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Providence Female Charitable Society Records

Historical note

The idea for the formation of a charitable society to help "indigent women and children" was first proposed by a group of well-known Providence women in March of 1800. The Providence Female Charitable Society was formed April 2nd the same year. Its first Board of Directors included Lydia (Bowen) Clark, Mrs. Avis (Binney) Brown, Rebecca Munroe, Elizabeth K. (Thompson) Nightingale, Abby (Brown) Francis, Eliza J. Ward, Mary Bowen, and Mary Brown Howell. The first charter and constitution of the Society was printed in February, 1801 by John Carter, Jr. The Society was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly in October, 1802. Membership was based on heredity.

With the exception of special cases, women who applied to the Society for assistance would be denied if they refused to put their younger children "of a proper age" in school, and their older, able-bodied children into service or a trade. One of the ways by which the Society assisted its accepted applicants was to purchase materials for them to make clothing; the completed garments were then sold to the same applicants at a reduced price. The Society also appointed members to teach children reading and writing two hours per day, and lead them to church each Sunday.

Eventually the care of children was given up by the Society because demand outweighed its resources; offshoots of the Society such as a children's home and reform school were created. At its centenary in 1901, the Society noted that it was one of only two charitable organizations in New England that had survived to the one-hundred-year mark. The Society is still in existence today.