Girls Friendly Society
[Home] [Old Ledbury on Facebook] [Contact]

Girls Friendly Society

‘The Girls Friendly Society’ was officially established in England on 1st January 1875 by Mary Elizabeth Townsend, an Irish clergyman’s daughter married to the wealthy Frederick Townsend.
She once wrote “If the power of rescue work will be so increased by organisation, why should no work be organised to save from falling?” In modern terminology, from its inception GFS was concerned with prevention.
Cut off from the support of friends and family, Mrs Townsend’s idea was for ‘Lady Associates’ to befriend and guide these girls, who would form the Society’s members. Today, we would probably call these Associates ‘mentors’. Girls could join GFS from the age of 12, but from 1882 those from the age of eight could become ‘membership candidates’.
By 1880, GFS had nearly 40,000 Members and more than 13,500 Associates. During this year, Queen Victoria became the Society’s Patron. It was an almost exclusively female organisation, being run by and for women with the exception of male Treasurers, Trustees and some senior clergy who held ex officio positions.
GFS provided numerous facilities for the young women under its protection. Most important were its lodges which offered cheap, good-quality accommodation to young women working in domestic service and as mill or factory workers.
The Society communicated with Members and Associates through numerous publications beginning with The Girls’ Friendly Society Reporter in 1875, quickly followed by Friendly Leaves. By 1883 Friendly Leaves had a monthly circulation of 46,000, and Friendly Work was introduced, with a focus on older Members to reflect their gradually increasing role as local workers for the Society.
The Society also produced many books and pamphlets. Among the most popular was Every Day: Thoughts on the GFS Rules of Life, first published in 1895, which encapsulated the Society’s entire ethos that GFS should inform Members’ whole approach to daily life. The History of The Girls Friendly Society was published in 1897.
By 1900, GFS had more than 150,000 Members and nearly 33,000 Associates in 1,361 Branches. Young women working in domestic service comprised the largest single occupational group among the Members. Others were teachers, nurses, clerks, students and workers in refreshment bars, mills, factories and warehouses.
A Retrospect


July 4 Ledbury Girls’ Friendly Society Festival at Bosbury.


July 18 G F. S. Festival at British Camp.

June 11 Girls’ Friendly Society Festival at Eastnor.

1897 - 1980 A Retrospect Tilleys Almanacks - Herefordshire History
Photographs are credited to the owners where possible
Comments in italics are from the Old Ledbury Facebook Group
Cuttings from Old Ledbury Reporter Newspapers