Wellspring Family Services

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 6/29/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10133
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For 120 years, Wellspring Family Services has been a source of aid and comfort to the poor and troubled of Seattle and King County. While operating under nine different names during that long span of years, it has evolved from a simple clearinghouse for the poor to a multifaceted agency offering counseling and support to families and individuals dealing with a wide variety of problems. As society's attitudes toward poverty and mental health changed over the years, Wellspring changed as well, and was usually in step with or ahead of the mood of its times. Housed since 2009 in its first permanent headquarters, on Rainier Avenue South in Seattle, the private, non-profit social-services agency today concentrates its efforts on building healthy families and focuses on the entwined issues of mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness. In 2011 alone, Wellspring Family Services assisted more than 9,000 children, adults, and families in King County.

The Charity Organization Movement

Wellspring Family Services had its start in Seattle in 1892 as the Bureau of Associated Charities. It was based on principles of "scientific charity" and inspired by the "charity organization" movement, which sought to supplant philanthropy that lacked coordination and a "scientific" approach.

Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and within a few years "Social Darwinism" came into vogue. The notion (not originated by Darwin) of "survival of the fittest," when applied to charity, held that only "fit" persons should benefit from the kindness of others. This emphasis gave rise to a philosophy of giving called "scientific charity" that, although goodhearted, could be harshly judgmental. The first Charity Organization Society (COS), founded in Great Britain in 1869, was motivated by a belief that it was often the most "deserving" who did not seek or receive aid and the least deserving -- "the pauper, the imposter, and the fraud of every description" -- who did (Charity Organization Movement, 180).

The first of these new charity organizations in America was established in Buffalo, New York, in December 1877. The Buffalo Charity Organization Society introduced to America the use of "Friendly Visitors," almost exclusively women volunteers of the upper-middle and upper class. The purpose of "friendly visitation," explained Reverend S. H. Gurteen, cofounder of the Buffalo group, was to "bring the rich into such close relations with the poor as cannot fail to have a civilizing and healing influence" (Charity Organization Movement, 181).

Friendly Visitors became the "boots on the ground" for scientific charity, both emissaries to and advocates for the impoverished. Despite a lack of training, Friendly Visitors were dedicated, and by meeting personally with those in need and maintaining contact over a period of time they could determine what would best help an individual or family.

Good Deeds, ca. 1900

Seattle was a hotbed of Progressive ideas in the late nineteenth century, with widespread support for charity, labor unions, and causes such as equal suffrage and the prohibition of alcohol. By 1891, the city had a Ladies' Relief Society, an Orphans Home, a Woman's Home Society, a Refuge Home "for fallen women," an Equal Suffrage Association, a Ministerial Association, a Day Nursery, the House of the Good Shepherd "for reclaiming fallen women and girls," the Catholic Benevolent Society, the Women's Christian Temperance Union; and other public-spirited organizations (Bagley).

Government efforts to aid the poor reflected the Dickensian attitudes of the time. In 1854 the Territorial Legislature had passed "An Act Relating to the Support of the Poor," which put the financial onus on individual counties to care for their needy, while also giving them the authority to build workhouses, place children of the poor in trade apprenticeships (in effect a form of servitude), and jail paupers for nonsupport. Washington later established residential facilities for the insane, for delinquent youngsters, and for children who were blind, deaf, or both. Many problems remained, however, and people in Seattle were concerned about local problems and unmet needs. The will to solve social problems was strong, and Seattle had a large cadre of concerned citizens. Some, mostly middle- and upper-class women, were willing to devote time and effort to the task. What they needed was a system and an organization, and in 1892 they got both.

A Sermon Starts It All

On December 20, 1891, the Reverend David Claiborne Garrett (b. 1850?) rose to deliver a sermon at St. Mark's parish church at 5th Avenue and Stewart Street in Seattle. He spoke of a new kind of charity that went under the general name of "Associated Charities:"

"This means a sort of clearing-house for all aid given the destitute -- a central office with a paid officer who keeps a complete record of all who are assisted and by whom relieved. It means stopping of all street begging or house-to-house mendicancy. No one associated in this system will give off-hand to beggars. Every case of want will be remanded to the main office, there investigated, and if worthy, relieved through the proper source. No religious differences hinder this work. Roman Catholic, Jew, Protestant, infidel, all unite on the basis of a common humanity. The sole object is to act as a community in giving relief as efficiently and economically as possible" ("System in Charity").

Garrett's sermon inaugurated an organization that today, as Wellspring Family Services, continues to serve families and individuals in need. It has been known by many other names over the decades, and during its 120-year existence has changed both the focus and the scale of its charitable efforts. The evolution of this private, non-profit agency largely tracks the evolution of society's attitudes toward poverty -- its causes, its consequences, and its alleviation.

The Bureau of Associated Charities of Seattle (1892-1896)

On January 5, 1892, at the offices of Seattle's Chamber of Commerce, the first formal gathering was held to discuss the establishment of "a system of associated charities." Present were the mayor, two representatives from the Board of Public Works, two ministers (one of them Reverend Garrett) representing the Ministerial Association, five members of the Chamber of Commerce, and six women from the Ladies' Aid Society ("To Form the Plan").

