The Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity was founded in 1869. It was much more commonly known by its short title of the Charity Organisation Society or simply as the C.O.S. Its objects as defined in the eighth annual report published in 1877 were:
"1 To bring into harmonious co-operation with each other and with the Poor-Law authorities the various charitable agencies and individuals in the district, and thus effectually to check the evils of 'overlapping' relief caused by simultaneous but independent action.
2 To investigate thoroughly the cases of all applicants for charitable relief, whether they are referred to the offices for inquiry and report, or whether they apply of their own accord.
3 To place gratuitously at the disposal of all charitable agencies and private persons the investigating machinery of the Committees of the Society, and to send to person having a legitimate interest in cases full reports of the results of the investigations made.
4 To obtain from the proper charities, or from charitable individuals, suitable and adequate relief for deserving cases.
5 To assist from its own funds, and as far as possible in the form of loans, all suitable cases for which adequate assistance cannot be obtained from other sources.
6 To repress mendicity by the above means, by the gratuitous distribution of Investigation Tickets, and by the prosecution of imposters.
7 To afford to the public at large information regarding the objects and mode of working of existing charities.
8 To promote, as far as possible, the general welfare of the poor by means of social and sanitary reforms, and by the inculcation of habits of providence and self-dependence".
Its formation arose out of concern over the mass of overlapping and often illorganised charities in London, manydistributing indiscriminate relief, which, it was feared, led to pauperisation and a waste of resources.
The founders of the C.O.S. sought to promote a more scientific approach to charity based on the principle that in individual cases relief should be given only after a thorough investigation of the applicant's circumstances and character and that relief should be adequate, in other words sufficient to prevent him becoming a pauper.
The society was to be a federation of district committees working on a local level in all parts of London. The first district committee was formed in St Marylebone in October 1869. By March 1871 all the poor law unions in the Metropolitan Poor Law Area had one or more C.O.S. district committees except for the City of London and Woolwich. In 1900 there were about forty district committees.
The district committees tried to put the ideas of the C.O.S. into effect at the local level by promoting co-operation between local churchmen and charities and the boards of guardians whom they hoped would be represented on the C.O.S. committees. If applicants seeking relief were directed to the district office of the C.O.S., their circumstances would be carefully investigated and enquiries would be made as to whether they were already in receipt of any form of poor relief or charitable assistance. If considered suitable, they would be directed to some other charity for the appropriate form of relief. If considered undeserving, they would be left to the mercies of the Poor Law. In practice the C.O.S. district committees became involved in giving relief themselves as well as referring cases elsewhere. In time the C.O.S. Central Office became trustee of certain pension funds which were distributed by the district committees.
The district committees sent representatives to the C.O.S. Council at Central Office. The functions of the Council were to supervise, strengthen and consolidate the work of the district committees and to take into consideration all questions of principle and matters relating to the work of the society generally. The Council tried to bring into systematic co-operation the larger Metropolitan institutions and societies. It helped to form similar societies elsewhere and entered into correspondence with them. It tried to influence government policy through its numerous publications and by the reports it produced on such subjects as the feeding of school children, the organisation of hospitals in the Metropolis, and the treatment of the feebleminded. In the 1890s it put pressure on the government to form a Central Hospital Board for London. This proposal was unsuccessful, but in 1897 the Prince of Wales founded what was to become King Edward's Hospital Fund for London which worked towards the rationalisation and greater efficiency of hospital services in London. Of the eighteen members of the 1905 Royal Commission on the Poor Law, six, including C.S. Loch, were leaders of the C.O.S. Another five were active C.O.S. sympathisers.
The Council quickly delegated many of its functions to a series of committees. The Administrative Committee was set up in 1870 to carry on all the business of the Society not specially reserved to the Council and to exercise the necessary supervision over its officers. It prepared the budget and could pass orders with regard to expenditure authorised in the budget. The Administrative Committee elected annually a number of permanent sub-committees. The more important of the sub-committees were the Districts Sub-Committee 1876-1946, the Medical Advisory Sub-Committee 1883-1945, the Emigration Sub-Committee 1886-1943, the Thrift and Savings Sub-Committee 1896-1921, the Provincial (later the Associated Societies) Sub-Committee 1892-1939 and the Registration Sub-Committee 1911-1944. It also appointed other Sub-Committees from its own members. In 1932 these were the Finance Sub-Committee, Propaganda Sub-Committee, Training Sub-Committee, and Enquiry Sub-Committee. Both the Council and the Administrative Committee set up special ad hoc sub-committees to investigate particular problems. Some of these developed into permanent committees either elected or nominated.
