Girls Friendly Society

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Girls Friendly Society

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Dates of existence



The Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) was founded in England in 1875 as the Church’s response to the needs of girls who had left their homes behind to work in factories and mills, or as domestic servants. Recognizing the same needs in the United States and using the GFS as a model, Elizabeth Mason Edson founded the first Girls' Friendly Society in America (GFSA) branch at St. Ann's Church in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1877. Upon formation of the Massachusetts diocesan organization in 1879, a center for national activities was established.

In 1886 the Central Organization of the GFSA was formed, a constitution was adopted in 1893, and the GFSA was officially incorporated in 1895, at which time they also began making systematic reports to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

During the late 1800s, the GFSA established homes and centers for young working women and provided employment and housing assistance to immigrant women arriving in America. Between 1900 and 1920, they sought protective legislation for girls, worked for labor reform, and provided a number of war-related services. By 1914 there were over 46,000 members in 745 branches with 34 diocesan organizations.

Around 1929, GFSA reincorporated and changed its name to the Girls’ Friendly Society of the United States of America (GFS-USA). Ensuing years of activity included work with refugees and conferences on women in industry. In the 1950s, the GFS-USA opened its national office in New York City, became an official observer to the United Nations, and joined the newly created Girls’ Friendly Society World Council.

By 1964, after falling short of its fundraising goals, the GFS-USA began to make heavy cutbacks in programs at the national level. These reductions continued into 1966 when the GFS-USA decided to incorporate its mission with that of The Episcopal Church. As a result, in 1967, the Department of Christian Education of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church took over responsibility for the national programs run by the GFS-USA. The diocesan and branch organizations continued to operate as before, but after the closing of the national office, many of them did not survive.

In the early 1980s, the GFS-USA reestablished its operation on a national level, however membership continued to decline. As of 2023, the GFS-USA oversees the few remaining local branches and is a member of GFS World.

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