Some members of the Chamber of Commerce voiced opposition to the whole idea, with former Seattle Mayor John Leary (1837-1905) stating that although he personally would be willing to "donate his share for charity," the county should be compelled to look after the poor, as required by law. He voiced concerns that the "continuation of the splendid charitable work" of the Ladies' Aid Society might be hindered if they were forced to answer to a governing board of "associated charities." Nevertheless, a "committee of five" was appointed to study the matter and did its job quickly.

At a meeting barely a week later, on January 13, 1892, the committee presented a constitution, which stated that the charitable society "shall have nothing to do with questions of religious belief, nationality or politics," but would be a "center of intercommunications between the various churches and charitable agencies in the city," with the goal of fostering "harmonious co-operation between them" and preventing "the evils of overlapping relief" ("United in Charity").

Good Intentions, Tight Wallets

Little more than a year after the Bureau of Associated Charities was established, the financial meltdown called the Panic of 1893 swept the country. The bureau's records from 1892 to 1896 trace a deteriorating effort to stem poverty's tide in the face of this financial firestorm. It soon became clear that the "subscription" model of funding that the bureau had adopted was insufficient. In December 1893, a "Monster Donation Auction Sale" was announced, asking Seattle businesses to donate "something, no matter how small … to relieve those in distress" ("To the Citizens of Seattle").

By late 1896 the Bureau of Associated Charities was on the ropes financially, with insufficient funds to continue its work. Its organizers floundered for solutions. In December the Bureau of Associated Charities ceased to exist and the formation of the new Charity Organization Society of Seattle (COS) was announced, again spearheaded by the Reverend Garrett.

The Charity Organization Society of Seattle (1896-1916)

Within months the effects of the Panic of 1893 were subsiding and the economy began rebounding. On July 17, 1897, the steamship Portland arrived in Seattle, carrying the first gold from the Klondike and triggering more than a decade of prosperity in King County. As the economy improved generosity increased, and much of this was administered through the Charity Organization Society, which operated under that name until January 1917.

From the start, COS adopted Buffalo's method of dividing the city into districts, with each district centered on a participating religious congregation. The churches were a main source of volunteers, and the district system provided a logical and manageable structure. Although all mention of Friendly Visitors in the society's records cease at this point, the organization was still all-volunteer.

COS did much good during these years, and it was this era that laid the foundation for what endures today. Among its early accomplishments were a day nursery, sewing classes to train women in an income-producing trade, a wood yard where unemployed men could produce kindling for sale, early lobbying efforts to press for passage of laws that would help the organization in its work, and a "reading and game room" to rescue young men from seeking entertainment "on the streets or at low resorts" ("Hall for Young Men").

"Scientific" charity could seem severe at a time when more liberal attitudes were taking hold. In one clash in 1902, the secretary of the Charity Organization Society, Dr. Clarence Thwing (1862-1954), publicly criticized the Salvation Army for giving away Christmas dinners without determining who were truly "deserving." Thwing warned that contributing to such work by the Salvation Army promoted "a pernicious practice."

His ill-considered broadside backfired, as The Seattle Times reported:

"[A]t the [Salvation] army headquarters this morning it was said that the letter had really done a great deal of good, for it had developed friends of the army where they were not known to exist and has brought old friends in solid phalanx to its support" ("Salvation Army Dinner").

Just months later, in April 1903, Thwing stepped down as secretary of the organization, citing a lack of "harmonious co-operation and hearty support of every member of the board of directors" ("Dr. Thwing Has Resigned"). Although Thwing maintained some ties to the organization, the lack of board support he perceived may be early evidence of the ascendancy of more liberal views derived from the new "social sciences," particularly sociology and psychology.

Pivotal Years

Between 1900 and 1910 the population of King County more than doubled, and the ranks of the poor grew apace. In 1908 the society reported that although it had raised more than $18,000 that year, nearly four times the 1907 figure, "current contributions to the Charity Organization Society have failed for some time to keep pace with the growth of the work" (Annual Report: 1908).

Fundraising events in 1908 included a highly successful "tag day," during which an army of volunteers solicited donations in the streets, giving donors "tags" to show that they had contributed. This alone netted the society more than $11,500, but needs were greater -- between October 1907 and October 1908 more than 1,000 new applications for aid were received, or "one-fourth of the total number of cases recorded since the year 1900" (Annual Report: 1908).

Despite near-constant money troubles, the society solidified its position and provided aid to ever-increasing numbers of the poor and afflicted. In 1913, it was instrumental in founding a "Council of Social Agencies" to coordinate among 50 different groups, ranging from numerous other charitable organizations to schools, libraries, and governmental agencies. In 1915, COS contracted with King County, which had opened a Child Welfare Division the previous year, to do all intake processing of new applicants for aid and to handle those cases deemed short-term, i.e. needing six months or less of assistance.

Also in 1915, Seattle financier and philanthropist Reginald Parsons (1873-1955) joined the society's board, serving until 1941.  During those 26 years Parsons was a pillar of the organization.  He served three terms as president (1919-1923) and was elected the first honorary president in 1923. Board minutes show that he personally backed loans to keep the agency afloat in hard times, paid for publicity efforts, and donated vehicles so staff could visit client homes. Parsons was well known for his work with the Boy Scouts and other local civic groups.

Associated Charities of Seattle (1917-1919)

In January 1917, the Charity Organization Society of Seattle formally changed its name to Associated Charities of Seattle, apparently to make it more consistent with similar organizations around the country. There was some retooling of operations -- an executive secretary was given day-to-day charge and an administrative staffer with a background in social work was hired, along with office staff. World War I brought to Seattle an influx of men, often with families, seeking work in defense industries. Not all were successful, and the ranks of the city's poor increased. Associated Charities did what it could, establishing an emergency shelter for women and children and working on emergency relief.

