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Newark Female Charitable Society (1803 - 1949)
RepositoryNew Jersey Historical Society
Collection IDMG 9
Size3 linear feet (8 boxes and 1 oversize item)
Collection Description
In January 1803, a group of philanthropic women gathered at the home of Judge Elisha Boudinot and his second wife, Rachel Bradford Boudinot (d. 1804), to create the Female Society for the Relief of Poor and Distressed Persons, in the Village of Newark (later known as the Newark Female Charitable Society, NFCS). Under the leadership of Rachel Boudinot, the Society, with 117 members, set itself two goals: to relieve immediate suffering, and to find employment for those in need. The Society grew quickly in the nineteenth century, especially between 1880 and 1890, as it expanded to meet the needs of a fast-growing industrial city. After World War I, the Society discontinued some of its services that were now being duplicated by agencies in the public sector.

The original constitution of the NFCS provided for four officers and six managers. Newark was divided into six districts, with one manager assigned to each. The managers visited with, interviewed, and determined the needs and eligibility of prospective recipients of assistance. The Society met twice a year, in May and November, in members' homes, and was originally funded solely through members' subscriptions and donations. Inspired by both humanitarianism and religion, the Society forged close relationships with the religious community of Newark. When funds were low, the women enlisted the support of one of the area ministers to give a sermon emphasizing the needs of underprivileged children and the Female Society's role in aiding them. In 1833, a single sermon by Rev. Henderson of the Episcopal Church brought in $90.79 for the Society.

In 1835, two more managers were added to help with the growing relief program. In 1840, 270 families were assisted with funds of $940.50. This record earned the Society a reputation as capable dispensers of funds to the needy. It was so highly regarded that when the mayor called a public meeting in 1868 to raise $5,000 for relief, the first $1,000 was given to the Female Society to distribute. At this point, the Society also broadened its function from dispensing relief to directly supplying employment by purchasing raw flax to give poor women jobs as spinners and seamstresses.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Society's functions and organization changed considerably. In October 1878, the women resolved that the Society needed a central depot where all applications for relief could be made. This office would be open three days per week with a superintendent and visitor, to receive application, visit new cases, and establish a register to prevent imposture. In November 1878 the women rented an office at 84 Park Place for $20 a month. Meetings, which had previously been held at private homes, were now held there. And, in addition to money, bread, flour, hominy, tea, coffee, sugar, soap, coal, and clothing (supplied by the "Crazy Jane Society") was dispensed at Park Place.

Although it began independently of the Newark Female Charitable Society, the Crazy Jane Society was the first of the NFCS's many auxiliaries and subdivisions. The earliest record of their gathering is in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, under the direction of Mrs. William Pennington. A sewing circle of well-off women met in the afternoon, at a different home each week. In the late afternoon, when the women had completed their charitable sewing for the needy, tea was served and gentlemen came in to pass a sociable evening. But the Society was short lived and an initial attempt to revive it failed.

The Crazy Jane Society was revived for a second and successful time in 1874 as an auxiliary to the NFCS. Meeting in the mornings under the direction of Mrs. Edward Pennington, the Crazy Jane women cut and sewed garments for the poor. In 1878, a children's nursery was added. By 1880, the Society started giving out work and payment to needy women; by 1883, 65 needy women were supplied with sewing work, receiving payment in both money and groceries. Also in this year, a kindergarten was established, and in 1887 a cradle room was added. The Society was incorporated in 1901. By 1902, 99 women were on the roll. The Crazy Jane Society continued serving the community, under the direction of the NFCS, until 1917, when the two groups merged.

Between 1880 and 1890, the NFCS formed many specialized subgroups. The Kitchen Garden Committee, created in December 1880, trained young girls from poor families in domestic skills, using toys for instruction in household work. After 1897, girls who had graduated from the Kitchen Garden Class were promoted to the newly-formed Cooking School. All the materials and equipment were donated by Robert F. Ballantine, who was on the Society's Board of Advisors. Established in 1883, the Sewing School met every Saturday morning for 37 years.

In October 1882 the Female Society created a Boys' Room, furnished and entirely paid for by Mrs. Fayette Smith. The room, principally for evening use, was outfitted with books, periodicals, checkers and other activities. Unlike most of the undertakings of these women, the boy's club was not immediately successful, but results improved slowly.

The Laundry Committee was also established in 1882 with premises, including a nursery, at 72 Clinton Street. It supplied employment for widowed women and needy mothers. By 1888, 69 women were employed, receiving wages totaling $2,382.83.

The Mother's Meeting Committee was established in 1882 as well. The Mother's Meeting group allowed underprivileged women to augment their income. The group met on Fridays in the late afternoon after work. Women were paid 10 cents per hour to sew, and also kept the clothes they made. The group also served a religious function; there were Bible readings during the sewing period, and singing afterward. In 1886 there were 87 names on the roll, and by 1897, 158 women were active members.

The creators of the Fresh Air Fund Committee, begun in 1882, hoped to give children, the elderly, and the disabled temporary relief from city life during the summer. To this end, the Fresh Air Fund contacted people with homes in the country and asked them to host a needy person for a summer vacation. The project was so popular that, in 1888, a 16-acre farm was rented in New Providence. The "Home of Rest" was staffed and organized by a group of women known as the Summit Society. Although they began as an auxiliary of the NFCS, the Summit Society later became independent. The Society continued to send individuals to private homes, and hundreds of women and children were sent on day-trips to Coney Island. By 1901, the Fresh Air Fund helped 700 women and children enjoy at least one week in the country during the summer. In 1922, the Society purchased a large home in Summit situated on 3.5 acres of land, for $30,000. The home was divided to separate the boys and girls. Camp Eastwood served 50 boys and Sunnyside accommodated 80 girls. The Summit House served 500-700 children annually.

