Celebrating 140 Years of Bringing Health & Hope into the Home
Since our founding in 1877, Family Lifeline is committed to partnering with others. This tradition started as far back as the early 1900’s, when we forged our first collaboration with a local organization sharing a mission. Today in an effort to avoid duplicating services and efforts, Family Lifeline continues to identify partners who complement our existing strengths and competencies. We believe, like our founders, that by joining forces, we bring about more effective services, better results, and a stronger community.
Family Lifeline has flourished for more than a century because we are responsive to the changing needs of those we serve. Our name throughout the years has reflected this evolution – The City Mission (1877), Associated Charities (1905), Family Service Society (1928), Family & Children’s Services (1963) and today, Family Lifeline (2001). As you trace our history below, you’ll discover a vision that is as vibrant today as it was when we were first founded in 1877. Family Lifeline remains uniquely poised to strengthen the lives of families in the home, two generations at a time.
Family Lifeline ties can be traced back more than 200 years to 1788. A group of men called the “Amicable Society of Richmond” performed charitable work that continued for 67 years. After the society disbanded, some of its members and their kin rededicated themselves years later to financing another charitable enterprise. Calling themselves the Citizens Relief Association, they gave their support to their wives and children, who created City Mission.
When is was first founded in 1877 at 14th and Franklin Street, the City Mission was basically a soup house that tended to the hungry. Homeless men and families were fed, given a night’s shelter and then sent on their way. At the time, Richmond had a population of about 55,000 people. Still recovering from Reconstruction from the devastation of the Civil War which had ended in 1865, it was rebuilding its industries, its infrastructures, and its community. Formed by five “society ladies”, City Mission worked towards “the relief of the poor, the care of the sick, and the encouragement of the unfortunate.” (Mrs. Charles Bolling, 1912).
In its first year of operation, the ladies at the City Mission quickly realized that the people who needed their help could not all come to them. So they made it their mission to go to the people, dispensing sick rations, clothes, and fuel. In all, the City Mission visited and relieved 1,200 families in 1877. To fill their great need, the founders soon enlisted other ladies known as “charity visitors” to help on site and in the homes of people in need.
According to the Richmond Dispatch in its January 1, 1878 edition, “The City of Richmond, we are happy to note, has suffered less the past year from the general depress brought about by the monstrous political conditions of the nation than any other city of equal magnitude in the Union.” Among the charities listed in the issue were Home of the Aged Ladies, Female Humane Association, Richmond Male Orphan Asylum, St. Paul’s Church Home, and City Mission.
By the turn of the century, Richmond has more than 85,000 citizens. These growing numbers meant that its needs were mushrooming as well. No longer was it possible for a few well-intentioned women, acting as “Lady Bountiful,” to handle the caseload. A more organized effort with a broader scope was called for — thus the City Mission and its financial supporter, the Citizens Relief Association, joined with the Baptist Council of Richmond and Manchester to form Associated Charities.
The Rev. Dr. James Buchanan become the first paid executive and continued his work until 1919. Even though he directed the work and raised funds, the home visiting and relief work was still being performed by a cadre of volunteers. After 1919, a noticeable shift in philosophy occurred as the agency started to develop a staff of professional workers who had training in schools of social work.
In 1921, the cramped quarters on Franklin Street were replaced with more spacious ones when the agency moved to 221 Governor Street — one of three elegant townhouses known as Morson Row, built in 1853. By this time, the agency was on its way to becoming a modern “casework” agency. Emphasis was being placed not only meeting the people’s immediate needs, but also in trying to correct their troubles.
In September of 1923, despite pleas from the Richmond papers, Associated Charities was forced to suspend operations to due financial woes. Dismayed that such a thing could happen, civic leaders organized a citywide financial drive. The slogan “One Dollar An Hour” was adopted to encourage the working community to pitch in and support the cause. As a result, Associated Charities reopened the following month in November 1923. This crisis led to a movement in 1924 to establish a community fund that would raise funds for all agencies. The board of Associated Charities took an active role in setting up this new organization, called the Community Fund — a predecessor of the United Way.