During this era, the American Red Cross funded the University of Washington's first courses in "social casework," targeted specifically at training workers to deal with the problems of returning military veterans and their families. The program later became the Department of Sociology, but not until 1934 did the university began offering graduate degrees in social work.

The Spanish Influenza pandemic reached Seattle in October 1918. Over the next six months more than 1,600 in the city died, and caring for the ill, particularly those without resources, strained private charities and government agencies. Associated Charities, severely tried by the exigencies of war and disease, now fell into some disarray; its focus seemed diffuse and its challenges overwhelming.

Evelyn Gail Gardiner and the Social Welfare League (1919-1934)

Evelyn Gail Gardiner took over as executive secretary in January 1919, assuming a post that had been unfilled for more than a year. Gardiner was highly educated and had broad experience, having done social work in Detroit and Washington, D.C. Her emphasis on the critical importance of healthy families to the success of the organization's work was to change its focus and be the lodestar of its efforts from then on.

In March 1919 there was another name change, to the Social Welfare League, "in accord with the broadening spirit and scope of the service we are offering" ("History of Agency Names"). An organization that primarily had been a service for "managing" the poor -- registering them, determining their needs and merit, and directing them to other sources of help -- was now becoming one much more involved in directly "upbuilding family life" ("History of Agency Names").

Under Gardiner, the Social Welfare League began to address a broader range of concerns. In September 1919 it opened a free legal-services bureau, staffed by volunteer attorneys, to help the needy with injury and wage claims, domestic disputes, and other legal matters that had previously been virtually insoluble and frequently disastrous for those who could not afford professional advice.

Gardiner's fresh approach brought results, and before her first year was out she could boast:

"In performing our work here we have gradually added staff until now we have eight trained social workers ready to reach any part of the city on short notice to attend to the needs of poor families. The league is aided by its medical service bureau composed of forty Seattle physicians … who donate their services freely. The league has a legal service of twenty-nine lawyers who work on the same basis. During the winter we hope to secure the service of more Seattle women as volunteers to add to the force of our regular workers" ("Funds Needed by Social League").

Success breeds success. Local newspapers, which had generally carried news of the organization in small notices buried in back pages, started printing long stories with large-font headlines announcing (and supporting) league fundraisers and programs. During 1919, the first year of Gardiner's tenure, stories about the organization appeared in The Seattle Times on 34 occasions, often in prominent positions.

Gardiner's changes to the charity's emphasis were shown in her speech to a group of local businessmen:

"Social service means the giving of immediate relief without investigation. No poor family who asks for help, or of whom we are told, goes without immediate aid. Our investigations are not to prevent giving help, but to find how to make the family self-supporting; to mobilize other resources, such as family and relatives, employers and former employers" ("Says Take Care of City's Needy").

In 1920 the league opened offices in West Seattle, Rainier Valley, and Ballard, but fundraising remained a constant challenge. A January 1921 effort by the city's business community to raise $100,000 for the league fell embarrassingly short. In response to this evidence of compassion fatigue, it was announced in late February 1921 that the Social Welfare League and 17 other local "social organizations" would band together in a Community Fund that would unify fundraising efforts and limit them to one major drive per year in which all would participate. This later became the Community Chest, then United Good Neighbors, and is now (2012) United Way.

There was growing awareness of the role of mental health in poverty and domestic turmoil, and in a 1926 pilot project the league hired its first "Mental Hygiene Expert." This would lead to the establishment of a statewide Mental Hygiene Society, predecessor to the Washington State Mental Health Association. Here was an example of the organization creating a program to tackle a specific problem, then spinning it off into an independent agency. The Tuberculosis Committee had become independent in 1909, and in 1928 the league's Legal Aid Bureau became an independent body supervised by the local bar association.

On March 12, 1929, the Social Welfare League celebrated its 10th year under that name with a banquet at the New Washington Hotel in Seattle. The league then was assisting 5,000 individuals each month (three-fourths of them children) and 1,000 families, providing both "temporary relief in the form of medical and dental service, fuel, food and legal advice" and "permanent relief calculated to restore unfortunates to an earning capacity" ("Welfare League Will Celebrate ... ").

In July 1930, Gardiner stepped down as executive secretary of the Social Welfare League, for health reasons. She left behind a very different organization than she had found 11 years earlier. A report of her farewell banquet gave some idea of her achievement:

"In place of the one lone staff member who greeted Evelyn Gail Gardiner when, in 1919, she came to reorganize the Seattle Social Welfare League, seventy-five of the league's members, including forty-two staff workers, yesterday bid her goodbye ... . " ("Miss Gardiner Retires ...").

In her 11 years at the helm, Gardiner slowly steered the Social Welfare League in a new direction, changing its focus and tone by recognizing that poverty had many causes and its alleviation required a new and broader approach.

A New Leader

On September 1, 1930, Orville Robertson, a social worker from Omaha, Nebraska, replaced Gardiner as executive secretary of the Social Welfare League. He arrived near the beginning of the Great Depression and would lead the organization for the next 25 years.

