If you were a homeless girl in 1880, where could you seek shelter?
If your son were diagnosed with polio in 1950, where could he receive free medical treatment?
Where could you find affordable nursing care for an elderly relative in 1990?
Richmonders have always battled poverty, illness, homelessness and a lack of security. While some residents have enjoyed financial stability and support, others have needed short- or long-term assistance. Virginia has historically been a strongly self-reliant state, with communities helping themselves. During the colonial period, the Anglican Church oversaw assistance for the poor, sick, homeless and unemployed. In 1780, the Virginia General Assembly created elected committees called Overseers of the Poor to take over these functions and to operate almshouses. But these services were not enough, and individuals began to aid those in need.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Richmond was in ruins and its population impoverished. Citizens founded orphanages, nursing homes and other private charitable organizations. The late 19th century brought Gilded Age wealth, and some affluent Richmonders became social philanthropists. The Progressive Era’s moral crusaders taught healthy living and productive citizenship during the early 20th century. Richmond reluctantly accepted federal aid during the Great Depression of the 1930s, although the city’s local organizations still provided critical support. This period saw the establishment of centralized fundraising for private charities.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, social service organizations that mostly had served segregated white and black populations began to integrate. Some organizations that originally had overt religious affiliation became secular. Late 20th century reductions in government funding for social services increased the demand for private organizations’ work.
This exhibit features just a sampling of the many local and national organizations that offer social services and advocate for members of the Richmond community. Focusing on a range of issues - from child, senior and animal welfare to education, job training and health care - these institutions provide vital community outreach. Amid our current uncertain economic climate, these activities are needed more than ever.
Richmond’s Committee for the Relief of the Poor managed white and black almshouses, a soup kitchen, a hospital and other health and social services. Construction of a new white almshouse on Hospital Street finished in 1860. During the Civil War, the building served as a Confederate hospital. Afterwards, it was briefly a home for the Virginia Military Institute and then resumed its original purpose.
By the early 20th century, this almshouse was called the City Home. In 1959, the City Home became the Richmond Nursing Home, which operated until 1972. Today, the complex has been repurposed as low income apartments for seniors.
Founded in 1911 as the Council of Social Agencies, the Richmond Area Community Council coordinated the city’s many private social welfare organizations. In 1964, the Community Council organized an effort to improve sanitation conditions in the Carver neighborhood. Faculty members and pupils at Baker Elementary, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Graves Junior High Schools and Maggie Walker High School carried out the project.
In 1924, the Richmond Area Community Council created the Community Fund, later the Richmond Area Community Chest. This trust centralized fundraising and fund distribution to the Council’s more than thirty member organizations.
In 1960, the Richmond Area Community Council and the Community Fund merged with the newly create United Fund. Called the United Givers Fund, the organization continued to act as a centralized fundraising mechanism for Richmond’s private social service organizations. Later name changes included the United Way of Greater Richmond and then United Way Services.
By the turn of the 21st century, donors increasingly voiced a desire to see the direct impact of their dollars. As a result, the United Way now focuses less strictly on its annual fundraising campaign and more on improving community impact, coordination and capacity.
Saint Jeanne Jugan began Little Sisters for the Poor in Rennes, France. Jugan took an elderly woman into her home in 1839. This action began her work providing shelter to the indigent elderly. She took religious vows as a nun in 1842. The organization later adopted the name the Little Sisters of the Poor and established homes in France before expanding internationally. The Little Sisters came to America in 1868.
Richmond’s Little Sisters arrived in 1874. The Anderson family donated to the organization the Warsaw home at 16 N. Harvie Street. Major expansions turned the building into the St. Sophia Home for the Aged, which operated until 1976. Today, the Warsaw contains condominiums while the Little Sisters operate a facility in western Henrico County.
In 1875, Mrs. Caroline Lathrop received a $50 bequest from a woman she had befriended at the city almshouse. Lathrop used these funds to establish the Protestant Episcopal Church Home for Ladies. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia was the primary supporter of this home for indigent, elderly women. It moved multiple times and later merged with St. Paul’s Church Home for the Aged and Infirm. A gift from the estate of Lettie Pate Evans provided for construction of a new home on N. Thompson Street. In 1975, the Protestant Episcopal Church Home merged with Westminster-Canterbury, located in Richmond’s north side.
From 1885 to 1941, sick and indigent Confederate veterans resided on a campus of buildings on the site of today’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). Founded by the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, the Confederate Soldiers’ Home had previously been the property of the Robinson family. Fleming Hall was the original Robinson residence. In 1941, the last veteran died at the camp, and the Commonwealth of Virginia took over the site.
