GFS dates to the 1870’s, an age that seems to have little connection to our own times. America had become a leading industrial power, impacting the lives and habits of its people. Young women and girls moved away from their families to work in factories or serve in the homes of wealthy industrialists. The work was drudgery, but it offered single women independence and a chance to go out into the world to “do something.” However, they were far from family, worked long hours, and were without friends.
Elizabeth Edson, the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman, lived in Lowell, Massachusetts, which was the first true American factory town, with rows of textile mills. Women and girls came from all over New England to work in the mills. They lived in boarding houses. Elizabeth Edson had read about the newly formed Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) in England, which had been founded with the purpose to provide girls with friendship and recreation, bound in a fellowship of Christian love and service. She saw the potential for this novel organization to provide support for these working girls in their new environment. The first GFS branch was founded in 1877 and quickly spread throughout the country.
In 1906, GFS was established in the Diocese of Los Angeles at the Neighborhood Settlement to provide a social outlet and service opportunities for girls in the shifting population of early downtown Los Angeles. In 1924, a GFS Lodge was established to provide greatly needed housing for single working women, irrespective of church affiliation. After WWII, the Lodge was sold because boarding houses were no longer in demand. GFS in the Diocese of Los Angeles adopted a badge program, refined by Violet Stephens (wife of The Right Reverend Bertrand Stevens) and Olive Jones with the aim of building more informed and loyal church members. The program served its purpose well, contributing many active leaders in the Episcopal Church.
In 2022, the GFS board responded again to changes girls are facing in their environment. With so many unique communities within the diocese, GFS adopted a grant program to directly fund programs at churches to help girls thrive in their environment. The first grant was made to St. Stephen’s, West Hollywood in 2023.
GFS-Los Angeles is governed by a board which meets 3 times per year to conduct business. GFS branches exist in local churches of the Diocese of Los Angeles with volunteer leaders providing fellowship activities. Sustaining Members enjoy honorary membership status and support GFS financially. GFS-Los Angeles is a member of GFS-USA, which is a member of the GFS World Council, with members in more than 30 countries. GFS-USA and GFS-World each hold conferences every three years.