Ladies Benevolent Society, the oldest social organization in Marshfield, was established in our congregation in 1848. The society raised money for and provided goods to the poor, and raised money to support the church. During the Civil War they provided medical supplies to the Soldiers’ Aid Society. They raised the funds to build a “concert hall” across from the church building in 1850. Eventually this was moved to the present location and became the front section of the Parish Hall. The “Fellowship Hall” section was added during the 1950s.
The Ladies Benevolent Society was organized in January, 1848.

The following history was compiled by Josephine S. Ellis and from notes of Sarah T. Bourne, Secretary, given at the 25th Anniversary of the Society:

“Feeling that by the united labors of our hands, we might better aid the destitute, we have formed ourselves into a society and adopted a constitution. The group shall be called the South Marshfield Benevolent Sewing Society. Beneficence shall ever be a primary and conspicuous object of the Society. Its funds are considered as chiefly devoted to the relief of the distressed, but appropriations may be made to such other objects as the Society may from time to time direct.”

The society’s first president was Alathea Cushman, who visited some of the ladies of the community to enlist their sympathies in the formation of a Sewing Circle. At first, her efforts were met with opposition. Prejudices existed against Sewing Circles in general; but at length a sufficient number of women pledged their names to warrant a commencement.

They held a meeting in the room over the old post office in the building next to the church. They chose a committee to prepare a constitution, and the society came into being. Their accommodations were very limited at first, and they considered their, “housekeeping of quite a primitive style.”

Through hard work and commitment the society grew, and was able to raise money to build the new concert hall (today known as our Parish House).

In their first years, they raised most of their funds by doing contract work for a garment factory in Boston. The factory sent shirts to be finished, and the ladies sewed on buttons and made the buttonholes and were paid 5 for each shirt. Later, the ladies dropped this work in favor of quilting, which was found to be quite remunerative. Since the days of the sewing machine, they have spent time doing knitting, an activity that they have carried down to the present time.

Believing that “Charity begins at home,” their first objective was to help the needy in their own vicinity, though they expanded their giving to people throughout America, and also gave to foreign missions.

The Society owns one share in Parish House. It also bought an extension table, a clock (which still hangs in the church library) and door mats for the church. They had the pastor’s pew cushioned and carpeted, and raised sixteen dollars toward the carpets that cover the aisle. They raised money for singing in the church, as the regular choir would not be established until later in the 19th century.

The society also held a fair in 1853 to raise money for the fences that currently enclose the cemeteries that abut the church.

In 1854 the society united with other ladies in the Webster Fair, the object of which was to suitably enclose the Webster or Winslow Burial Place. Ten dollars were also given for the benefit of the Dingley Burying Ground.

During the Civil War, in connection with the Soldiers’ Aid Society, they:

“sent out 9 bbls., 2 boxes and 1 case of supplies for field and hospital use. These were not appraised at the time, but we have inventories of some of them in our possession and think that fifty dollars each, per box or bushel, would be a fair average estimate of their value or, at least, six hundred dollars for the whole. (Besides these, 4,000 yds. of bandages were re-rolled for the Sanitary Commission.)”

The society’s first appropriation of money was that of twelve dollars for a Sunday School Missionary at the West in 1852. This was the time that our nation was expanding westward. At three different times they sent Horne Missionary barrels. In 1852, one valued at forty dollars was sent to Iowa. In 1862, another to Minnesota, valued at thirty-seven dollars, and the last one in 1870, valued at forty-four dollars, to Michigan.  While those dollar amounts would only feed a family at a nice restaurant today because of inflation, back in the 1800s they were considerable amounts of money capable of helping many people.

At various times within their first twenty-five years, there were extensive fires in the cities of Portland and Chicago, and they sent a barrel of clothing for those who lost their homes. They also sent boxes of goods to places other places that had needs at the time.

After the Civil War, they sent barrels of clothing were sent to the recently freed slaves in New Orleans, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan, Louisiana, and Kansas, and also provided goods to the City Missionary Society in Boston.

The members continued to make aprons, dresses, “knot” quilts, knit hosiery, help the needy in town.

In 1889, the members worked for the “Little Wanderers,” sending them a large box of sheets, pillow cases and quilts.

They also gave to foreign missions through the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions.

In the words of Josephine Ellis,

(The Work) has been done little by little, one stitch at a time, but the money aggregate is many dollars. The good accomplished cannot be so easily reckoned, but we feel that in giving us the opportunity to do so much good the Lord has blessed us.

During the 1890’s they made clothing for a Kindergarten for Blind Children in Jamaica Plain.

The first of what is now our Annual Fair on the Green was held in 1894, with several tables of articles on sale, a supper, and evening entertainment. With the proceeds a parish debt of about $700 was canceled. Two barrels of clothes were packed and sent to the victims of forest fires in the Northwest.

Even before 1900 the Society was assisting the church more and more.  They made aprons and other articles for the annual church summer fair. They also held their own Holiday Fair in November.  They contributed significant amounts of money to the church, and at times were the major source of the church’s income.

As the years rolled by they changed the name of the society to the Ladies Benevolent Society.

A number of changes occurred in the 20th century. As Social Security, Welfare, and Food Stamps came in, there were fewer appeals for individual aid, meaning fewer barrels and boxes sent to Home Missions. The Society became a part of the church, and made an annual pledge for the support of the church. The society has contributed to occasional heavy expenses and has helped pay the mortgage when the Parish House addition was built in 1957.

Their work for foreign missions has continued. They have made contributions to CARE, HOPE, and the Heifer Project, all self-help organizations that help people all over the world. Through the years, they have given to MSPCC, Salvation Army, Cancer Drives, the March of Dimes, the Protestant Youth Center.

They have helped throughout the years in cases where individuals lost everything in fires, floods, and earthquakes.

A number of their our members thought so much of the Society that they left bequests.  Early in the Society’s history there were many needs, so these legacy funds were spent, but in later years these bequests have been placed in investment accounts and only the interest is used.   Through these bequests, the society’s departed members still continue to help people today.

The membership has grown during the years, from about 10 members in the beginning to 35 or 40 today.

But despite the changes as the 19th Century rolled into the 20th Century, which has now rolled into the 21st Century, the Society is still true to its purpose.  It is still a “sewing circle.”

The friendliness of the group, with their concern in each other, makes the meetings a pleasure and their goals worthwhile.

Today there are still many needs like the Food Pantry, Community Christmas, and the Heifer Project to to which we we send the youth each year for an educational retreat. And the society supports other needs as they arise.

The society still holds a Holiday Fair in December and has tables at the Fair on the Green in July.

The LBS meets every Tuesday at 10am, so bring lunch for coffee and sweets at noon.

They host a Coffee Hour is on the third Tuesday of the month at 10am, to which the men are invited to attend. There is coffee, tea, and baked goods served for a small donation.  All are welcome.