In 1932, veterans raised funds to build a new headquarters for the Home for Needy Confederate Women adjacent to the Soldiers’ Home. The home operated until 1989, when the remaining residents were transferred to another facility.
Today, only three Soldiers’ Home buildings still stand. They include Fleming Hall, the Home for Needy Confederate Women (both used by the VMFA) and the Confederate Memorial Chapel, leased from the Commonwealth by the Lee-Jackson Camp No.1, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
In 1894, Mary Tinsley Greenhow, who as a teenager was paralyzed during a horse riding accident, founded the Virginia Home for Incurables. Disabled Richmonders needing life-long care lived at the home near Capitol Square. In 1898, the home moved to W. Broad and Robinson streets, across from the future site of the Science Museum of Virginia. It moved to its present location on Hampton Street in Byrd Park in 1930. The name shortened to The Virginia Home in 1963.
Today, Virginia residents at least 18 years of age with an irreversible physical disability can apply for residence. The Virginia Home provides nursing and medical care, therapy, counseling services, job and recreational opportunities to its residents.
The Beth Sholom Home of Virginia opened in 1945 as Virginia’s first Jewish nursing home. Originally located in the Fan District, the home moved to Fitzhugh Avenue in 1958 before relocating to Henrico’s Short Pump. During the 2000s, the home expanded its services to include a rehabilitation clinic and Beth Sholom Garden, Virginia’s first Jewish assisted living facility.
When Gary Mills visited his grandmother in 1975, he met her neighbor Mrs. Jacob S. Cohn, who kept containers holding coins for various charities: quarters for Israel, nickels for the Easter Seal Society and dimes for the Beth Sholom Home of Virginia.
The Junior League of Richmond founded Virginia’s first center for senior citizens in 1959. Initially headquartered at 909 W. Franklin Street, the Senior Center of Richmond provided cultural, educational and recreational facilities for its members. The center moved to 2701 Monument Avenue in 1967, where it is now operated by Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit resource for seniors and caregivers.
The Memorial Foundation for Children’s story began in 1805, when a homeless girl supposedly presented herself at the door of Jean Moncure Wood, wife of Governor James E. Wood. Realizing that the city lacked a shelter for needy girls, Mrs. Wood worked to establish the Female Humane Association in 1807.
The Association was incorporated in 1811 and built its first shelter on the corner of St. John's and Charity streets in Richmond. It was later called the Memorial Home for Girls (1921), the Memorial Foundation (1946), and then the Memorial Foundation for Children (1962). Throughout its history, the organization has provided shelter to homeless children, guidance and psychological services, and daycare. In 1972, the foundation shifted from direct care to giving financial assistance to other local charities.
The Richmond Male Orphan Society began in 1846 when the director of the Female Humane Association was approached by a homeless boy begging for coins. Recognizing the city’s need for a boy’s home, concerned residents formed the Richmond Male Orphan Society in Church Hill. It made various moves and is now located in western Henrico County.
The organization’s name has evolved over time to the Richmond Home for Boys and then the Virginia Home for Boys. When it began to house girls in 2004, it was renamed the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. Among its services are foster care, alternative education, independent living services and psychiatric and medical care.
Lucy Goode Brooks and members of the Ladies Sewing Circle for Charitable Work established the Friends Asylum for Colored Orphans in 1871. These formerly enslaved women enlisted the support of the Cedar Creek Meeting Society of Friends (Quakers) to found a home for orphaned and abandoned African-American children. Brooks’s activism came from her experience losing one of her children, who was sold before the Civil War.
The Friends Asylum opened an orphanage at St. Paul and St. John streets in Jackson Ward. Today, the organization is known as FRIENDS Association for Children. It provides childcare, enrichment programs, support and educational services to low-income families.
Lucy and J. R. F. Burroughs founded the Bethany Home for Friendless Children in 1894. The childless couple established the orphanage on their 165-acre farm, located near Bon Air in Chesterfield County. Incorporated in 1898, Bethany Home had no endowment and operated completely through donations. Bethany Home closed in the 1940s.
These photographs show the annual outing of residents of many of Richmond’s orphanages in Bryan Park during the 1930s. Richmond Mayor J. Fulmer Bright served popcorn to the children, some of whom were also patients in the local hospitals. The annual event occurred from 1934 until 1941.
Sir Robert Baden-Powell founded the scout movement in England in 1910. Scouts trained physically, mentally and spiritually through outdoor activities. Publisher W. D. Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America after encountering a scout in London. In 1911, two Richmond churches established Boy Scout troops. Two years later, scout leaders formed the Greater Richmond Council, later known as the Robert E. Lee Council. Renamed the Heart of Virginia Council in 2003, the organization encompasses 20,000 scouts in twenty-four counties and four cities.
