Question of the Week
Founded in 1800, the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia provided aid to wayward women. What is the organization now called?
Answer: White-Williams Scholars.
Founded in 1800, the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia was formed to rescue and reform “fallen women” and was the first organizations of its kind in the United States. Under the leadership of Episcopal Bishop William White, Quaker philanthropist George Williams, and a number of other clergymen and concerned citizens, the Magdalen Society began an asylum to reform prostitutes and other wayward women. The Society’s stated purpose was “restoring to the paths of virtue those unhappy females who in unguarded hours have been robbed of their innocence.”
At the Magdalen Home on the corner of Race and Schuylkill Second (now 21st) Streets, rules were strictly enforced. Women were not permitted to discuss the circumstances in which they lived before going to the asylum, they were to read the Bible diligently, avoid profane language, and above all, inmates were not permitted to leave the asylum without permission. Inmates also did sewing, made yarn, and eventually began making and selling articles of clothing.
Under financial distress, the organization shifted its focus in 1917 to preventing delinquency instead of rehabilitation. Their new role would be to act as a clearinghouse for other institutions for girls and to work with the Philadelphia Public Schools’ Placement Bureau. It provided counseling in public schools, training for counselors, and financial assistance to low-income families. In 1918, the organization changed its name to the White-Williams Foundation for Girls to honor two of the original founders, Bishop William White and George Williams. Now called White-Williams Scholars, the organization currently gives academic scholarships to low-income high school students in Philadelphia.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.