The archive consists of the records of The Girls' Friendly Society, including minutes, reports, organisational files, volumes of memoranda, recipe books, and personal papers of members. There are printed materials and publications such as journals, magazines and books. The archive also includes objects, particularly photographs, badges and banners.
Records of The Girls' Friendly Society
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 106 5GFS
- Dates of Creation1800-2001
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description254 A boxes, 5 OS boxes, 1 album, and 24 banners (1 folder uncatalogued)
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
The Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) (1875-fl.2008) was founded in 1875 by Mrs Mary Townsend (1841-1918). Mrs Townsend lived in the countryside and was a committed Christian, two aspects that influenced her work as a reformer. Townsend was concerned about unmarried girls who went from the countryside to work in large towns, often as servants or as factory workers. These girls were cut off from their families and friends and Townsend thought there should be a way to help these girls experience friendship and recreation in a fellowship of Christian love and service. Mrs Townsend initially worked with a rescue organisation in the Anglican Diocese of Winchester. She then put forward her ideas to other Anglicans who were interested in girls' welfare and in May 1874 a meeting was held at Lambeth Palace to discuss her ideas. This meeting was attended by five figures who helped to establish the Society: Mrs Tait, Mrs Harold Browne, Mrs Nassau Senior, the Reverend TV Fosbery and Mrs Townsend. During 1874 some small groups of girls with an 'Associate' leader began to meet and the Society was officially established on 1 Jan 1875. During 1874 the first lodge opened, St. Jude's Servant Home Brixton, and a list of seventy-one Associate members had been compiled. By 1 Jan 1875 work had started in four dioceses. One of the four dioceses was Winchester where Mrs Harold Browne, the wife of the Bishop, was a key supporter and three branches were speedily formed. Two associate members from Winchester Diocese were to become very important to the GFS: Mrs Joyce, who became a pioneer of protected Emigration for girls and women; and Charlotte Yonge, Winchester Diocesan Head of Literature, and a member of Winchester Diocesan Council. From 1875 the Mothers' Union of the Anglican Church became an Associate of the GFS - this began a long-term relationship between the two organisations. By the end of 1875 twenty-five branches had started work in fifteen Dioceses; the Associates numbered one thousand, while there were between two and three thousand Members. By 1878 the Society had branches throughout Britain. Branches were formed in manufacturing cities like Leeds and Manchester, whilst the Archbishop of York consented to become a Patron of the 'Northern Province'. There were also branches in Scotland and Ireland. The Society also spread to America, where it was first started in Nov 1877, by Elizabeth Mason, a rector's daughter in Lowell Massachusetts.
AIMS: The name of the Society was chosen to reflect ideals of Christian fellowship. 'Friendship' was seen as a gift and should be open to every girl or young woman willing to join, whilst as a 'Society', they could resolve that 'the world' should be 'bettered by banded womanhood', through the strong force of united prayer and activity. The objective of the Society was " to bind together in one society Ladies as Associates and working girls and young men as members for mutual help (religious and secular) for sympathy and for prayer to encourage purity of life, dutifullness to parents, faithfulness to employers and thrift'". In reality the society solely consisted of women, most of whom were unmarried and relatively young. The 'virtuousness' of character of the members was stressed as of key importance.
STRUCTURE: The structure of the Society began with the 'Branch' the informal groups of members that were led by an 'Associate'. From 1897 younger girls from ages seven to fourteen joined as 'Candidates'. Branches spread rapidly with membership being strongest in the countryside. As membership grew and the functions of the Society became more varied the initial simple, centralised organisation also needed to develop. Initially there were four Departments established at the first Central Meeting in 1877. By 1879 there were six Departments, and a Finance Committee had been appointed. Also in 1879 a conference of branch secretaries considered the necessity of appointing a Secretary of Council to relieve Townsend's workload. The titles of the early 'Departments', reflect the scope of the work: Girls in Factories, Girls in Business, Workhouse Girls, Registries, Industrial Training, Sick Members, Needlework, Literature (including libraries), Lodges and Homes of Rest. These 'Departments' did much work in improving the conditions in which girls worked, in finding jobs, in providing training, living accommodation, books, magazines, in catering for holidays and for girls whose health had broken down. The regional structure of the society reflected that of the Church of England: i.e. the parish and the diocese. A Central Council with London Headquarters led the Society, the offices were originally at Brixton, then Vauxhall Bridge Road, and after two more moves spent forty-eight years in Victoria. As more overseas groups were established, 'Treaties' were made with the various Societies so that in each country the GFS was independent. Also, in England and Wales, though Central Council decided matters of policy and constitution each Diocese had an amount of freedom (and by meeting local needs retained local characteristics).