In Robertson's first year, the Social Welfare League hired its first trained psychiatric social workers and, in another first for the region, hired African American social worker Nella Carter to work with the city's small but growing black population. The league reported in 1930 that "almost seven times as many families have received help during the past year as in 1929" ("4,891 Families Are Helped ..."). The caseload continued to expand; in early 1933 Robertson reported that 1932's total "has been approximately three times as heavy as any previous year" ("Welfare League Holds Election Tomorrow").

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) took office on March 4, 1933. One of his closest advisers was Harry Hopkins (1890-1946), who had 20 years of experience in social work and welfare administration. Within months, Hopkins helped organize the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which two years later was replaced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Locally, the Washington Emergency Relief Administration (WERA), the first centralized system of public welfare relief in the state, also was started in 1933. WERA used the Social Welfare League to distribute relief funds in Seattle until the task was taken over by a public agency, the King County Welfare Board.

The straitened economy caused steep reductions in public support for the league, and by 1933 it was again struggling to survive. But by this time it had been in existence for more than 40 years and was able to withstand, albeit barely, the financial catastrophe that had brought the world's economy to its knees.

Family Society of Seattle (1934-1962)

The extraordinary conditions of the Great Depression put governments at all levels in the vanguard of responsibility for financial aid to the poor and branded "welfare" as the work of government. This necessitated another name change for the Social Welfare League, and in mid-1934 the organization became the Family Society of Seattle, a name that emphasized its core mission of helping troubled families. A new mission statement defined the society's role as to "rebuild the strength of family life in homes where a break-down has already occurred and to prevent breakdown where it may be threatened" (Wellspring Research Chronology). In announcing the new name, board chair Frank P. Helsell (1883-1966) explained:

"The League deals with cases where the cause of the situation is deeper than mere unemployment, although that may be a contributing factor. The federal government … is equipped to solve these difficulties, but we must meet the more serious maladjustments of family life" ("Social Welfare League Changes Name and Board").

Although the Family Society would still have a financial-aid component, counseling and family rehabilitation became its primary raisons d'etre. It began working closely with the King County Welfare Board (to the alarm of some who feared loss of independence), with the society taking the lead in dealing with troubled families needing long-term attention.

"Children of the Shadows"

One financial-aid program the Family Society participated in during those tough years was The Seattle Times' annual "Christmas Fund" drive, which started in 1927. The organization would select 50 needy families each year that it was believed would especially benefit from a full year of uninterrupted assistance. As explained in the newspaper:

"Government relief does not furnish the answer to these human problems. 'Relief' does not mend broken homes, or give the crippled and the bereaved the chance to rehabilitate themselves, to learn new trades, to support their loved ones on a higher standard. "[T]hrough no fault of their own, they are 'children of the shadows,' needing our help this Christmas season" ("Seattle: Fifty Families Need You").

World War II

As Nazi armies swept through Europe in 1939 and 1940, tens of thousands of refugees, including many Jews, desperately sought to escape the storm. Many made it to America, and some to Seattle. The Family Society announced in September 1940 that it would assist "aliens" during the immigration process and help them settle into their new lives.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 mandating the forced evacuation of persons of Japanese descent from America's coastal areas. On March 30, 1942, Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island became the first in the nation to be interned, with those in Seattle not far behind. Seattle Mayor Earl Millikin and Governor Arthur Langlie (1900-1966) declared their support for internment. But Orville Robertson, speaking for the Family Society, did not, calling the plan neither "necessary nor desirable" ("Enemy Alien Evacuation Order Held Imminent").

Even the Community Fund, the umbrella fundraising entity for many King County charities, took part in the demonization of Japanese Americans. In 1942 it refused to include Japanese Community Services in its distributions, claiming it was a potentially subversive organization. The Family Society stepped quietly into the breach, taking over the functions of the Japanese group and financing its activities from the society's limited resources.

The Challenges of Peacetime

In the post-war months, the society assisted returning veterans and also followed through on its commitment to those interned during the war. It hired a caseworker, Susan Karamoto, who spoke fluent Japanese, and leaflets in that language were distributed offering assistance to returning internees. By 1949 the society had evolved into an agency that primarily offered counseling and described its activities as:

  • Parent and child counseling 
  • Marriage counseling
  • Personal adjustment counseling
  • Financial planning
  • Vocational counseling
  • Unmarried-mother assistance and counseling
  • Assistance for broken homes
  • Stepparents and stepchildren counseling
  • Help with the question, "Will he outgrow it?"

A newspaper article in April that year noted that the society offered its services to all of King County, helped between 400 and 500 families each month, and had assisted more than 50,000 individuals since its start in 1892. Orville Robertson summed up the staff's challenges and motivation:

"We know we can't succeed all the time, for the most difficult material in the world to work with is human beings. But we do have a deep, personal concern and warmth for each individual and, when we know that we have helped someone in trouble, we have real satisfaction" (Strachan).

At the core of the society's activities, professionalism had moved ahead of volunteerism. By 1949, all the society's caseworkers (or, their preference, "counselors") were required to have had at least two years of graduate training in social work. The society hired its first clinical psychologist that year, and in 1950 psychological testing was introduced to assist counselors in determining what services would best help in particular cases. Another big change came in 1951 when, after much debate, a divided board of directors decided to initiate limited "fee for service" counseling on an experimental (and ability-to-pay) basis. This not only helped the society with its chronic money woes but also gave clients a financial stake in the success of services they received. However, the society emphasized, no one in need of assistance would be turned away because of an inability to pay.

