Sometimes a Monday is more than just a Monday. Sometimes a Monday can be revolutionary.
That was the case in Greenville 100 years ago when on Monday, April 24, 1922, a group of civic leaders organized and launched the first Greenville Community Fund campaign, forever changing the way Greenville County supports our neighbors in need.
Led by textile executive John W. Arrington of Union Bleachery, the inaugural Community Fund campaign kicked off in Greenville. Two-hundred and fifty trailblazers and visionary volunteers joined Arrington in leading the way, rallying our community to join forces in a united fundraising effort.
The movement in Greenville was part of a national trend at the close of World War I. The war had brought with it a rapid expansion of industrialism nationwide, and America was imbued with a renewed sense of optimism and faith in progress. Greenville was no exception.
Buoyed by its reputation as the “Pearl of the Piedmont,” textiles became the dominant industry. South Carolina was second only to Massachusetts as a textile producing state, boasting some of the largest textile mills in the world. This “mill boom” created countless mill towns, populated by people in need of organized clubs, sports, classes and charitable support. Experimentation in social welfare emerged across the nation as communities began replacing the War Chests with Community Chests.
In Greenville, the decision to launch the “Greenville Community Fund” was inspired by caring, convenience and a desire to know that the contributions were being well spent.
“Greenville has been overrun with campaigns,” read the original campaign flyer. “Sometimes Greenville was asked to give more than its share to outside causes and, even with local institutions, the contributor did not have the time to investigate the organization to see that the money was economically spend the work efficiently handled.”
A campaign preview story in The Greenville News the day before the campaign’s launch, further elaborated on the desire for a single effort:
“There are eleven agencies in Greenville which conduct about 17 campaigns in Greenville every year in addition to a number of outside calls…Greenville never knew when it had reached its limit. It was call after call. A man would give liberally to one cause and before his pen was dry another would bob up equally as worthy. When a man gave, he did not know whether Greenville was overloaded, whether one organization was duplicating the work of another, whether one organization which had good business executives was getting more than its share and some other organization equally worthy was receiving less than it needed.”
“Once a Year — and if we succeed, it’s over with,” a less-than-inspiring tagline for a campaign in 2022, but it was exactly what the Greenville donors of 1922 were craving.
Ten local agencies signed up to be part of the original drive and agreed to not conduct their own separate fundraising campaigns. Included among the supported agencies were the Salvation Army, Red Cross two organizations serving the Black community in segregated Greenville (St. Luke Hospital and “Community Service”), the YMCA and YWCA, the Hopewell Sanitarium, Girls’ Protective Bureau and the County Tuberculosis Association.
Each participating agency submitted its budget for review by the Fund’s 11-member board of trustees, which included Arrington as President and B.E. Geer, Allen J. Graham, Mrs. M.P. Gridley, Mrs. H.J. Haynsworth, Edwin Howard, D.L. Norris, J.A. Russell, J.E. Sirrine, Aug. W. Smith, and F.W. Symmes.
They set a goal of $95,000 based on those budgets and raised a total of $82,000 in five days from 3,400 “subscribers.” Despite not hitting the initial goal, the campaign was an unqualified success.
“To whom is the success of the Community Fund mainly due?,” asked one committee member in The Greenville News on May 14 of that year. “To all of us. Everyone did the part asked of him or her and that means success. In Greenville we have our own personal differences, we may have our organization differences, but when Greenville is at stake we bury all difficulties and pull together for our city.”
The Community Fund continued its annual campaign the following year, led by Alan J. Graham (whose family foundation remains a supporter of United Way a century later) and increased its total to $87,000.
Through the 1920s, the beneficiaries expanded outside of the city to cover Greenville County and included organizations like Phillis Wheatley (founded in 1920 by Hattie Logan Duckett), Travelers Aid Society, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, and the McGlothlin Mother’s Milk Fund (fund for milk and ice).
On May 14, 1928, local leaders of the fund voted at its annual meeting to join the national Community Chest movement, becoming the Greater Greenville Community Chest, the object of which “is to coordinate the work of the charitable, philanthropic, and social agencies of the city and county, in order that such community needs may be adequately supported, efficiently operated, and each organization given opportunity for normal growth.”
The Chest continued to grow in the intervening years and in the last campaign it conducted, a total of approximately $263,000.00 was raised in 1954.
The following year, the Chest turned over operations to a new organization, the United Fund of Greenville County, which evolved again in 1974 to become United Way of Greenville County.
Come back throughout the year for more stories on United Way’s history in Greenville County, and click here to share your own United Way story.