Question of the Week

The Friendly Society, one of Philadelphia's first charitable organizations, was founded in what year?

Sunday, 6/5/11

Answer: 1795.

The Friendly Society, one of Philadelphia’s first charitable organizations, was founded by Anne Parrish and 23 other Quaker women in 1795 to supply employment to women after the ravages of the recent yellow fever outbreak.  When Parrish’s parents fell victim to the fever, she vowed that if they recovered she would dedicate the rest of her life to philanthropy.  They did, in fact, recuperate and she kept her word.      

The society renamed itself the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor in 1811 and was incorporated in 1815.  One year later, the organization bought a building on 4th Street just below Market Street and opened the House of Industry, employing poor women as spinners and sewers, and hiring older women in an early day-care center.  In 1849, the society moved to 112 North 7th Street. 

The women employed at the House of Industry worked eight hours per day during the winter, five days per week, creating hand-made garments and quilts. Some of these items were sold directly at the House, while others were made to order.  Women were provided with meals, day-care for their children, shoes, and daily Bible readings by a manger of the House.  The House of Industry celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1895.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds some documents on the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor in the Coates and Reynell family papers (#140) and the Cox-Parrish-Wharton papers (#154).  The Parrish family as well as other Quaker families and community service efforts, particularly concerning the abolition of slavery, are very well documented in the Cox-Parrish-Wharton papers.

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