The Relief Committee, also formed in 1882, was organized to dispense relief in the form of food, supplies, coal and clothing. By 1890, the Committee independently aided 129 needy people, without the help of other committees. The Relief Committee also supplied work to help the unemployed. By 1901, 200 people were receiving industrial aid through laundry, sewing or housework, and gratuitous aid. The Ordered Work Committee was formed in 1885 with the sole purpose of supplying women with sewing work. Women were employed out of their homes to sew clothing for hospital patients. The Ordered Work Committee continued successfully for 18 years until 1902 when its manager, Mrs. Caleb Neagles, died. The Committee dissolved and its functions were transferred to the Crazy Jane Society. During this period of expansion, the Dinner or Mid-Day Meal Committee was founded. It supplied hot meals to the women in the laundry, and others.

The Building Committee, formed in January 1886, directed the construction of the NFCS building on the corner lot of Halsey and Hill Streets. With financial assistance from a male Advisory Board (formed in 1882), the NFCS able to move into a new building on January 2, 1887. Members of the Advisory Board were Beach Vanderpool, Robert F. Ballantine, and John W. Taylor. Frederick Frelinghuysen later joined the Board, gave generous assistance and legal advice, and oversaw the investment of the Society's funds.

During World War I, free rooms in the NFCS building were made available for the war effort. Rooms were used by the Mayor's Committees on National Defense and on the Conservation of Food Products, by the American Red Cross, and for making bandages and canning foods.

In 1920, the NFCS and its auxiliaries began to reorganize. The Cooking Class, the Kitchen Garden School, and the Sewing School were discontinued, as their functions were being duplicated in the public schools. The Boys' Room also closed in 1920 as other boys' clubs opened. The second building at Hill Street was sold, and the nursery moved back to the main building. In 1922, the laundry also closed. In 1937, the Grocery Department of the Relief Committee discontinued because the Newark City Welfare Department was dispensing food.

NOTE: Further documentation of the Society's work can be found in the Newark Female Charitable Society's Annual Reports (Newark, NJ, 1868-1915); and in the pamphlet, "Newark Female Charitable Society: History, 1903-1953," compiled from the Society's minutes and records by Anna M. McConnell [Newark: The Society, 1953], NJHS call no. 361 Es7N3. The pamphlet is also available at the Newark Public Library, call no. 361.763 N46.
Collection Contents
The records of the Newark Female Charitable Society include the Society's administrative records as well as reports from some of the auxiliary groups. Documents include minutes, financial records, a casebook, scrapbooks, work order books and correspondence.

A casebook (1895-1920) describes the conditions of those receiving aid from the Society, with names, addresses, and the type of aid dispensed. Of note as well are three other volumes that record aspects of daily routines and the kinds of work the Society sponsored: a work room order book, 1929-1938; an American Red Cross work room record book, with women's names, number of days employed, their pay and the kinds of work produced; and a May 1941 report of the Welfare and Relief Department, describing the role of the Society on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II.

Series Descriptions:

Series I (Boxes 1-2 and 3, F 1): Minutes, 1803-1822, 1867-1937, contains a constitution (1803); summaries of meetings; donations and subscribers, 1803-1898; annual reports, miscellaneous printed materials, newspaper clippings, summaries of special meetings; monthly reports, donations and subscriptions collected, and summaries of activities of the following committees: finance, auditing, printing, relief, Fresh Air Fund, house, laundry, mother's meetings, kindergarten, kitchen garden, sewing school, boy's room, building, and dinner, 1880-1937.

Series II Boxes 3-4 and 5, F 1): Financial Records, contain: monthly donations (1817-1838; 1874-78; 1898-1914), revenue and expenditures, and miscellaneous records, letters, and receipts, 1874-1937.

Series III (Boxes 5-6 and os): The Crazy Jane Society, includes roll books and minutes, 1875-1886, 1900-1916; reports of the Purchasing Committee, 1875; records of the Cutting Committee, 1890-1924; records of individual members (an oversize volume), 1875-1879; and miscellaneous printed materials. Included are names of directors, reports of annual meetings, numbers of garments sewn, revenue received, committees appointed, name and attendance records, number of garments sewn by each member (1875-1879), materials purchased (1875), subscription application forms, and a poem "To Crazy Jane."

Series IV (Box 6, F 4-8): Mother's Meetings Committee, includes minutes, 1886-1913; roll books, 1909-1914; and work department records, 1911-1914, containing annual reports, lists of members present, resolutions, numbers of garments made and distributed, donations (1886-1913), a roll call of names and addresses (1909-1914), and type of article sewn with date of completion (1911-1914).

Series V (Boxes 7-8): Miscellaneous Records, Auxiliary Groups, and Scrapbook Materials, includes a casebook of relief work, Book IV, 1895-1920, containing managers' accounts, an alphabetical list of recipients with names and addresses, descriptions of their poverty and the type or amount of aid distributed. Also, a report of the Welfare and Relief Department, May 1941, a workroom order book, 1929-1938, an American Red Cross workroom record book, 1933-1934, and a revised constitution, 1895. Also, three scrapbooks compiled by Mrs. A. F .R. Martin, which include clippings on the Society's annual report (1878) and its 100th anniversary celebration (1903), newspaper photographs of the Society, and invitations to socials; Mrs. Martin's correspondence; and letters and clippings on the Fresh Air Fund. Minutes of the Margaret Symington Clark Memorial Fund's Board of Trustees, 1876-1949, which include summaries of semi-annual and annual meetings, lists of members, resolutions, and some financial and investment records.
FormatTextual materials
SubjectsPoverty / Philanthropy / Charities; Women's History; World War I; World War II
Time Periods19th Century; 20th Century
Access policyOpen for research
Finding AidYes
Finging Aid URL