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Massachusetts Charitable Societies Records

 Collection — Container: MS Acc 825-864
Call Number: MS Acc 825-864

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the history of forty-seven charitable societies that were in existence throughout Massachusetts in the nineteenth century. The statements were written by society members in response to a survey of benevolent institutions conducted in honor of the nation’s centennial. The reports contain a varying degree of detail; however, common subjects include the founding of the organization, brief histories, the particular needs addressed by the charity, financial information, and accomplishments. The associations were founded between 1803 and 1874.

Among the charities represented are the Holly Tree Coffee Rooms in Boston and Cambridge, which advocated temperance. The rooms were founded in 1870 to provide an alternative to whiskey shops for working men and women, and to offer healthy meals at low prices. The Lowell Home for Young Women and Children, originally the Young Women’s Christian Association and Home, provided shelter for young women obliged to care for themselves, and offered day care for their children while they were at work. The statement from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals details the efforts of Mrs. William Appleton, the primary force behind the creation and chartering of this society in Boston. The statement includes a copy of the original petition for the creation of the organization and official letterhead with the names of the directors and officers in 1876.

Other institutions include the Seamen’s Orphan and Children’s Friend Society in Salem, which provided a home for orphaned children or children whose parents were temporarily unable to care for them. The record of the Society for the Employment of Bible Readers documents the history and object of the organization, which employed people to read to sick and poor residents. The progress of the society and its fundraising methods are also documented. The statement of the Woman’s Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands, details the inspiration for and the formation of the society. It contains the plans and methods of the organization as well as narratives of the first two missionary projects in India and Japan. The society claimed to be the first missionary group operated solely by women, and much of their work in other nations focused on women and girls. In 2009, a number of the organizations are still in existence. Some of these institutions are the Association for the Relief of Aged Women of New Bedford, Catholic Charities of Massachusetts – particularly St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Fragment Society of Boston, the Haverhill Female Benevolent Society, the Ladies’ Union Charitable Society of Lawrence (as Lawrence General Hospital), and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In addition, the Ladies’ Home of Lowell (as the Merrimack River Valley House), the Plymouth Fragment Society, the Seamen’s Orphan and Children’s Friend Society in Salem (as Children’s Friend and Family Services), the Washburn Home for Aged Women in Worcester (Washburn House), Widow’s Society in Boston (S.W.A.N. Society), and the Women’s Union in Fall River are also in operation.


  • 1876

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.


47.00 Items

Language of Materials



Arranged alphabetically.

Method of Acquisition

Gift from the Philadelphia Free Library, 1943.

Processing Information

Finding aid written by Laura Hoff, November 2009.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Massachusetts Charitable Societies Records
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About this library

Part of the Boston Public Library Archives & Special Collections Repository

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