Soon after a 1912 meeting with Baden-Powell, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the United States of America to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” By 1913, Highland Springs had a troop, the first in the Richmond area. It was a member of what would become the Commonwealth Girl Scout Council of Virginia. Today the Commonwealth Council is headquartered in Hanover County and oversees more than 15,000 scouts in thirty counties and six cities.
The first boys’ club was organized in Hartford, Connecticut in 1860. The movement aimed to reduce juvenile delinquency through character development. In 1953, a group led by Judge James H. Montgomery, Jr., formed the Boys’ Club of Richmond to provide a safe learning environment for boys, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances. Today, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Richmond, Virginia, operates nine locations in the region and serves more than 3,000 members.
George Williams founded the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1844. Williams wished to offer support to men through a non-denominational organization based on “sacrifice and service.” While some chapters focused on missionary work and Bible study, others were more secular and offered recreational activities.
Richmond’s first YMCA chapter formed in 1854 at United Presbyterian Church. From 1887 to 1967, the Leigh Street YMCA served Richmond’s African-American residents. In 1909, Richmond’s first YMCA building opened in Shockoe Bottom. Located next to Main Street Station, the Railroad YMCA provided recreation, employment services, and religious activities to railway workers. Today, “the Y” focuses on families and developing minds, bodies and spirits.
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) first met in New York City in 1858. While based in Christianity, the YWCA was more focused on social issues, initially affordable housing for working women. It later was active in the labor union movement and supporting race relations.
The YWCA of Richmond, the South’s oldest chapter, formed in 1887 and soon opened a boarding house. It later established a day nursery, kindergarten, gymnasium and Travelers Aid Society. The Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Richmond YWCA, found in 1912, was one of the first African-American chapters in the United States. Today, the YWCA of Richmond educates about domestic and sexual violence. It operates women’s emergency shelters and a child development center.
Concern about the treatment of animals, called the humane movement, began shortly after the Civil War. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) formed in 1886 in New York City, inspiring similar societies across the country. Nellie Nalle Palmer began in 1883 to establish a humane society in Richmond. By 1891, the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) began its work.
During the early 20th century, renowned author Ellen Glasgow took the helm of the RSPCA, serving as its leader until her death in 1945. She opened the organization’s first shelter on Jefferson Street in 1924. In 1969, the RSPCA moved to 1600 Chamberlayne Avenue. Now located at 2519 Hermitage Road, the RSPCA’s Robins-Starr Humane Center is considered one of the nation’s best animal shelters. Since 2002, the RSPCA has followed a “no-kill” policy that prohibits euthanizing adoptable animals.
When Rebekah Peterkin observed poor families unable to afford medical care, she envisioned a hospital that could provide free treatment. In 1889, aided by her sewing circle and other friends, Peterkin formed Sheltering Arms Hospital, a free, acute care hospital. It opened on 14th Street, but quickly moved to the William H. Grant House at 1008 E. Clay Street. Dr. Moses D. Hoge, Jr., was the hospital’s first doctor.
In 1965, Sheltering Arms moved to a new building on the grounds of Richmond Memorial Hospital in Richmond’s north side. By the late 1970s, Sheltering Arms moved its focus to physical rehabilitation. Today, it provides rehabilitation and wellness services at twelve centers and within various hospitals in the region.
In 1900, a group of nurses began to provide free medical treatment in Richmond’s poor neighborhoods. This work was part of the settlement movement in which participants directly served the urban poor. Founded as the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association (IVNA) in 1902, the organization’s goals were to provide medical care and to teach healthy living.
The IVNA was based in Oregon Hill, a working class neighborhood. It opened a tuberculosis clinic in 1904 and subsequently opened children’s and maternity clinics throughout the city. Today, the IVNA operates a care clinic on Monument Avenue, runs outreach wellness clinics, and provides skilled nursing care and therapy to uninsured, homebound patients.
In 1917, as the polio epidemic swept Richmond, Dr. William T. Graham opened a free health clinic in his office basement on E. Franklin Street. Instructive Visiting Nurses Association nurses assisted by bringing in children for treatment. Graham, Virginia’s first orthopedic surgeon, cared for both black and white patients.
In 1918, Graham’s clinic officially became the Crippled Children’s Hospital. It operated out of Dooley Hospital, funded by Major James H. Dooley, and the Medical College of Virginia’s Memorial Hospital. In 1928, a bequest by Sallie May Dooley, wife of Major Dooley, provided funds for a permanent building on Brook Road. In 1982, the hospital changed its name to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond. Today, the hospital operates a full array of children’s health programs. In 2010, the Children’s Hospital joined the VCU Health System.
The Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross was founded in 1917 in response to World War I in Europe. Eight days after the United States declared war on Germany, the chapter opened. Besides providing war and humanitarian services, the Richmond Chapter assists local residents with disaster relief resources; training in first aid, water safety and home nursing; blood donation coordination; and other volunteer services. In 1992, the organization changed its name to the Greater Richmond Chapter to reflect its regional outreach.
The Richmond Chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities opened on April 15, 1980 to provide an affordable, supportive place for out-of-town families to stay while their children are being treated at Richmond hospitals and medical facilities. In addition to the house, the charity operates family rooms for relatives of patients of the VCU Health System and awards scholarships and community grants.
In 1967, the Richmond Council of Women’s Organizations, assisted by local churches and a federal grant, began Meals on Wheels (MOW). Designed to deliver meals to seniors, disabled individuals and other homebound residents, MOW now serves more than 750 individuals in 14 localities.
Thirty churches and charities founded the Central Virginia Food Bank (CVFB) in 1980. The CVFB serves as a clearinghouse for collecting and distributing food to hungry children, families and seniors. Named the nation’s best food bank in 1998, the CVFB works with feeding programs in 36 localities to deliver more than 70,000 pounds of food daily.
In recent years, MOW and CVFB have increasingly partnered together, including shared delivery vehicles and a food preparation kitchen. In 2008, this partnership culminated in the formation of FeedMore. This umbrella organization’s goals include increasing efficiencies and reducing waste in order to fight hunger more effectively.
Among Richmond’s street shelters, the Daily Planet is one of its most well-known. The organization opened at the corner of Canal and Belvidere streets in 1986. The Planet provided day shelter, free breakfasts, and mail, shower and laundry facilities for its visitors. In 2005, the Planet moved to W. Grace Street and began to shift its services to emphasize rehabilitation. In addition to its day shelter, the Planet now operates health service sites for children, the mentally ill, and those battling substance abuse. It also has partnerships with sports and arts programs and provides job counseling and placement services.
Father Andrew J. Van Camp, coordinator of Richmond's downtown soup-kitchen ministry, talks with Brazilian students in the parish hall of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The students were visiting Richmond to study social services. Like many of Richmond’s religious centers, part of St. Paul’s mission includes providing food to the area’s homeless and food insecure families through its soup kitchen and food pantry.
In 1976, Millard and Linda Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity in Georgia. Habitat’s mission is to eliminate international homelessness and to create affordable housing. Future owners work with volunteers to construct simple, well-built homes. In addition to a modest down payment, owners pay a mortgage with zero interest. Since its founding, Habitat has coordinated construction of more than 400,000 homes for more than 2 million people around the world.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity completed its first houses in 1988 in Church Hill and the Randolph neighborhood. In 2009, Richmond Habitat created Virginia’s first community land trust in South Richmond. The trust enables homeowners to lease land but own their home, which reduces costs and encourages mixed-income communities. Richmond Habitat operates ReStore, a discount retail store that sells donated furnishings and home improvement supplies.
In 1885, Methodist minister William Booth established the Christian Mission Center in East London for the city’s poor and homeless. Booth changed the name to The Salvation Army in 1878, using military terms to organize the evangelical Christian movement. By the early 20th century, the Army had an international presence, with its various “corps” providing food depots, day nurseries and missionary hospitals.
The Richmond Corps No. 1 opened on S. Linden Street in 1885. Richmond would eventually have three corps that operated youth clubs, a men’s home and the Evangeline Booth Home and Hospital for unwed mothers. Today, The Salvation Army Central Virginia Area Command manages more than forty programs in the region, including emergency and substance abuse shelters, disaster assistance, family services, Christmas assistance, a boys and girls club, and worship centers.
Methodist minister Reverend Edgar Helms founded Goodwill Industries in 1902 in Boston. He intended to give away donated clothing and shoes but soon switched to creating employment opportunities. Goodwill came to Richmond in 1923. During 1930s, the Citizens’ Service Exchange, a “cooperative self-help exchange,” worked closely with Goodwill. In 1945, the two organizations merged into Richmond Goodwill Industries, Inc.
Today, Goodwill provides job training, employment services and financial education for disadvantaged and disabled individuals. The revenue generated by Goodwill’s retail stores, outlets and auctions supports these community programs.
Curator — Meg Hughes, Curator of Archives
Creator — Kelsey Cunningham, Intern