Katharine Felton, or “Kitty” as she was known to her friends, is the founder of what is today known as Felton Institute.
Kitty was a pioneer in her day. She dedicated her entire adult life, and much of her youth, to the sick, poor and downtrodden. Old fashion words by today’s standards but accurate descriptions for her world in the 1800’s.
Despite San Francisco’s history great wealth, progressiveness and industry, it was also a city that had its share of poverty, particularly among neglected and orphaned children. It was Kitty’s humanity and steadfast determination to speak up for these silent voices that gave rise to the modern day concept of social services in the United States.
She advocated, lobbied, fundraised and provided hands on care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. She used her own money, and being from a wealthy family, was virtually unheard of.
Felton Institute is immensely proud of Kitty’s legacy of charity and advocacy. In 2014, after 125 years, Family Service Agency of San Francisco changed its name to Felton Institute in Ms. Felton’s honor.
Kitty Felton – Timeline
- April 25, 1889 ─ Associated Charities of San Francisco is established as the first general, nonsectarian relief organization in San Francisco. The Agency is founded as a collaborative effort to offer a more centralized and coordinated system of public relief. Its home office consisted of two staff members, known as the “Hearst nurse” and the “Crocker nurse,” each respectively supported by funds from these prominent San Francisco estates.
- 1901 ─ Katharine (Kitty) Felton becomes the first Director of Associated Charities of San Francisco. Though only 28 years old, she provides leadership in coordinating the city’s varied sources of charity, as well as in establishing standards for charitable giving. Felton’s inspiration is, as she puts it, “the power of man’s creative intelligence to determine the shape of all outward things and social forms. The life of active goodness freely chosen.”
- 1902-1908 ─ Felton organizes the Charities Endorsement Committee, laying the foundation for all future social work. A collaboration of the Associated Charities and the San Francisco Merchants Association, this Committee is the predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce.
- 1903 ─ To address the needs of children while avoiding the use of the term “charity,” Felton establishes the Children’s Agency of San Francisco, a branch of Associated Charities. In response to the tragically high mortality rates for infants in the San Francisco Foundling Asylum, the Children’s Agency of San Francisco develops the first foster home system in California. Hailed as a great success, the foster parenting experiment helped San Francisco develop the lowest infant mortality rate of any city of its size in the world. In addition to her other accomplishments in social welfare, Kitty Felton also lobbies into existence a State Board of Charities and Corrections, the forerunner of the State Department of Social Welfare.
- 1906 ─ After the earthquake and its terrible fire, Associated Charities directs San Francisco’s entire Earthquake Relief Program and is temporarily merged with the Red Cross to provide earthquake assistance. Just as the earthquake proves to be a significant dividing line in the history of San Francisco, so too it radically shifts the focus of social welfare in general and Associated Charities in particular, as the Agency’s central mission immediately shifts from advocacy to direct services.
- 1907 ─ In response to the massive local depression brought on by the earthquake and the ensuing fire, Associated Charities sets up an employment bureau, the first of its kind in the United States. In addition to providing employment services for general workers, the bureau finds work for many individuals with disabilities and works to establish rules protecting standard pay for standard work.
- 1908 ─ Emerging from its affiliation with the Red Cross, Associated Charities is reestablished as a separate agency, with Kitty Felton as its Director. As a natural outgrowth of its leadership in developing a foster-care system, Associated Charities establishes the Department of Unmarried Mothers and Their Babies, leading to the closure of “foundling asylums” and paving the way for improved and well-monitored foster care and adoption services.
- 1909 ─ Associated Charities advocates for the establishment of well-baby clinics. Expanding its sphere of concern and influence, Associated Charities also advocates for improved standards and practices for child labor, school attendance, industrial accident insurance, mental-health care, adoption, care of the handicapped, minimum wages for women and minors, and health services in public schools.
- 1922 ─ As the Director of Associated Charities, Felton organizes the Community Chest, a forerunner to the United Way and the United Bay Area Crusade, in San Francisco.
- 1928 ─ Long hoping to erect a building dedicated specifically to serving the clients of Associated Charities, Kitty Felton oversees a capital campaign to raise funds for an Executive Office building at 1010 Gough Street. The renowned architect Bernard Ralph Maybeck, a friend of Felton’s, offers to design the building.
- 1932 ─ In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, and in reflection of its increasing role as an agency of social welfare, Associated Charities changes its name to “Citizen’s Agency for Social Welfare.”
- 1933 ─ Due to the massive national disaster of the Great Depression, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration requires that all federal and state funds be expended by public agencies only. In compliance, San Francisco creates a County Welfare Department that takes over all family services previously handled by private agencies such as Citizen’s Agency for Social Welfare. As a result, the Agency begins operating as a contractor to the government, which it remains today.
- 1934 ─ The Board of the former Associated Charities is reorganized as the Children’s Agency and returns to 1010 Gough Street.
- 1938 ─ Seeking a name and a structure to reflect her concern for the needs of families, and concerned about the stigma often associated with the word “charity,” Felton commissions a study into alternatives to the organization’s name, “Associated Charities.” As a result of the study, conducted by a special Community Chest Committee, the Family Service Agency of San Francisco is formed. Initially financed by a $25,000 grant from the Rosenberg Foundation, it is approved as an eighteen-month demonstration project.
- 1939 ─ When, at the conclusion of its eighteen-month demonstration period, the Family Service Agency of San Francisco proves a success, it is incorporated and approved as a member of the Family Service Association of America.
- August 8, 1940 ─ Kitty Felton, the Founding Director of Associated Charities and one of America’s great leaders in social service, dies of cancer at age 67. Nellie Woodward is appointed Executive Director.
- 2014 ─ In honor of the 125th anniversary and the Agency’s expansion into research, development, additional Bay Area Counties and creating new mental health treatment programs like PREP and BEAM, FSA renames itself to Felton Institute, in honor of Kitty Felton. Family Service Agency of San Francisco remains and becomes a division of Felton Institute.