The Eisenhower Years

Dwight D. Eisenhower's (1890-1969) presidency is remembered as a period of peace, prosperity, and conformity. But families during that quiet decade could still be troubled. Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina that "Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," and the men and women of the Family Society would become familiar with most of them.

It could be exhausting work. After 24 years as executive director, Orville Robertson stepped down in March 1955, saying, "After 33 years of trying to help with other people's problems, I am extremely weary and first of all I am going to rest for a while" ("Robertson ... Resigns").

In August 1955 Kosrof Eligian, with 33 years of social work experience, replaced Robertson. Eligian had survived the Armenian genocide during World War I and was sensitive to the plight of immigrants. In April 1957 the Family Society started a program to assist the resettlement of Hungarians who fled their county when Russian tanks invaded in 1956. The successful program was discontinued little more than a year later when its goals were deemed fulfilled.

Busy Years

By the late 1950s, the Family Society of Seattle functioned almost exclusively as a counseling agency, with marital and parent/child issues accounting for nearly 60 percent of referrals. The detection and treatment of mental-health problems also had become a major component of the society's work, and in some circles it was "jokingly referred to as 'the poor man's psychiatrist'" (Fish).

In September 1961 the society opened a new office in Renton to serve South King County residents. With support from Boeing, Paccar, and the Junior League as well as the United Good Neighbor fund, the society also started the Homemaker Project, which supplied child care, shopping, meal preparation, and other services for families temporarily without mothers. And in February 1962 the society appointed Bernice Baycroft as "special counselor" to the elderly, its first direct outreach to the aged ("Counselor for Elderly ...").

By March 1962 the society could claim that it was stronger than it had ever been, with a paid staff of 17 caseworkers, all with master's degrees from schools with accredited sociology departments. In 1961 it had conducted more than 13,000 interviews and counseled 2,100 families and 9,500 individuals. Each case was reviewed by three supervisors, and the organization had two consulting psychiatrists for particularly difficult situations. It had come a long way indeed since Reverend Garrett's sermon 70 years earlier.

Family Counseling Service (1962-1974)

In 1962 the Family Society of Seattle announced that henceforward it would be called the Family Counseling Service (FCS). Rather than marking any significant departure, the new name simply recognized that counseling had become the group's primary (although not exclusive) activity. Looming ahead were the civil rights and feminist movements, a war in Vietnam that would divide the country, and a youth movement that rejected just about everything that the 1950s had held sacred. Principles of social organization and acceptable behavior that had guided previous generations were questioned or simply ignored. For many young people it was an exciting time to be growing up; for some adults it may have seemed like the end of civilization. Between these extremes sat organizations like Family Counseling Services that had no choice but to try to make sense of it all.

The financial picture was also challenging. In 1964 United Good Neighbors, from which Family Counseling Service received 84 percent of its budget, fell significantly short on its annual fund drive. FSC's Homemaker Project was in desperate need of more paid workers, and to provide funds for this the organization went back to a model it had discarded years earlier -- paid subscriptions. For $5 or $10 an individual or family could buy an annual "membership" in the Family Counseling Service, with all funds going to the Homemaker program.

Kosrof Eligian died on October 20, 1965. To replace him, FCS turned to a Minneapolis antipoverty administrator, Joseph H. Kahle, who had expertise in the relationship between government and private social-service agencies. It was a timely choice. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) had recently launched his "War on Poverty" and it appeared that significant financial aid could flow to organizations like the Family Counseling Service. Under Kahle, FCS renewed its emphasis on service to disadvantaged families.

A Change in Tactics

In 1966, Irene Swartz (1906-2006), a Family Counseling Service counselor and a pioneer in family therapy, developed a new approach to family counseling that echoed the organization's earliest days. For decades, counseling had been conducted at the service's offices. Swartz discovered that for many families with multiple problems, counseling in the home was dramatically more efficient. She explained:

"[W]hen multiple-problem families come to the office, all they bring are their troubles. When you go to the home you become acquainted quickly. You get to see the family relaxed on its home ground and you find their strengths, and, of course, you can only work from their strengths … . "I am now doing in two and a half months what it used to take two years to do" (Jones "New Counseling Method ...").

It was a return to the Friendly Visitors model, but this time the visitor was a trained clinical social worker. This mix of old and new proved potent, and soon the service was holding seminars to train others in Swartz's techniques.

In June 1966, Family Counseling Service expanded its outreach. Using funds from both the Office of Economic Opportunity and United Good Neighbors, it placed family counselors in three housing projects -- Rainier Vista-Park Lake, Yesler Terrace, and High Point -- and in the offices of the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP). Not content to wait for the troubled to seek help, the organization actively searched out those who could benefit from its services.

In 1967 FCS hired as its assistant executive director William A. Bell, an African American social worker who had previously worked in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical Center. This strengthened the agency's mental-health component and emphasized a commitment to King County's black community. The service now had 31 full-time social workers on staff, and in August 1967 opened a new office in Rainier Valley to better serve South Seattle.  

More Tough Times

Kahle was a tireless executive director, appearing frequently on radio shows to discuss FCS offerings, speaking at countless public meetings, participating on dozens of panels devoted to the problems of families and youth, even heading the Seattle branch of the state Welfare Reform Coalition. But it's a sad irony of social work that in times of economic downturn, when help is most needed, the budgets of agencies that provide that help are often first on the chopping block. Money problems led to the closure in May 1970 of the West Seattle Mental Health Center, opened only eight months earlier by the Family Counseling Service and the West Seattle Council on Youth Affairs.

