Our History

Our History

The beginning

GFS was established in 1875 by Mary Elizabeth Townsend and is one of the oldest registered charities in the UK. Its initial aim was to support working-class country girls who left home to take up urban employment, in rapidly expanding cities, during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Cut off from the support of friends and family, ‘Lady Associates’ befriended and guided the girls who became 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 8 could become ‘membership candidates’. In 1880 Queen Victoria became the Society’s Patron. By 1900, more than 33,000 female volunteers supported and mentored more than 150,000 young women in more than 1,350 branches throughout the UK.

 The first mention of GFS in Western Australia dates from 1884 through an associate from England and a similar model was adopted here. The first WA charter was signed in late 1888 making GFS Perth one of the oldest organisations in the state.

The first branch in Perth was very active in fundraising, especially for the Parkerville Children’s Home, the Perth Girls’ Orphanage and Swan Homes. A unique ministry in Western Australia began in 1926 when the “Lady Bertha Dawkins” caravan enabled the GFS message to find its way around the state. 1932 was a peak year for GFS Perth with 39 branches, 779 members, 200 associates, 189 senior candidates, 36 candidate workers, 441 candidates and 16 married helpers.

During the Second World War GFS Perth helped the Red Cross and throughout the years since, the foundation has been involved in a wide range of social support activities from providing housing to single women moving into the city, raising money for a variety of causes and at one point running a “nappy“ drive, to provide for children in need.

From the 1950s and possibly earlier, the Girls’ Friendly Society provided emergency accommodation for female ‘Wards of the Department’ if alternative suitable placement could not be found. 

In more recent times GFS has been involved with various local, national and global initiatives including Share the Dignity and the annual 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.

In 2021 we sold and moved from our final city-based property and are developing Friendship Central in West Swan in readiness to support a new generation in one of WA’s fastest-growing growth corridors.