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Female Charitable Society of Portsmouth, Virginia, Broadside, 1804


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Before the Civil War, white women of wealthy backgrounds in urban areas sometimes came together to establish charitable or religious-based organizations to aid the poor and promote virtue. Such activities were seen by some as socially appropriate extensions of women's family responsibilities, although some men criticized these women for neglecting their domestic duties. During the 19th century, local and state governments provided few social programs and women's benevolent activities provided food, shelter, education, and alms for the poor.

In Virginia, women's groups founded orphanages and schools. They also focused on providing much needed assistance to girls and women. Evangelical women established organizations with religious objectives, including poor relief, church construction, and support of domestic and foreign missionaries. Members held regular meetings, raised money, and sometimes obtained charters of incorporation from the state legislature. Women also organized rallies and protests to speak out on social issues that had political ramifications, such as temperance, slavery, and other moral reform issues.

One of the earliest benevolent societies founded by women in Virginia was the Female Charitable Society of Portsmouth, Virginia. The group first met in 1804 at the home of Quaker ship builder, Josiah Fox. This published broadside explains the society's goal to "extend relief to all White Female sufferers, particularly children" in Portsmouth. The broadside also lists the bylaws by which they would operate. Similar associations were established in Richmond and Norfolk.

Citation: Female Charitable Society (Portsmouth, Va.), Broadside Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.


VS.1, US1.1, US1.8, VUS.1, VUS.6

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Scan and Look: Scan the information in the transcribed broadside, if you were interested in joining a women’s organization in 1804, what words or phrases would appeal to you? Why?

Post activities

Analyze: What was the goal of the Female Charitable Society of Portsmouth, Virginia and who was it intended to help? Who was excluded?

Take a stand: Josiah Fox took a risk in allowing women the to meet at his home. If you were in his position, what arguments would you make to defend your choice? How might being a Quaker be used to justify the choice? 

Another Perspective: Why might some people be opposed to women organizing associations or philanthropic groups? How might they perceive women taking on roles outside of the home? 

Art Connection: The broadside sets forth the rules for the organization but does not include an image. Create a broadside poster which depicts the work of the Female Charitable Society of Portsmouth, Virginia that could be used to increase interest and membership.