Federal and state contributions were being cut back, as were those of United Good Neighbors, which, along with fee-for-service income, provided Family Counseling Service's primary funding. In 1968, the organization's staff numbered 54; by late 1970, it had shrunk to 37. In response, it enlarged its volunteer corps to include 44 volunteer counselors and 175 community aides. The agency once again proved capable of weathering tough times, and in 1973 had offices in downtown Seattle, Yesler Terrace, Wallingford, Shoreline, and West Seattle, and farther afield in Bellevue, Federal Way, Renton, and Enumclaw.

By the mid 1970s, America was a much different place than it had been just a decade earlier. No longer were unwed mothers sequestered away, more and more couples lived together without being married, recreational drug use was commonplace among the younger generation. Yet the need for counseling and assistance continued. The Family Counseling Service adapted to the times it found itself in, providing help to practically anyone needing a place to turn.

Family and Child Services of Metropolitan Seattle (1974-1980)

At its annual meeting in March 1974, Family Counseling Service voted to change its name to the Family and Child Services of Metropolitan Seattle. The rationale was a need to convey the "agency's expanding services." The organization's ambit had widened in recent years and now included, in addition to counseling, "family advocacy, community education, and service and consultation" ("Agency's New Name ...").

The agency carried on under its new name through the later years of the 1970s much as it had before, adding new services as funding became available. Among these were counseling for widows and widowers, a Family Life Education Program that taught effective parenting skills, a domestic violence intervention program, and a collaboration with El Centro de la Raza to better serve King County's Hispanic population.

In 1975, United Way (formerly United Good Neighbors) largely stopped funding smaller organizations unless they merged with larger ones, termed "umbrella agencies." As a result, several previously independent small agencies joined Family and Child Services, including Cancer Lifeline (formerly part of the Crisis Clinic), the Family Anger Management Institute, and, in 1979, the Widowed Information & Consultation Service and the Evergreen Stroke Association.

Family Services of King County (1980-2009)

Throughout the 1980s, the organization functioned as an umbrella agency under the United Way, but with a new and simpler name: Family Services of King County, known for most of the next 30 years as simply "Family Services." In November 1980 the organization adopted a new mission statement:

"Family Services of King County recognizes the family, whatever its form, as the basic socializing influence in our society. Therefore it seeks to promote the quality of family life and protect and improve the functioning of families and their individual family members" (Wellspring Research Chronology).

What was significant here was the phrase "whatever its form." During its then-88-year existence the agency had seen American society and its mores change and change again. By 1980 it had distilled its mission down to what this long experience taught was the single most important thing -- the family. Two-parent families, one-parent families, childless families, blended families, broken families, adopted families -- helping the family, "whatever its form," was the enduring mission.

Joseph Kahle stepped down as executive director in June 1981 and was replaced by Richard I. Borden, who had run a similar agency in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Borden departed in 1983, and was replaced temporarily by Harry Benton, a longtime member of the board. In March 1984 Robert Watt, the former director of Youth Eastside Services, took charge. In July 1984, the title "executive director" was changed to "president and CEO."

The 1980s saw additional smaller organizations come under the Family Services umbrella including, in 1986, Compassionate Friends and the Seattle Child Guidance Center. The decade saw both entrenchment and expansion. The agency's East Valley branch combined with Federal Way, and the North branch joined with the Wallingford office in 1985. The West Seattle office closed in 1981, but a new office opened in Kent in 1986.

During the 1980s gerontology received increased attention, and in 1987 Family Services began its Facing Aging Concerns Together (FACT) program, which provided professional education to those working with the aged. The following year saw the addition of a program to provide services, including eviction prevention, to the Seattle Housing Authority's tenants. The Morningsong Homeless Family Support Center opened to provide assistance to families, particularly preschoolers, housed at the Seattle Emergency Housing Program's Yesler Terrace facility.

The 1980s closed with the appointment of Family Services' fourth leader of the decade when Steve Forman replaced Bob Watt as president and CEO on an interim basis. Forman served until July, 1990, when Ruthann Howell, only the second woman to head the agency, took over. Howell came to Family Services from the Salvation Army, where she had been in charge of its Catherine Booth House and social-services division. Nearly 22 years later, she still (2012) leads the organization.

Clarification and Growth

After the frequent changes in leadership and programs during the 1980s, Family Services decided it should stop and take a look at where it was and where it wanted to go. The agency was reorganized and streamlined and its multiple programs sorted into three broad categories: mental health counseling, homelessness and family stabilization, and community violence prevention. Talk of changing the organization's name yet again was tabled; it would remain "Family Services of King County" until 2009.

During the 1990s some organizations left the Family Services "umbrella," including Cancer Lifeline and the Evergreen Stroke Association, while others came in and new programs were developed. In 1994 the Travelers Aid Society joined the agency and became the Transitional Assistance Program, helping homeless individuals and families. The Multicultural Counseling Service program was started in 1992 to help the area's growing low-income, multicultural communities. A "Baby Boutique" opened in 1994 to provide diapers and other essential items for homeless families with infants and young children, and it has proved a huge success.

