Women’s History Month: Celebrating Female Founders

This Women’s History Month, we are reflecting on three influential women of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s history: our organization’s female founders.  

The first Boys & Girls Club (formerly known as the Boys Clubs of America) was founded in 1860 in Hartford Connecticut by three women Elizabeth Hammersley, Mary Goodwin, and Alice Goodwin. These women shared a common interest in social reform and began volunteering their time to help members of their community who did not have access to the resources they needed. Through their volunteer work, they quickly realized that there was a particular need for programs that would help young boys who were growing up in poverty and without positive adult role models.  

Seeing the need in their community to provide a safe, positive space for young people, particularly underserved boys, they started the first unofficial Club, the “Dashaway Club.” Initially, they hosted meetings in their homes, and eventually they rented a meeting hall. They offered lessons in drama, music, and literature. The Club provided a space for boys to gather, play games, participate in activities, and benefit from mentorship from adult volunteers. With character development as the cornerstone of the experience, the Club focused on capturing the boys' interests, developing strong character and leadership skills, and developing their personal expectations and goals. 

In 1880, the Club was re-named “The Good Will Boys Club” by Mary Stuart Hall, the first female lawyer in the state of Connecticut. The mission of “The Good Will Boys Club” was to give young boys opportunities and support so they could reach their full potential. The “Good Will Boys Club” continues today as the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford. 

The Club model created by these women in Hartford became an immediate success, and soon other Clubs began to form in other cities. In 1906, the organization decided to affiliate and become the Boys Club Federation of America, marking the start of a nationwide movement and our national organization. In 1990, to recognize the fact that girls were part of the organization’s cause, the national organization's name was changed to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. 

Today, we honor and celebrate these women who founded the first Boys & Girls Club – an organization that would go on to become one of the largest youth organizations in the country. 

Elizabeth Hammersley, Mary Goodwin, and Alice Goodwin set out to create an organization that would provide a safe space and resources for the underserved in their communities. The female founders of Boys & Girls Clubs of America were pioneers in the field of youth development and they recognized the importance of providing young people with positive role models, educational opportunities, and a positive space where they belonged. Their legacy continues today, as Boys & Girls Clubs of America remains committed to providing Club kids with the tools they need reach their greatest potential.  

Thanks to their vision and efforts, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America now serves over 4 million children each year through after-school programs, summer camps, and other activities. The organization has expanded to include more than 4,600 Clubs in communities across the United States and around the world.  

Their legacy continues to inspire us today, as we work alongside our kids to create a better future for all children. 

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