The Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia was formed in 1835 by members of Union Methodist and St. George's Methodist Churches. They intended to meet the spiritual needs of the city through prayer and preaching and by establishing Sabbath-schools and distributing bibles. Their attention was soon drawn to the material needs of the city's destitute and began providing relief to widows, children, and the elderly who were found living in severe poverty.
The society recognized that it could not continue such an endeavor without financial support from outside the Methodist Church. In 1845 the Home Missionary Society reorganized and became incorporated as a non-sectarian organization. As a result of this reorganization, the society received assistance from various denominations including the Baptist Church and the Presbyterian Church. By 1870 the society was located at 533 Arch Street, where it remained until 1926 when it relocated to 56 North 5th Street.
The organization changed its name in 1955 to the Home Missionary Child Care Society and again in 1960 to the Inter-Church Child Care Society. In 1980, the society merged with the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children From Cruelty (organized in 1877) to form the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children.
Scope and content
The Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia's visiting book contains the chronological records of 5,067 visits made to the homes of city residents who were in need of assistance. The pages are divided into five entries, each of which includes a section for name, address, color, nativity, religious denomination, number in family, general remarks, and "recommended by." Each entry also contains a section that includes the initials of the HMS member who visited the home, when the visit occurred, and the relief provided. Relief consisted of varying amounts of coal, groceries, cash, and apparel.
The names of the visiting members of the society are not provided; only their initials (J.B., E.H.T., and J.W.F.) provide a clue to their identities. In an 1885 history of the Home Missionary Society, there is a list of members of the Standing Committees of the Board. The list includes a missionary John Barry, a visitor J.W. Field, and a general agent Emanuel H. Toland. (See Henry E. Dwight's History of The Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia, 1835- 1885.) The earliest entries in the visiting book indicate that visits were made by all three of the society's representatives, but E.H.T.'s name stops appearing in late 1883 and only reappears once, in August 1885. The majority of the visits were performed by J.B., who visited homes throughout the year. J.W.F. conducted visits mostly in the late fall through mid-spring. Visits made by the 5th Ward Relief Association are also noted.
The society made most of it visits from October through April. Throughout these months, it provided coal in denominations of one-quarter or one-half ton to needy households. It also provided packages of groceries. In many cases, sums of money, from $.25 to $1.50, were provided along with the groceries. Apparel was seldom provided. Entries vary in the amount of relief given. Coal was provided to nearly every home in the winter months and to a number of homes during the summer. Some households received only coal, while other received groceries, cash, and apparel.
J.B. and J.W.F. were quite busy during the winter months, visiting several households each day. On January 16, 1885, eighteen homes were visited, thirteen by J.W.F. and five by J.B. They did not limit their visits to small areas, but covered large sections of neighborhoods. On this day J.W.F. traversed twelve blocks from 740 South Street to 1820 South 9th Street, then eleven blocks to 1420 South 16th, with ten other stops along the way.
By April the number of visits was greatly reduced. On April 3, 1885, J.B. made only two visits. Two more were made on the 6th. The reason for the disparity in the number of visits for the summer and winter months is uncertain. The society may have become stretched financially in the summer after providing large amounts of relief through the winter, or they may not have found it necessary to provide so much relief in the summer.
In addition to documenting the relief distributed, these concise entries provide information on the people and neighborhoods visited. The names of those visited were all of women. Some lived by themselves, but most were married with children or raising children alone. Although the entries are brief, they are moving. Mary McDonald lived with her son who was out of work and sickly. Ellen Mock lived with her daughter who had two children and was deserted by her husband. Fredonia Lowry's husband was dying and Fredonia Kughler was alone and aged. The oldest of Mary Barber's six children was a thirteen-year old girl who had a baby by a "Chinaman."
The people visited were all of various Christian denominations. Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics were all visited and given aid. The majority of those visited were white, but several "colored" households were also visited and provided with relief.
According to the section for nativity, the woman interviewed were divided almost evenly between those native to Philadelphia, those who immigrated from overseas, and those who were from other parts of Pennsylvania and nearby states including Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. Immigrants were predominantly from Ireland, Scotland, and Germany, although occasionally an entry appears for other countries, including Italy and Sweden.
The addresses of the homes are provided along with the nationality of the women interviewed. This information illustrates the areas that were visited and provides insight into the ethnic composition of neighborhoods. The HMS visited a large portion of the city, including a lengthy stretches between Ridge Avenue and Carpenter Street and from Front Street to several blocks west of Broad Street.
When correlating the addresses and nationalities it is possible to find pockets of ethnic groups within the city. Several women from Ireland lived along the 1300 to 1500 blocks of Hancock Street and the 1300 block of nearby Charlotte Street (the name was changed to Orianna Street in 1897). At times, there are consecutive entries with the same ethnicity. On June 15, 1886, J.B. visited three Irish families in different parts of the city, visiting Mary Heiss at 1311 Charlotte Street, Mary Dugan at 2645 Somerset Street, and Julia Malloy at 148 South 4th Street. It is likely that these women knew one another and recommended that the HMS visit these households. Unfortunately, the section entitled "recommended by" was rarely completed, making it difficult to fully discern possible connections between households.
The collection is open for research.
Cite as: [Indicate cited page(s) here], Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia Visiting Book (Collection 3036), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Processed by Steven Smith, 2003. Processing made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This volume has been cleaned for mold.
Dwight, Henry E., History of The Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia, 1835-1885. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1885.
Philadelphia Society for Services to Children, "History and Mission," http://www.libertynet.org/~pssc/history.html
Toll, Jean Barth and Mildred S. Gillam. Invisible Philadelphia: Community Through Volunter Organizations. Philadelphia: Atwater Kent Museum, 1995.