The region's economy enjoyed an extended boom in the last decade of the twentieth century, fueled by the high-tech industry. Family Services remained an official United Way agency, but also looked further afield for funding. Some contributions were "in kind," such as Seattle development firm Wright Runstad's 1990 offer of free space in its new Second and Seneca Building. In 1991 the Employee Assistance Program (begun as a pilot project in 1981) and some counseling activities moved to that location.

In 1993, Family Services was selected for The Seattle Times annual "Fund for the Needy" campaign. The following year it started taking on clients insured by the federal government through Medicaid, a program that continued until 2004, when the agency concluded that administrative requirements had become too burdensome. By the end of 1996, Family Services had 19 offices in King County to service its ever-expanding clientele, but still seemed perpetually short of funds. Minor relief came in 1997 when it was certified as a state-licensed mental health agency, making it eligible to accept low-income clients insured through the state's Title XIX program and providing an additional source of revenue.

A Third Century of Helping

There are not many organizations of any kind that can boast of having done business in three consecutive centuries. It is particularly impressive that a non-profit agency that has had to scramble for funds and public support throughout its long history can make that claim. That it has survived is notable; that it has steadily expanded its services and helped an ever-growing number of people cope with an ever-expanding range of challenges is remarkable. What one minister and a small group of volunteers started in 1892 had by the year 2000 become a large multifaceted organization devoted to helping troubled families and individuals find their way to happy and productive lives.

For Family Services, during the first decade of the twenty-first century there was growth -- new programs for parents, counseling for postpartum depression, a new focus on the mental health of infants and children, the expansion of the Morningsong program for homeless preschoolers, to name a few. There were also setbacks -- the ending of the Airport Assistance Program, closure of the agency's Rainier Vista office, and, always, the constant challenge of raising funds. Two events, one in 2005 and one in 2006, were of particular note.

In 2005, Family Services acquired Wellspring Employee Assistance Program, a subsidiary of the Hope Heart Institute, greatly expanding the agency's employee assistance work. And in 2006, the agency kicked off its first-ever capital campaign. The acquisition would eventually give the organization its ninth and current name; the capital campaign would fund its first permanent home.

At Last -- A Home to Call Its Own

Throughout its long decades of helping families find stability, the organization itself was, ironically, homeless, its programs scattered and its headquarters moving from one rented or donated space to another. After more than a century of this, in 1995 the board of Family Services appointed a task force to investigate the establishment of a permanent home for the organization, one that would consolidate many of its services in one location and reduce rent costs.

After receiving task-force recommendations and laying the groundwork, in 2006 the agency launched its first capital campaign. The $10.5-million "Campaign for Family Services: Permanent Solutions for Homeless Families" got a huge boost that same year when the Rotary Club of Seattle (the fourth oldest and the largest in the world) chose it from a group of 41 applicants to be the beneficiary of Rotary's "Centennial Campaign" marking the local club's 100th anniversary. Fittingly, it was one of the city's oldest public-service organizations stepping forward to help one that was even older.

Rotary vowed to raise a whopping $4 million for Family Services, and more than kept that promise. With this pledge in hand, in 2007 Family Services purchased the old Arctic Ice Cream Factory property at 1900 Rainier Avenue S as the site for its headquarters, which, when completed, would be called the "Rotary Support Center for Families." Fundraising continued and the agency received generous support from, among others, Boeing, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Microsoft. In 2008 construction began.

With such a major development on the horizon, it is not surprising that the organization's penchant for changing names surfaced again. A "branding" initiative was started in 2008, and after considering many possibilities, it was realized that the organization already owned a suitable new name. Wellspring Employee Assistance Program had been acquired in 2005 and Family Services had continued to run it under that name. Why wouldn't "Wellspring" better serve as a name for the entire organization? It was simple, easily remembered, evocative of sustenance and health, and available. In 2009 Family Services of King County became Wellspring Family Services. And on June 26, 2009, with the grand opening ceremony for the Rotary Support Center for Families and 117 years after its founding, Wellspring Family Services had a permanent home.

Wellspring Family Services

In 2012, its 121st year in operation, Wellspring Family Services is a mature organization. Its impressive $16 million, three-story, 35,000-square-foot headquarters, designed by architect Rumi Takahashi, is a light-filled structure that provides both generous conference spaces and private areas for counseling and other client-related activities. The calming sound of burbling water fills the three-story atrium, which is graced by a suspended glass sculpture by Seattle artist Mark Ditzler.

The range of services the organization offers is broader and deeper than ever. Its current focus centers on three concerns: domestic violence, early learning, and homeless services. For each it provides a variety of programs. In 2011 alone its accomplishments included the following:

  • Seventy homeless children attended Wellspring's Early Learning Center and all increased the number of skills mastered, with an average of 35 new skills gained;
  •  Emergency housing was provided for 151 homeless children and their families;
  • An additional 196 families received support and rent assistance to avoid eviction;
  • Long-term, stable housing was provided for 133 families with 247 children;
  • Clothing, diapers, and other essentials were provided to 3,274 children through Wellspring's Baby Boutique;
  •  Domestic violence intervention groups drew 125 men, of whom 79 percent stayed with the program and learned new behaviors.
In addition, the Wellspring Employee Assistance Program provides businesses with professional management services, access to resources, and work-life support for their employees. There is also an educational component that offers Master's and Doctoral level clinical internships and certificate degrees in human development and clinical theory and practice. And there is, of course, counseling. Wellspring Counseling offers counseling, classes, and workshops for individuals and couples, parents and children, and has offices in Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond. In 2011, Wellspring served more than 9,000 children, adults, and families in King County.

