The Souvenir of Western Women/The Ladies' Relief Society

The Ladies' Relief Society

MARCH 20, 1867, a little band of women met in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Third and Washington streets, to consider how best to systematize their efforts for the relief of the poor of Portland. Previous to this the few families needing aid were chiefly those who had crossed the plains, and who had exhausted their little means. When, in the fall, the long trains of emigrant wagons wended their way down through the valleys they were cordially met and their wants relieved. Thirty-two ladies composed the society, which was then organized under the name of the "Ladies' Relief Society." These women represented no one denomination.

For several years the mode of raising funds was by giving various kinds of entertainments, the well remembered amateur concerts, literary festivals, sociables, bazaars and charity balls. These were liberally patronized by all classes of citizens.

In a few years the great number of forsaken and neglected children appealed strongly to the sympathies of the members of the society, and the need of a home where they could be kept and cared for was discussed. A committee was appointed to look for a suitable house and also for a matron to take charge of it.

July 8, 1871, a special meeting was called to consider the expediency of purchasing a piece of land and erecting a building. The minutes of that meeting read as follows: "Two lots and a small house across the creek have been offered for sale at $2000, which business men think cheap and desirable for our purpose." It was unanimously voted that the purchase be made.

Since at that time an incorporation composed of women only could not legally hold real estate, some of the leading business men of the city became members of the relief society, and acted as its board of trustees.

In 1880 a block of land in South Portland, on Corbett street, was donated by Henry Villard, of New York. Through the liberality of friends the handsome and commodious building erected upon it and now occupied as "The Home" was completed in November. 1884, free of debt. Beautiful grounds surround the home. From its broad verandas almost the entire city is in view, also the river and the mountains, above which arise the two great snow peaks, Hood and St. Helens.

The home accommodates 100 children. The age limits are, for girls, from 3 to 14 years; for boys, from 3 to 10 years. The nurseries are large and well supplied with beautiful toys and nursery books, showered upon the home by the children of the well-to-do and the rich. who delight to share their numerous gifts with the poor ones who find shelter here.

More than 2000 children have been cared for, many of whom were placed, by adoption, in good families, and have grown up useful members of society.