The administrative structure of the C.O.S. is noteworthy both for the number of its committees and their fluidity, especially in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1940s. Committees frequently changed name and changed type. Not all the minute books have survived. Copies of reports produced by special committees can frequently be found contained in the minutebooks of the Council or Administrative Committee for the period 1880-1914. For a detailed list of these, see Class H Publications. Copies of reports may also be located in the F.W.A. Library deposited in the Goldsmiths' Library, University of London Library.
In this century the C.O.S. has played a major role in pioneering the proper training of social workers and in the development of social work as a profession. The C.O.S. was responsible for the appointment of the first hospital almoner at the Royal Free Hospital in 1895. The Council appointed a Committee on Training in May 1897 and arranged a series of lectures which district secretaries on probation were expected to attend. In 1903 the School of Sociology was opened with E. J. Urwick as lecturer and tutor for the training of social workers. Though an offshoot of the C.O.S., it was an independent body, and in 1912 decided to merge with the London School of Economics. In 1915 the C.O.S. began its own twelve month course of training in social work in conjunction with Bedford College. The C.O.S. also provided practical experience for students from other courses. As a result, the work of the district offices became increasingly dominated by salaried professional social workers and the role of the volunteer decreased in importance.
The C.O.S. also played an important part in the setting up of Citizens Advice Bureaux. The idea of Citizens Advice Bureaux was developed in response to the numbers of people seeking guidance and advice during the Munich Crises in 1938. The London Council of Social Service and the C.O.S. jointly established some eighty Citizens Advice Bureaux in London by the time of the outbreak of war in 1939. Each bureau was autonomous with a local management committee with a national central committee. The C.O.S. was responsible for the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Inner London, while the London Council of Social Service took responsibility for outer London. The bureaux proved to be so useful that the service was continued after the end of the war.
In 1946 the C.O.S. was renamed the Family Welfare Association to reflect its changed role and to emphasise its principle function as a family casework agency. A financial crisis caused a major re-organisation of the district committees in 1949-50. The number of district offices, already considerably reduced by amalgamations since the 1920s, was drastically curtailed by amalgamation of the district committees to form nine Areas. Continued financial problems led to the reduction in number of the Areas to six by 1965.
The central organisation of the F.W.A. was also re-organised in 1950 to simplify administration and to make the policy making bodies more representative. The Council and Administrative Committee were replaced by the Administrative Council to which were subordinated two main committees, the General Purposes Committee and the Finance Committee. Other committees dealt with special aspects of F.W.A. work, e.g., Old Peoples Homes and Citizens Advice Bureaux, and particular functions, e.g., Information, and Press and Publicity. The central administration of the F.W.A. still left much to be desired and in the late 1950s Muriel Cunliffe of the University of British Columbia School of Social Work was commissioned to carry out a full scale review of the F.W.A. The Cunliffe report was presented in 1960 and most of its recommendations were implemented. The Secretary was replaced as principal officer by the Director who could delegate departmental responsibility. Central Office was divided into five main departments - Accountancy, Appeals and Public Relations, Casework, Citizens Advice Bureaux and Information, each with its Chief Officer and Advisory Committee.
The records of the Area Offices include minute books of former district committees which were amalgamated to form the areas. Minute books of some district committees were deposited by Central Office, but these have been listed with the records of the Area into which the district committee was absorbed. For many district committees no minute books survive, but copies of their annual reports can be found in the annual volumes of reports bound together by Central. Investigation on individual cases was carried out by the district offices, subsequently area offices, and their records do include casepapers. Casepapers were normally destroyed after a case was closed for twenty years. Consequently very few casepapers survive for cases closed before the 1940s, though it was not uncommon for a case to be open for thirty years or more. Area 1 Office (Hammersmith and Fulham) is the only office to have preserved many case records dating from before 1940. Examples of typical cases omitting names were published in the annual reports of the district committees.