At first membership was restricted to men who were natives of England but over time as the world has changed enormously, the Society has adapted. Membership is now open to people of all origins but that usually have some affinity to Britain. Women were admitted as members in 1989, and in 2005 the Society elected its first woman president, Natalie T. Pray, and its first woman chaplain, The Reverend Philippa Turner of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan.
Over the years, St. George’s Society’s assistance has taken a variety of forms: a bag of coal or a voucher to a woodpile to keep a family warm during the winter months; free ship passage on the White Star line back to England when the “American dream” did not work out for a spinster in 1898; a free hospital bed at St. Luke’s Hospital for the ill (the average stay in 1927 was one month); a pawn ticket paid to retrieve a winter coat in 1904; assistance for “British War Brides” who found themselves in need upon their arrival in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Along the way, it advocated the establishment of St. George the Martyr, an Anglo-American free church and St. Luke’s Hospital. It acquired burial plots for needy British subjects and acted as an employment agency during depressions and times of hardship. In recent decades the Society has provided stipends and emergency grants to needy people from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, mainly elderly, living in the New York area.
Today, St. George’s Society provides two major forms of assistance to disadvantaged people of British and Commonwealth heritage living in the New York area through its Beneficiary Program for elderly and disabled peopled and its Scholarship Program to assist outstanding students enrolled at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York.
With today’s government entitlement network, the need for private social services charities has diminished – but not vanished. The Society’s Beneficiaries Committee authorizes and reviews monthly stipends to approximately 70 beneficiaries. Half are from the United Kingdom, mainly England, and half from the Commonwealth, chiefly the West Indies. Beneficiaries with medical problems are referred when possible to St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital, with which St. George’s has been associated for 150 years. The Society also provides quality-of-life grants, repatriates persons to the United Kingdom, assists others referred by the British Consulate-General, and provides cremation and interment in one of the Society’s three cemetery plots.
While the assistance St. George’s Society provides has changed over time, the purpose has remained the same – to help those who cannot help themselves. Since its founding 242 years ago, we have aided thousands of British and Commonwealth persons while striving to fulfill our mission statement: “Let mercy be our boast and shame our only fear.”
As a result of this unique record of Charity, St. George’s Society has a close working relationship with the British Consulate-General in New York and for over a century each serving Consul-General has been SGS's Honorary President. His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester became the Society's Royal Patron in 2000. He takes an active interest in our work and has met several SGS scholars and beneficiaries on official visits to New York. In 2000 St. George’s Society was also honored with armorial bearings by the College of Arms in London, acting under the authority of the British Crown, to recognize the Charity’s long and respected history of aiding British and Commonwealth subjects in New York.
St. George’s acts as an influential network for expatriates and anglophiles in New York and hosts a variety of social Events throughout the year, including the English Ball, the Society’s largest annual fundraiser, the British Societies’ Summer Garden Party and a traditional Christmas luncheon. In March 2011, St. George’s Society launched GEORGE, a co-brand for vibrant, dynamic professionals, which has hosted a number of successful fundraisers and attracted many new members to Society.
Click here to view rare items from the Society’s archives dating back to 1787.