Inside Foundant – the Blog

Doing good since 1831 – The Union Benevolent Association


I’ve been with Foundant for 5 months now and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we have amazing clients! Many of you have very interesting and wonderful stories that we don’t want to keep to ourselves. So, each month we will choose a client to feature and share their story with the rest of the Foundant Community. This month, we’ve chosen The Union Benevolent Association which is one of the oldest charities in existence in the United States, dating back to 1831. I hope you enjoy the story of how they began and how they’ve evolved into the organization they are today.

If your organization has a great story, let me know, I’d love to feature you too! Send me an email at

I can’t wait to hear from you!
Tiffany Maierle
Client Communications Manager
877-297-0043 x157



The Union Benevolent Association, the oldest Philadelphia charity in continuous existence and one of the oldest in the United States, was founded in 1831 and incorporated in 1837. Thus, it was one of the pioneers in the first great age of private charity in human history. Its purpose, as stated in the quaint language of the last century, was “the encouragement of industry, the suppression of pauperism, and the relief of suffering among the worthy poor.”

Because of its venerable age – the Association is far older, for example, than the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross – it was available throughout most of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century to assist directly both the native poor and those who had fled Europe and the British Isles with the most meager of resources and who were trying to establish themselves in a large northern city. It was in a position to aid, among many others, some of the survivors of the devastating Irish famines of the eighteen-forties.

The Association was organized as a public trust to which contributions of money, clothing and fuel were solicited and distributions made to the poor through district committees. The distributions were based on the recommendations of agents and committees of volunteer Visitors who determined the specific needs of the poor in those districts. For more than a century, the Union Benevolent Association maintained a staff and provided direct relief to the poor in the form of food, fuel, and clothing. Coal stoves were lent to many families with the name of the Association embossed upon them. Both professional workers and volunteers carried out the mission of the Association.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the government; city, state and federal, had become more and more involved in all aspects of public assistance. It was no longer feasible for so small an organization to provide direct relief in a city of increasing size and complexity, nor was the staff able to investigate the large number of requests for aid from many different sources. As a result, the office of the Association was disbanded, and the Board of Managers began to provide grants only through established non-profit organizations of an educational, cultural, or especially charitable nature. This new approach, which has been in effect since 1957, has enabled the Board to operate efficiently and to identify areas of need largely unmet by government or by larger foundations.

To continue reading Union Benevolent’s story, click here.