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COLLECTION Identifier: B/A512f

Minute books of the American Female Moral Reform Society, 1834-1841

Overview

Minute books of American Female Moral Reform Society, an organization whose mission was to combat prostitution, provide aid for the poor, reform prisons, and promote Christianity.

Dates

  • 1834-1841

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Originals closed; researchers must use digital images.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the American Female Moral Reform Society as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Extent

2 folders
The collection consists of two bound manuscript volumes, with the first volume containing minutes, the constitution, lists of names and addresses of the 210 members of the New York Female Moral Reform Society. The second volume includes the initial constitution and officers list of the American Female Moral Reform Society and subsequent minutes. In addition to recording the Society's day-to-day work, there are also accounts of its decision not to affiliate with the male-dominated and financially floundering American Reform Society; an account of the reasoning behind the change of the society's name from "New York" to "American" Female Moral Reform Society; and of a crisis involving the Society's "publishing agent," Reverend Charles Yale whom they suspected of embezzlement. Several pages of the second book address this issue, which took some time to resolve. The Society was also invited to provide testimony as part of a grand jury investigation into the work of abortionist Madame Restell in 1841 and there are references to this in the second book.

HISTORY NOTE

The New York Female Moral Reform Society was founded in 1834, with its first annual meeting held on May 15, 1835. The Society, whose initial goal was the combating of prostitution in New York City, was formed during a time of widespread moral reform movements throughout the United States. It was initially formed as an auxiliary of the American Society for Promoting the Observance of the Seventh Commandment but eventually became an independent entity. The Society's first director was Lydia Root Andrews Finney; her husband, Charles Grandison Finney, was a leader in the Protestant religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. The Society, whose membership consisted of white middle class women, modeled itself on the work of the temperance movement and also drew on the work of reformer J.R. McDowall. Its initial aim was to prevent prostitution outright: members petitioned local legislators to make prostitution illegal, denounced men who frequented brothels, and visited houses of prostitution in order to pray for the prostitutes and their clients.

The Society's mission grew to include offering assistance and instruction to women who had already become prostitutes, in the hope this would enable them to leave the profession. The Society established a home for former prostitutes, resolving "that the house provided for profligate females be regarded, not as a prison, nor as a place for the pecuniary benefit of the Society but as a place, of industry, where each female by the profits, of her own industry, will board herself and that after each inmate has defrayed the expenses of her own board & clothing, that the balance due her, be deposited, for her, in the Savings Bank." The organization also sought to address the needs of the homeless and indigent, advocated for prison reform and on behalf of seamen, and strove to promote Christianity through missions and the distribution of moral and religious tracts. The Society's newsletter, Advocate of Moral Reform, included essays on religion and morality, excerpts from the reports of the Bethel Missionary, who visited ships to distribute religious literature and offer religious guidance to sailors, and reports of the Visiting Committee. By 1839, the Society had over four hundred auxiliaries in the United States. To reflect its widening influence, its name was changed to the American Female Moral Reform Society that year. The name changed several more times over the years, ultimately becoming the American Female Guardian Society and Home for the Friendless in 1887.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2015-M202

The minute books of the American Female Moral Reform Society were acquired from Savoy Books by the Schlesinger Library in November 2015.

Processing Information

Processed: November 2015

By: Anne Engelhart.

Updated and additional description added: July 2020

By: Susan Earle.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.
Link to catalog
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by Radcliffe Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.
EAD ID
sch01876

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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