Just when it looked as though society was gaining momentum, the great economic depression clobbered the nation in 1929. A that time, there was no social security, no aid to children, no grants. Basically there just a few limited funds for emergency relief that came from churches, neighbors, and family members. During the 1930s, the need to help the unemployed was so great that the society carried on its greatest relief program in those years. The agency gave financial aid – the basic food allowance was $1.10 a week- and tried to remedy the cause of need at a time when public welfare was just beginning to be implemented. Close on the trail of unemployment as a major concern was tuberculosis. Limited diets and food allowances, poor clothing and lack of heating brought on by decreased incomes were provided a perfect breeding ground for the deadly disease.
The Richmond New Leader reported in 1935 that “Families whose moral has broken during the past five years of depression form the largest group assisted by Family Service Society.
Leaders within the agency wishing to emphasize the service aspect of its work rather than relief, changed the name to Family Services Society since its work had shifted to helping all types of families – not just the poor – giving them all a place to turn for counseling and guidance.
When the agency was first formed in 1927, the Richmond Children’s Aid Society assumed the responsibility for operating the Myrtle Lawn Home, which has been formed five years earlier to care for Protestant children who were six or younger. Under its new guidelines, it served as a broad, non-sectarian agency open to all.
When the Depression struck in the 1930s, caseworkers were overwhelmed with calls by families in need of help with food and clothing. No sooner had the community weathered the problems associated with the Depression when World War II came and created even greater pressure on families. The agency worked to find homes for mothers and children who were separated from husbands and fathers. After the war, social issues got worse instead of better. The high cost of living, the rapid post-war divorce rate, and financial problems facing young veterans created a complicated mix of circumstances and need.
From 1933 until 1956, the Children’s Aid Society referred children to the Belle Bryan and Southside Day Nurseries. As the Department of Public Works and other government services related to children expanded, the work of the Children’s Aid Society became more specialized, focusing on “hard-to-reach” youth and creating the first group home in the state for teenage girls.
The Decision to join forces came about because it was felt that the needs of the community could be served better if services to both children and families were incorporated into a join agency. “Problems between a wife and husband or parents and children aren’t confined to the adults or the children. They affect the whole family structure,” commented Miss. Marguerite Farmer, executive director, in 1970.
During the 1960s, the organization developed a variety of programs that addressed family needs. As part of the Family Life Education Program, it went out and made presentations to large groups at churches and schools on family issues. Family Counseling Services, which brought families to the site, built quite a reputation for dealing with marital problems. And the ’60s revolution of “peace and love” created a huge runaway problem with teens that led to the establishment of the Oasis House in 1972. Senior Services, now our Programming for Older Adults, took root during this period and is still going strong today!
At the close of the century, a major philosophical shift occurred. Instead of having people come to the agency for services, the agency focused on going out into the community where people live, work and learn. Since so many avenues for individual counseling had become available, the agency phased out its clinical services and focused on breaking new ground.
In 2001, the organization changed names again, to Family Lifeline in an effort to reflect the growing involvement of our programs in clients’ lives. As the name indicates, we were truly becoming a lifeline for all families. Our programs serve thousands of families during all stages of life — from infancy to the senior years. We provide families with the tools and resources needed to create a better future for themselves and their community.
In 2011, Family Lifeline and Children’s Health Involving Parents (CHIP) merged to better serve the community. By combining resources, we are able to better provide families with stronger programs that reach all areas of the Greater Richmond Area. Today, we are the largest nonprofit provider of intensive home-based services in the Central Virginia region.
As the organization has changed over the years, we have taken on a different role and responsibilities. From simple soup kitchen in its infancy to a sophisticated network of partnerships and relationships with other community-mind organizations, Family Lifeline continues to evolve, grow, and flourish. 140 years later, the original vision of our founders continues to ring true. Family Lifeline continues to offer individuals and families health and hope.