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The Association for the Relief of Aged Women of New Bedford

The Association for the Relief of Aged Women of New Bedford


Founded in 1866, the Association’s first president, Rachel Howland, was a prominent New Bedford Quaker preacher, activist and philanthropist. One of her lasting legacies, the Association for the Relief of Aged Women, has operated continuously since then.

Not alms alone, but a friend.


Peace, love, and understanding were hallmarks of Rachel Howland (1816-1902). Rachel Collins Smith was born on May 6, 1816, in Burlington, New Jersey, into a prominent Quaker family that struggled financially for two generations with the early deaths of her father and grandfather. From 1840 to 1842, New Bedford’s Matthew Howland, co-owner of the whaling business George Howland & Sons, courted Rachel in Burlington with visits and letters that are now part of the Howland Family Papers in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library. The responsible Matthew and the enlightened Rachel were married on September 8, 1842. The newlyweds settled in New Bedford, where Rachel continued her activity in the Society of Friends and began her work in peacemaking and compassionate philanthropy.

Of all her philanthropy, Rachel especially cherished her work with the Association for the Relief of Aged Women of New Bedford, her most enduring philanthropy. At the Association’s annual meeting in 1867 held at City Hall, the Secretary’s Report states* “besides the material aid these old women receive, they seem to derive great comfort from the care and sympathy of the ladies, looking forward to their visits from time to time with eager anticipation. On our part, it is pleasant to be able to smooth their difficult ways, furnishing some with warmer clothing or more abundant food, giving fuel to others, occasionally paying a deficiency in rent or a little worrying debt, and in every way trying to relieve where want and poverty press hardest.”* In 1876, on the occasion of the Association’s 10th anniversary, Rachel remarked to the Board,  “We are the almoners of the bounty of others. The money we distribute is not our own. Only the fidelity and wisdom with which we exercise this trust may be said to be ours.” *

*Excerpts are from the Archives of the Association for the Relief of Aged Women
Photo of Rachael Howland and biographical notes courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum
Learn more about Rachel Howland

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