How to summarize 120 years of helping people in trouble? Wellspring's current mission statement puts it pretty well:

"Wellspring Family Services builds emotionally healthy, self-sufficient families and a non-violent community in which they can thrive. By addressing the overlapping issues of mental health challenges, domestic violence, and homelessness we get at the source of instability for families" ("About Us").

Sources: "The Charity Organization Societies," Boise State University School of Social Work website accessed May 20, 2012 (http://www.boisestate.edu/socwork/dhuff/history/chapts/1-3.htm); "Charity Organization Societies," Encyclopedia of Chicago website accessed May 20, 2012 (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/229.html); Mary Ellen Richmond, Friendly Visiting Among the Poor (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1916); Mary Ellen Richmond, "Charitable Cooperation", Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1901, p. 298.Frank Dekker Watson, The Charity Organization Movement in the United States: Study in American Philanthropy (New York: McMillan, 1922) 180-181; "The Reverend D. C. Garrett," The Church Times (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Vol. 13, No. 5 (January 1903); "A History of Human Services," Washington State Department of Social and Health Services website accessed May 20, 2012 (http://www.dshs.wa.gov/history.shtml#1871); Clarence B. 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Joslyn, Our Agency's First Psychiatric Social Worker," and "Wellspring Archives: Our First Client Records," and "Wellspring Archives: Our First Fundraiser," and "Wellspring Archives: Relief vs. Social Service," and Wellspring Archives: What Did They Do with the Baby?" (all by Deborah Townsend), and "The Charity Organization Society of Seattle advertises its day nursery for the first time on March 27, 1901" (by Paula Becker), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed May 26-June 8, 2012); "Work of the Year Made Known at Annual Meeting," The Seattle Daily Times, January 4, 1900, p. 8; ""Proposition to Increase Membership of the Executive Council and by This Means Enlarge the Work," Ibid., August 5, 1902, p. 13; "Hall for Young Men," Ibid., January 17, 1903, p. 5; "Salvation Army Dinner," Ibid., December 23, 1902, p. 20; "Dr. Thwing Has Resigned," Ibid., April 1, 1903, p. 7; "Large Crop of Perfect Babies," Ibid., June 7, 1919, p. 4; "Establish Legal Service Bureau for Seattle Poor," Ibid., September 7, 1919, p. 29; "Funds Needed by Social League," Ibid., November 7, 1919, p. 20; "Says Take Care of City's Needy," Ibid., November 25, 1919, p. 4; "Open District Offices," Ibid., January 30, 1920, p. 38; "10,431 Is Answer to Destitutes' Cry," Ibid., February 6, 1921, p. 1; "What Shall We Do With Them," Ibid., February 11, 1921, p. 6; "Will End Duplication," Ibid., February 27, 1921, p. 17; "Social Welfare League Makes Annual Report," Ibid., May 28, 1922, p. 14; "Welfare League Will Celebrate on Anniversary,"  Ibid., March 10, 1929, p. 11; "Miss Gardiner Retires from Welfare Work," Ibid., July 12, 1930, p. 4; "4,891 Families Are Helped by Welfare League," Ibid., November 22, 1931, p. 7; "Welfare League Holds Election Tomorrow,"   Ibid., February 26, 1933, p. 4; "Social Welfare League Changes Name and Board," Ibid., June 12, 1934, p. 22; "Seattle: Fifty Families Need You," Ibid., November 29, 1935, p. 1; "Family Society Will Help Aliens Register," Ibid., September 24, 1940, p. 12; "Enemy Alien Evacuation Order Held Imminent," Ibid., March 1, 1942, p. 7; Margaret Pitcairn Strachan, "The Family Society: Friend of Man," Ibid., April 10, 1949, p. 64; "Robertson, Director of Family Society, Resigns," Ibid,, March 14, 1955, p. 34; Dorothy Brant Brazier, "Grandmother's in Her Second Career," Ibid., November 23, 1958, p. 63; Laurie Fish, "Family Society Gives Helping Hand to Those Having Big Problems," Ibid., March 27, 1960, p. 26; "Counselor for Elderly is Appointed," Ibid., February 28, 1962, p. 6; "Family Society of Seattle Changes Name," Ibid,, March 28, 1962, p. 22; Leonard Shaw,  Letter to the Editor, "Counseling Service," Ibid., April 14, 1964, p. 10; "Kosrof Eligian, 58," Ibid., October 21, 1965; Marjorie Jones, "New Counseling Method Gets More Results in Less Time," Ibid., March 23, 1966, p. 8; "Agency Will Cut Services," Ibid, July 9, 1970, p. 64; Marjorie Jones, "Tight Family Counseling Budget Has Lingering, Tragic Social Impact," Ibid., October 13, 1970, p. B-7; Marjorie Jones, "U.G.N. Agencies Tighten Belt, Adjust to Budget Cutbacks," Ibid., March 11, 1971, p. 24; "Agency's New Name is Family, Child Service," Ibid., March 20, 1974, p. 24; "System in Charity," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 5, 1892, p. 5; "To Form the Plan," Ibid., January 6, 1892, p. 5; "United in Charity," Ibid., January 14, 1892.

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