One night in 1871, C. R. Mossman found a sick and helpless woman on the streets of Scranton, in need of protection and care. Moved to establish a permanent means of helping this woman and others like her, he enlisted the help of several prominent citizens.
Poverty was not new to the city. Scranton had its own Poor District and a board of directors that oversaw it. But women and children had their own specific set of needs and concerns. This was an era before public welfare systems as we know them today, and women whose husbands had died or were incapacitated and who were unable to support themselves had very few options. Single women arrived in the city in large numbers to work in the booming industries. If they fell ill or lost a job for some reason, they often had no one to look after them. Such women were, indeed, friendless.
Mr. Mossman and his colleagues made a plea to members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, which in turn appealed to the ladies of the community to take on the cause of providing for women and children.
A group of women met at the YMCA on Sept. 27, 1871. They elected a board of directors, and at a second meeting held on the 29th, they presented the association’s constitution and by-laws. With money provided by the poor directors, they leased an eight-room house at Franklin Avenue and Linden Street and partially furnished it.
The organization took the name Society of the Home for the Friendless Women and Children of the City of Scranton. Anyone could become a member. Annual dues were $3. At an Oct. 6 meeting, 50 women became members, three of them for life by the payment of $50 each.
Seven women and nine children were admitted to the home. According to the first annual treasurer’s report, the society’s income for that first year was $1,787.24, and the expenses were $834.79. The organization continued to grow. The next year, the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Co. donated a lot on Adams Avenue, where Scranton Technical HIgh School would later stand. A new home was built, and the society gave up the residence on Franklin Avenue.
Surviving accounts of the meetings and reports attest to the charitable nature of this organization. In 1874, recording secretary Mrs. H.F. Warren wrote, in the overly poetic language of the time: “At present there are 15 inmates, all of whom are cases which appeal strongly to our sympathies — one an old woman whose sands of life are nearly run, and who after a life of toil, longs to enter upon her eternal rest.”
There was also “a friendless German girl who came to us sick, miserable and helpless, with the story of her life written upon her sallow, forbidding face, but who, under the influence of care, kindness and comfort, has brightened into cheerfulness.”
That same year in the house lived three motherless children whose invalid father, after struggling to provide for them, reluctantly gave over their care to the society.
There was also “one bright little boy of two years, fatherless and motherless, for whom there beats no heart on this broad earth,” as Mrs. Warren described him.
These individuals, and many others in need, were cared for by the society. The women who ran the organization conducted open houses and other types of fundraising events to keep the home in operation.
Today, the organization exists as Friendship House, carrying on the good work inspired so long ago by one woman found alone and in need on the streets of Scranton.