Philanthropists and Volunteers

Beginning in the mid-19th century, American women committed to philanthropy and social reform began to organize anti-slavery and charitable groups. These benevolent activities were socially appropriate and acceptable for women, especially those who were educated, wealthy, and who lacked any other outlet for their energies. Charity and reform movements targeting the poor, the ill, orphaned or neglected children, schools, and asylums sprang up in response to the increasing need for humanitarian services resulting from the industrialization, urbanization and immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Whether through the donation of time, money, or both, women contributed to the founding, management, and success of charitable institutions throughout the United States. While business and many professional careers were closed to women, humanitarian activities – especially those involving the health and welfare of children – were the natural extensions of the “women’s sphere” of that time: homemaking, child-rearing, and nurturing others.

Women played a vital role in the establishment and management of several Missouri hospitals in the late 19th century. Through women’s leadership and contributions of time and money, the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis and St. Louis Children’s Hospital were started, fostered and developed into premiere medical institutions. The driving vision and passion of women fueled the establishment of social welfare organizations, such as local YWCA branches and the Missouri Association for Occupational Therapy.


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