In the early days of the Civil War, Rev. George Duffield, Minister of the 1st Presbyterian Church located at the corner of State and Farm Streets in Detroit, convened a meeting of the women of the church. He called on them to help the “worthy and indigent persons in this City constantly suffering for the necessaries of life.”
In 1862, the 1st Presbyterian women, led by Rev. Duffield’s daughter, Isabella Duffield Stewart, brought together a group of women from more than a dozen Detroit churches (see below) for the purpose of helping the less fortunate in the city. They met in what they called the “Home of the Friendless” which they had recently purchased and which became the name of the agency. Isabella Duffield Stewart was its founder and president until her death in 1888.
The Home of the Friendless was located at 72 Brush Street, between Larned and Congress Streets. The Home’s early mission was to provide shelter and care for Civil War orphans, as well as homeless and unemployed women. It had seven rooms and was rented for $100 a year.
The 1862 Prospectus for the Home of the Friendless states, “Detroit has become a city of sufficient size to exhibit more than its proportion of misery and crime, and, if this society be successful in standing between the mother whom want and despair has driven to abandoning her little ones, and the early, untimely graves or neglected and evil lives to which such children attain, by providing an immediate asylum for them and a prospective and permanent home for the future, a great amount of good will be attained.”
In 1874, the Home of the Friendless moved to a new building constructed solely for the agency at 71 West Warren. It continued to live up to its name, providing shelter and assistance for those in need.
In 1903, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established. Its main objective, working with the court system, was to prosecute cases of cruelty, abuse and neglect of children.
In 1914, the boards of directors of the Home of the Friendless and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children determined that there was duplication and unnecessary cost in maintaining the two agencies. So the two organizations were merged into a single agency, the Children’s Aid Society.
Over the years, Children’s Aid Society has undergone a number of major transformations and organizational changes in response to changing social needs. In time, services were expanded to include temporary shelter for abandoned children and victims of abuse and neglect. At one point, Children’s Aid Society was the largest private agency providing foster care services in Wayne County.
Today, the agency provides a variety of services for children and families, from pre-school to employability skills training. It works with schools, the police, hospitals and the community, providing innovative, direct-service programs throughout Southeastern Michigan.
What hasn’t changed in nearly 150 years is the strong commitment to children and families that began with its founders.
Founding Detroit Churches
- 1st Presbyterian Church
- Congregational Church
- 1st Methodist Church
- Jefferson Avenue Church
- Scotch Church
- Christian Church
- Fort Street Church
- Tabernacle Church
- Congress Street Methodist
- St. Paul’s Episcopal
- St. John’s Church
- 1st Baptist
- 2nd Baptist
- United Presbyterian
- Christ Church
- Westminster Church