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Travelers' Aid Society of Virginia. VH

 
 

 

Biographical History

The concept for the Travelers' Aid Society grew out of the gold rush to the United States' West in the early 1850's. In 1851, Bryan Mullanhy, former mayor of St. Louis, left more than a third of his million dollar fortune in a trust fund to be administered by the St. Louis City Council for those persons who were "traveling to the West." The National Travelers' Aid Society was an offspring of this initial generous offering. The Travelers' Aid Society of Virginia based and founded in Richmond, Virginia, was organized by the Young Women's Christian Association. In 1909, Helen Beardsley was employed by the Y.W.C.A. as the Travelers' Aid Secretary and in that capacity she served under a committee known as the Travelers' Aid Committee. The principal aim of this committee was to provide protective work for young women. Beardsley eventually expanded the committee's aim to include not only young women but also unwed mothers with children, foreigners, and the physically disabled. As the sole full-time employee, Beardsley's work-load increased so dramatically in the first five years that by 1914-1915 the committee was compelled to organize an independent society named the Travelers' Aid Society of Virginia with two full-time workers, Helen Beardsley and Irene Fallis. The organization operated out of Byrd Street Station in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

In 1914 the Travelers' Aid Society of Virginia became a member of the National Travelers' Aid Society based in New York. Beardsley and Fallis worked as the only full-time employees until their health deteriorated and they were forced to resign. At that time Miss Earl Recks became executive secretary. Under her supervision case work began and donations from professional men, successful local businesses, the railroad companies, and even the state were solicited. With the securement of sufficient funds, new Travelers' Aid branches were organized in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Petersburg, and Newport News, Virginia.

During World War I, the Travelers' Aid Society took on new responsibility by helping traveling soldiers and their families. They also began to serve those in need without regard to race, creed, color, sex or age. In 1917 the first African-American employee was hired by the organization. After the war and during the Great Depression, Travelers' Aid workers continued to take on heavier and heavier case loads. Through a combination of private and state support, the organization continued to lend assistance to those travelers in need. During World War II, the Travelers' Aid Society operated as a branch of the United Service Organization. In Richmond Travelers' Aid case workers lent aid to traveling soldiers who stopped at the Lounge at Broad Street Station. They provided magazines and books, helped check their luggage and reserve a room, rendered first aid, and provided letter-writing paper and mail facilities, among other services. Public service like that offered during the World Wars and the Great Depression have enabled the organization to remain the oldest, existing, non-sectarian, social welfare movement in the United States.

From the finding aid for Travelers' Aid Society of Virginia, Records, 1914-1991 ()

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