The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor was established in 1795 by Anne Parrish, a young Quaker woman who wished to address the issues of poverty which had become aggravated following the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. She founded the society with the help of 23 other Quaker women, who began travelling around the city seeking those in need, especially the widows and children of Yellow Fever victims. At first, help was given in the form of food, clothing, or money for fuel. Soon, the Female Society decided that more permanent help was necessary, and that it would be more productive to give the needy a way to earn their own money. The Female Society established a House of Industry, which employed women to spin flax and wool. In 1799, to accommodate those workers with young children, a daycare center was opened at the House of Industry, possibly the first of its kind in the country. The Female Society was incorporated in 1815, and established a constitution and by-laws. The House of Industry reached its peak around 1854, when it employed 154 women and had 73 children in the nursery. In 1916, the Female Society joined the Philadelphia Society for the Instruction and Employment of the Poor to establish the Catherine Street House of Industry. By this time, more jobs had been made available to women elsewhere, so the majority of the Female Society’s workers were elderly and in need of less physically strenuous occupations. In the Catherine Street House of Industry, the women sewed for hospitals and other charity organizations in exchange for small weekly wages and a hot meal every day. The sewing room was closed in 1949, and the Female Society established in its place the Friends House for Older Neighbors. In 1959, the Female Society established a new, larger organization called the Philadelphia Center for Older People, which included non-Quakers and men on its board. Today, the Philadelphia Center for Older People has evolved into the Philadelphia Senior Center.
The collection includes mostly administrative records, as well as pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and photographs from major gatherings and events. The charter from the Female Society’s incorporation in 1815 is also included. The collection spans from the Female Society’s founding in 1795, until 1978.