DEVELOPMENT: As the Society became established resources the Departments and their resources were developed. Equally, as social conditions improved some services ceased to be required. Hence, the Barbazon Home for incurably sick members and the Meath Home for epileptics ceased to be needed when the hospital services improved. The need for books, training courses and employment bureaux came to be provided by the local authority. However, residential hostels and holiday houses continued to be needed, and girls continued to want the opportunity offered by the branch meeting of worshipping, relaxing and giving service together.
CONSTITUTION: The approval of the Constitution followed a lengthy consultation period. The draft constitution was prepared for the Meeting of the Central Council on 4 Jun 1878. It was further considered at meetings and was trialled throughout 1879 with practical feedback from all levels of the Society. The Constitution was then discussed by the Anglican Church, on 1 Feb 1880 it was discussed at a Bishops' meeting held at Lambeth, with special attention to the sections dealing with the relation of the Society to the Church, and the standard of Purity, as essential to membership. During May 1880, the final meetings with regards to the Constitution and amendments were held in the National Society's room in Westminster, the President met with representatives from the twenty-six Dioceses in which the GFS was working at this time. The close link between the Church and the Society was testified to in the opening clauses, which stated that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York should be ex-officio Presidents, and the Bishops of the two Provinces ex-officio Vice-Presidents of the Society. The importance of the Central Rules was indicated and their permanence guaranteed by the last chapter, which contained the clause that they should not be altered without the consent of a majority of Associates and Members of the Society. Over the passing of time this clause was put into operation for various reasons and the Rules, though not altered, were re-affirmed and re-worded. 1880, the year which witnessed the completion of the Constitution was marked also by the consent of Queen Victoria becoming its Patron.
CENTRAL OFFICE: Although the branches were decentralised (in a similar way to the Women's Institute structure) the Central Office carried out key responsibilities. The Central Office started under the charge of Miss Hawkesley in St Jude's Home, Brixton, it was moved in 1877 to 245, Vauxhall Bridge Road, at the close of 1881 it was transferred to 5 Victoria Mansions and again in 1892 to 39 Victoria Street, in 1925 the GFS established in its final home in Townsend House. The increasing amount and variety of the work done within its walls marked each move. In 1911 the Central Council took the step that the Society be registered as a company under the Companies Act. A separate committee was appointed to deal with the subject, and the constitution was revised appropriately. The first meeting of the 'Incorporated Central Council' as its full title became, was held on Nov 1913. The Central Council then met three times a year. The President, Vice-Presidents, Heads of Departments, Correspondents and Elected Members were elected annually by the whole Council. Among the functions of the Central Council was that of key appointments, such as the Society Solicitors, Secretary, the Executive members, and members of the GFS committees.
WARTIME & INTERWAR: During both World Wars, the GFS hostels housed many girls on war work and in 1914 the hostels in the South took in many women who had returned destitute from jobs on the Continent. There was the 'White Horse' project when an East End London pub was taken over as a social centre. Notices were also posted in railway station ladies-waiting- rooms, giving an address where girls temporarily stranded could apply for help. From the 1920s GFS Summer Camps were the only holiday possible for many girls. In 1922, the Reading Union held a week at Winchester House, Shanklin that foreshadowed the Summer schools held much later in the 1990s - proving the popularity and need for this service. The Princess Mary Caravan, was the first mobile training and publicity unit, established in 1922. A second caravan was bought in 1964 when money became available through the King George V Jubilee Trust. In some areas close links with the Guide movement were made and branches were of GFS Guides and Brownies. The first mixed branch, locally known as the 'G and B', was started during the war of 1939-1945. Yet, apart from that 'White Crusade' the driving sense of purpose seemed lacking during these years and membership numbers reduced.
