M. Glenn’s leadership as chairman of the executive committee of the Baltimore Charity Organization Society and his active involvement in the administration of the Baltimore public assistance program and city charities had already earned him national recognition. In 1900, he was elected to be Chairman of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections for 1901.
Early Career: In 1897, after teaching for three years and serving as a volunteer in the local COS, Mary Wilcox Brown accepted the position of General Secretary of the Henry Watson Children’s Aid Society where she remained for four years. In 1900 she was appointed General Secretary of the Baltimore COS following in the footsteps of Mary Richmond with whom she maintained a strong relationship for the rest of her life. Her marriage in 1902 removed any need for paid employment, thus launching her on a long and successful career as a volunteer organizer, consultant and board member for a number of important religious, philanthropic, professional and social welfare organizations in Baltimore and New York City.
Professional Career: In 1907, John M. Glenn accepted the position of executive director of the Russell Sage Foundation, located in New York City; in 1908 Mary Wilcox Glenn moved to New York City where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mrs. Glenn’s move to New York coincided with the growing awareness for the need for professional training for charity workers and the importance of trained caseworkers. It was also a time when social welfare advocates and charity workers were beginning to realize the necessity for more efficient organizations of “good will” and better means for dealing with the conditions of a society where large numbers of able-bodied workers were being compelled to seek handouts, depend on breadlines and soup kitchens. Mrs. Glenn became an active participant in discussions about the possibilities of a larger, national movement that would bring together local agencies and advocates into some form of national organization.
Mary Wilcox Glenn was also an active participant in the annual meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections; and in recognition of her many activities and contributions to social welfare, was elected Chairman of the Conference for the year 1915. At the National Conference meeting in 1914, she gave a presentation entitled “Some Social Causes of Prostitution” based on cases with which she was familiar from her work with the COS. In 1915, she made a presentation to the Indiana Board of Charities entitled “The Individual Approach” which details her views on social case work.
In 1936, Mary Wilcox Glenn was honored at a dinner for her contributions to the organization and direction of the Family Welfare Association of America. Below is a copy of the news release announcing the event and following that a copy of the tribute she received at the dinner. Mrs. Mary Wilcox Glenn died in New York City on November 3, 1940.
Family Welfare Association of America
139 East 22nd St., N.Y.C.
Immediate Release: November 16, 1936
Mary Willcox Glenn, 1 Lexington Ave., will be honored at a dinner Friday evening (November 20), Town Hall Club, for her service over a period of more than thirty-five years in the field of family welfare. The dinner is given by the Family Welfare Association of America, of which Mrs. Glenn was president from 1920 until her retirement this year. Several hundred persons prominent in social work will attend.
Mrs. Glenn, who is the wife of John M. Glenn, secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation, belongs to a family long prominent in Baltimore and New York City. Her brothers are F. Donaldson Brown, Chairman of the Finance Committee of General Motors, and J. Thompson Brown, Vice-President of E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. Her sisters are Mrs. Frank H. Merrill, Mrs. P. B. Adsit and Miss Fanny Brown of New York City, and Mrs. H. Guy Corbett of New Haven. Mrs. Louis Dickson and Mrs. Louie Dean of New York City are nieces, and Mrs. Frederick Horner of New York is a cousin. Mrs. Glenn’s father was a prominent Baltimore banker who served as a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Mrs. Glenn is President of the National Council of the Church Mission of Help. She was a founder of the International Migration Service and has been prominent in the Association of Volunteers and the Mobilization for Human Needs. She helped to establish the Guild House in Baltimore and has been active on the Committees ofthe Charity Organization Society of New York.
Mrs. Glenn was president of the National Conference of Social Work in 1915, the highest honor which can be given a social worker in this country. She also took a prominent part in two International Conferences in Paris in 1928 and in Frankfort in 1932.
Speakers at the dinner Friday evening will be Mrs. Glenn on the history of the Association; Francis H. McLean, its first executive on lay leaders; and Dr. Frank Kingdon, president of the University of Newark, on the current meaning of family social work. Stanley P. Davies,executive of the Charity Organization Society of New York and president of the Association, will preside.
Family Welfare Association of America
130 E. 22nd St., New York City
November 18, 1936.
A group of men and women from many sections of the country will meet in New York on November 20 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. Hereshe 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 of social 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 thefounders 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.
Social Diagnosis may also be read through the Internet Archive.
Reference: Family Service Association of America Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN. More information is available at: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2013). Mary Wilcox Glenn (1869-1940). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/glenn-mary-wilcox/
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