The Friends Association for Children

The Friends Association for Children was founded in Richmond in the 1860s. The idea was conceived by a group of African American women committed to social works, the Ladies Sewing Circle for Charitable Works. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many newly-freed child slaves were left homeless and without known relatives as a result of the widespread disregard for African American kinship ties during slavery and the absence of any plan for integration of former slaves into the post-war society. The Sewing Circle leader, Lucy Goode Brooks, recognized the importance of community support for such a problem, and the Circle sought out the Richmond Society of Friends (RSF) to provide that support. Many Circle members had been welcomed into the homes of these Quaker families before and during the war, and Friends across the country had earned a reputation for willingness to financially support the education of black children. The Friends thus constituted a natural ally.

John Baker Crenshaw, minister of the Richmond Society of Friends led the Quakers’ efforts to secure relief and housing for African American orphans. They agreed to sponsor the Sewing Circle’s orphanage and raised money not only in Virginia but also in sympathetic Northern States. The Trustees of Richmond Society of Friends secured from the City of Richmond the deed to an old orphan asylum at the corner of Saint Paul and Charity Streets to be the site of an orphanage for African American children. The building was opened in 1871, and the Friends Asylum for Colored Orphans was officially incorporated by the state legislature on March 26, 1872. Although initially managed by the white Quaker trustees, in 1889 control was shifted to African American Baptist churches in the area, and the Richmond Society of Friends’ trustees ceded the deed for the property to the Friends Asylum itself.

In 1926, the Asylum received funding from the Community Fund and Child Welfare League of America, which conducted a study that deemed the orphanage’s services “vital to the city.” However, in 1929, another study determined that foster home care was preferable to orphanages, and the Asylum shifted its focus. The doors to the orphanage were closed in 1931, but the Asylum continued to serve the community as a foster care agency, initially in coordination with the Children’s Aid Society of Richmond.

A year later, adopting the name Friends Association for Colored Children, the group separated from the Children’s Aid Society and began to diversify its services in response to community needs. In 1938 an adoption program was implemented, followed in 1940 by adoption of a program geared towards providing counseling for children in their homes. The year 1947 marked the opening of the Community Day Nursery, which continues today as the Developmental Childcare Program. It is offered for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years from low-to-moderate income families in four different locations in Richmond. The Developmental Childcare Program is aligned with the Head Start philosophy and provides such enriching activities as Spanish lessons, computer lessons, and art and music appreciation. In 1955 the foster care program was replaced by a pre-adoption boarding home.

Today, the organization, renamed the Friends Association for Children serves approximately 4,000 families in the Richmond area. In partnership with the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, the Better Housing Coalition, the Interfaith Housing Coalition, and other private foundations, they provide child care up to twelve years old, after-school and summer programs for six to eighteen year olds, family support services, and six-month programs in leadership and career advancement programs for low-income parents. These programs include all costs paid by community grants, transportation provided, and free childcare provided during adult programs. The Association is largely supported by volunteers, from tutors to “buddies” to office assistants.

Friends Association for Children
1004 St John St
Richmond , VA 23220

Profile prepared by Emily Stevenson
June, 2006