THE TOWNSEND MEMBER'S FELLOWSHIP: One important decision was made during the period: the creation of the Townsend Member's Fellowship. In England and Wales, members had continued to belong to the Society long after they had ceased to be 'Girls'. In the USA it was agreed that except for leaders and officials there should be no adult members of the Society, but in England and Wales the Townsend Member's Fellowship, later to become the The Townsend Fellowship, was started in 1947. The Townsend Fellowship came to have its own officers, meetings and programme material, but maintained its close link with the GFS.
ACTIVITIES: Holidays for deprived children, story time, hospital visiting - these three services reflect the pattern that developed in the GFS. In the early days of the organisation, members operated for being 'Good', this changed over the years to 'Useful'. An emphasis on leadership training developed: both the training for working as a leader which was needed in a professional society, but also a perceived need for Christian leaders in an increasingly secular world. This was one of the reasons for the development of training course for girls in industry, which was tried experimentally in 1996, and became an important part of the Society's work.
HOSTELS: Winchester House, Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight, was given to the Society in 1893 was particularly important to the Society. For a period it was used as a war convalescent home. Later in the 20th century it was used for Summer schools, as a parish holiday centre and for conferences. In 1955, an International Conference was held there, which led, the following year, to the formation of the Girls' Friendly Society World Council.
WORLD COUNCIL: The first World Council, in 1956, was held in Switzerland: with subsequent meetings in Australia, Ireland, Japan and the USA. These meetings made it possible for officials and members to meet their counterparts from across the world. The Council discussed matters of common interest such as programme material and leadership training, as well as sponsorship of particular projects such as those in Korea, Guyana and the Philippines. The launch of World Day of Prayer, taking place on the 29 September, indicated the importance to members of the GFS as a global Society.
As at 2008 the work done by the GFS was still in great demand. The Society continued to exist under the name 'GFS Platform'. As one of the first charities set up to work with young women in England and Wales, GFS had a valuable history and extensive experience of providing care and support for girls and young women.
Mary Elizabeth Townsend (1841-1918) was the founder of The Girls Friendly Society (GFS). This was the first organised society for women and girls in connection with the Church of England. Mrs Townsend began to think of the Girls Friendly Society during the winter of 1871-1872 but did not approach the leaders of the Church of England until 1874 that definite steps were taken to shape the organisation. The meeting 'of five' took place in May 1874 at Lambeth Palace and included: Mrs Tair, Mrs Harold Browne, Mars Nassau Senior, Mrs Townsend and the Rev TV Fosbery Vicar of St Giles, Reading. They decided that the society should be called the 'The Girl's Friendly Society'. The Girls Friendly Society officially started on 1 Jan 1875, with Mrs Townsend elected President. Mary Townsend edited the journal, Friendly Leaves, first issued quarterly in 1876, but increased to monthly in 1877. Due to overwork Mrs Townsend had a breakdown in health; in Jun 1879 it was proposed that all branch secretaries and council members would subscribe towards the cost of a Travelling Secretary to assist Mrs Townsend. Mrs Townsend was President of the Central Council until 1882 when she gave up the office and the Hon Lady Grey was elected in her place. Mrs Townsend undertook the Department for Members and also the editorship of the Society's magazines for the next five years. Then in 1890, on Lady Grey's resignation she again took up the post of President until 1901 when Mrs Chaloner Chute took over. After her husband, Frederick Townsend, died on 16 Dec 1905 Mrs Townsend excused herself from GFS work for a year, but thereafter returned to assist the organisation. In particular she developed links with Mrs Temple, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Missionary Society . Mrs Townsend also formed a Church Needlework Guild, which was subsequently named "The Guild of Church Needlecrafts". In 1914 Mrs Townsend had an operation which, although successful, took her a long time to recover from. Her health deteriorated (influenza and neuralgia). Mary Elizabeth Townsend died on 14 Jun 1918.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.
The first deposit of 230 boxes was made in 2003 from GFS Platform, Townsend House, London. Additional accruals are expected.
Other Finding Aids
The Women's Library Catalogue