July 17, 1883
Girls Friendly Society
On July 17, 1883 an independent chapter of Girls Friendly Society (GFS) was formally established in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The members of the Society were young women in domestic service. The primary goal of the society was to help the young domestic servants working in the big houses in St. John’s arrange recreational activities on their day off.
It appears that the original founders of the society were quite concerned about the young women, with all of the temptations that the city offered. Such was their concern that one of the activities of the individual branches of the GFS was to send members out to meet the new arrivals at the harbor or train station. If required the new arrivals would be offered assistance in obtaining lodging and work.
The GFS under its own constitution was determined that the domestic servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.” They were most determined to keep these young women of the streets and participating in respectable activities. One of the central rules was that “No girl who has not borne a virtuous character to be admitted as a Member; such character being lost, the Member to forfeit her card.”
The constitution also stated that the GFS would “obtain for every working girl of unblemished character a friend in a class above her own.”
The Society was originally founded on January 1, 1875 in England. This group was affiliated with the Church of England and run along diocesan lines. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the first patron of the organization later being replaced by Queen Victoria.
A report in 1903 on the activities of the GFS in Newfoundland stated:
“In spite of storm and stress of weather, and long, cold evenings, the Members and Candidates seem to hold on their way with meetings and lectures, sales of work and classes, and their eagerness for books is quite touching.”
By 1910 the GFS had expanded a report on the Society read:
“In Newfoundland the Society continues its successful work, and the Bishop (Church of England) has keen interest in it. There are four Branches and a large number of Candidates. Quarterly meetings, weekly social meetings, classes, lectures, etc. are held. There is still an energetic Members’ Committee at St. John’s, and the Anniversary is kept on the same day as in England.”
Recommended Reading: History of the Girls’ Friendly Society Compiles by Agnes L. Money. New and Revised Edition, 1911. London Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., LTD. 44 Victoria Street, Westminister, S.W. http://anglicanhistory.org/women/money_gfs1911/