The most beautiful girls are those who give to others.

Philanthropy is a fancy word for volunteering. Women played a key role in philanthropy even before they won their right to vote. Women often focused on social change in their community in an effort to improve conditions for individuals and families. They would work for more than one organization or cause at a time. Women’s role in philanthropy was a tool used to gain power in their society. At this time they could not vote but also were not allowed to have property.

In 1643 Lady Ann Moulson (Radcliffe), a widow and businesswoman in London donated money to Harvard College for scholarships to help poor students. In the 18th century, women ran volunteer groups often focused on children and education. Isabella Graham, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and 15 other women founded New York’s first female controlled charity, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. They focused on educating the children while the mothers worked, in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and encourage self-sufficiency. This was the first time in American history that women and children’s issues were made a priority. By the end of the 19th century, women were capable of fundraising and organizing large efforts and often were more visible in the public.

History shows that the needs of women and children has always been a focus. In 1800, Hannah Stillman, invited friends to meet in her home to discuss the issue of orphans. These women created the Boston Female Asylum for the care of female orphan children, the first public charity organized by women in Boston. By mid 1800’s women were taking leadership roles at charities. Issues included supervising and speaking up for women prisoners, setting up child care for working mothers, vocational training for young girls, and employment offices. As industrialization grew, richer women began to help working class women find jobs.

Today philanthropy is still a large area supervised by women, however it is also becoming more acceptable and easier for families and children to take part in effort to create a better community for all. Today families may work together at soup kitchens, cleaning up beaches and parks, or fundraising for local charities. I recall hearing a story by Tony Robbins (a motivational speaker) in which remembered being at the receiving end of charity as a child. His family was too poor to buy food for a large holiday feast, but also remembers feeling grateful to the individuals who thoughtfully provided for his family during that time. It stayed with him until he was an adult who could afford to pass on that same love to another family in need. The joy of giving can be equal to the joy of receiving.

Notable Philanthropic Women

Taylor Swift: Donated all proceeds from her “Wildest Dreams” song to the African Parks Foundation of America, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving and preserving national parklands in Africa. She actively brought awareness to the issue of sexual assault against women everywhere. She donated proceeds from a song to NY Public Schools. She also donates to the UNICEF Tap Project.

Mariska Hargitay: She does not just play Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit, the role opened her eyes to the truth about sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in the United States. She used her knowledge, fame and money to start Joyful Heart Foundation an organization to educate and help survivors of Sexual Assault.

Angelina Jolie “I will do the best I can with this life, to be of use.” She brings attention to global issues, such as refugee rights, and meets with refugees.

The Jolie-Pitt Foundation is dedicated to helping extreme rural poverty, protecting natural resources and conserving wildlife, and has contributed $1 million to Doctors Without Borders - this is only a handful of things on the lengthy list that details Jolie's numerous volunteer contributions.

Audrey Hepburn “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” - Audrey Hepburn

During WWII she was a volunteer nurse in a Dutch hospital. In 1954, she began contributing to UNICEF and donated all the money she earned from her final movies. She became a Goodwill Ambassador and often travelled the world to help children.

Oprah : Not only does Oprah continue to donate money and energy to many causes around the world but she has inspired millions of people to be better people and take action by doing the same.

Agatha Christie – She was a famous writer but also a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay in World War I.

Sally Ride– America’s first female astronaut. She supported  Girl Scouts and co-founded the Girl Scouts’ Camp CEO, pairing minority girls with professional women. She also founded Sally Ride Science.

How You Can Make a Difference

  1. Where do you see a need in your community?

  2. What are you most passionate about? If you love animals is there a shelter near you that you can talk to about their needs. Sometimes it may be fundraising (bake sales and lemonade sales are great). Maybe you can set up an Amazon Wish List for them or publicize the one they have. Do they need you to walk or play with their animals?

  3. Start with your schools, religious organization, or local recreation center and see what is being planned. Most community organizations are always planning ways to help their locals.

  4. Check out Mommy Poppins for a list of ways your entire family can get involved.

  5. Get on the Doing Good Together email list for current updates for families.