Charity Organization Society

Charity Organization Society

The Charity Organization Societies also called the Associated Charities was a private charity that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a clearing house for information on the poor.[1] The society was mainly concerned with distinction between the deserving poor and undeserving poor.[2] The society believed that giving out charity without investigating the problems behind poverty created a class of citizens that would always be dependent on alms giving.[3]

The society originated in Elberfeld, Germany and spread to Buffalo, New York around 1877.[4] The conviction that relief promoted dependency was the basis for forming the Societies. Instead of offering direct relief, the societies addressed the cycle of poverty. Neighborhood charity visitors taught the values of hard work and thrift to individuals and families. The COS set up centralized records and administrative services and emphasized objective investigations and professional training. There was a strong scientific emphasis as the charity visitors organized their activities and learned principles of practice and techniques of intervention from one another. The result led to the origin of social casework. Gradually, over the ensuing years, volunteer visitors began to be supplanted by paid staff.



Charity Organization Societies were made up of charitable groups that used scientific philanthropy to help poor, distressed or deviant persons. The Societies considered themselves more than just alms givers. Their ultimate goal was to restore as much self-sufficiency and responsibility as an individual could manage. Through their activities, the Societies tended to be aware of the range of social services available in their communities. They thus became the primary source of information and referral for all services. Through these referrals, a Society often became the central agency in the social services of its community. For instance, the Charity Organization Society of Denver, Colorado, the forerunner of the modern United Way of America, coordinated the charitable activities of local Jewish, Congregational and Catholic groups. Its work under the leadership of Frances Wisebart Jacobs ranged from work with tuberculosis patients[5] to the care and education of young children[6] and was funded in part by direct assistance from the city itself.[7]

Settlement House movement

The Charity Organization Society movement can be compared to the settlement house movement which emphasized social reform rather than personal problems as the proper focus of charity.

Britain's Charity Organisation Society

In Britain, the Charity Organisation Society led by Helen Bosanquet and Octavia Hill was founded in London in 1869[8] and supported the concept of self help and limited government intervention to deal with the effects of poverty. The organisation claimed to use "scientific principles to root out scroungers and target relief where it was most needed".[9] The Charity Organisation Society was renamed Family Welfare Association in 1946 and still operates today as Family Action, a registered family support charity.


  1. ^ (1895). "Charity's Clearing House." The Washington Post. December 15.
  2. ^ (1900) "Commissioners of the District of Columbia." Washington Government Printing Office.
  3. ^ (1887). "Lots of Chronic Paupers." The Washington Post. October 21.
  4. ^ (1880). "National Conference on Social Welfare." 1880.
  5. ^ (1903) Albert Shaw, The American Review of Reviews. Radcliffe Library, 1903: 701.
  6. ^ (1903) Benjamin Lindsey Collection, Box 85, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; letters from Izetta George dated February 11 and February 14, 1903.
  7. ^ (1900) Isabel C. Barrows, ed. The Social Welfare Forum. The Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction at the Twenty-Sixth Annual Session Held in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, May 17–23, 1899. Boston: George H. Ellis, 1900, page 376.
  8. ^ "1800s". Family Action: About Us. Retrieved 17 November 2010. 
  9. ^ Rees, Rosemary (2001). Poverty and Public Health 1815-1949. London: Heinemann.

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