A Brief History of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society The need for the NMCRS was recognized long before its organization. Our newly formed nation could not afford to provide a “benefits package” for its armed forces. There were no survivors’ benefits for families of deceased personnel, no retirement annuities or medical benefits for service families. When a man died in battle, often his family’s only source of income was provided by the “passing of the hat” among his surviving crewmembers. In 1820, Commodore Isaac Hull, Commander of the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, held a meeting of the Officers under his command. The subject discussed was a letter from the Officers at the “New York Station”, who proposed the formation of a “Society, to be composed of the Navy and Marine Corps, for the relief and support of the Widows and Families of Officers who may be killed in battle or die while in service.” The Officers unanimously agreed with the idea and a committee was established to prepare a “Constitution” for the planned Society. We can find no indication that further action was taken, but the idea was a good one, and was eventually acted on 83 years later. In 1903, Dr. J. William White of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that the proceeds from that year’s Army-Navy game be split three ways. President Roosevelt approved the idea and the $27,000 gate receipts were split between the University, as hosts of the game, the Army Relief Society and the Navy for the purpose of establishing a relief society for Navy and Marine Corps widows and orphans. The original incorporators of the Society were a “who’s who” of the time. Among them were Admiral George Dewey, other admirals and their wives, including Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Cowles, wife of Admiral Cowles and sister of President Theodore Roosevelt. They realized that the new organization would need the support of many influential individuals in order to succeed. The first Honorary VicePresidents of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society included President Theodore Roosevelt, The Secretary of the Navy, two University Presidents, two U.S. Senators, a U.S. Congressman, a former Ambassador to Great Britain, a judge, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a Wall Street banker, and a philanthropist. Using their collective expertise and the $9,000 from the 1903 Army-Navy game, our new Society was officially started. The first President selected for the new Navy Relief Society was Mrs. Grace Higginson, wife of the Commander of the Washington Navy Yard. During these early years, the Society investigated the family circumstances of every man who died on active duty. If his widow and children were in financial need, they received a supplement of $5 - $25 dollars a month. If the widow or children seemed a likely candidate for education, the Society paid for training or schooling so that the family had a reliable source of income. At that time, all assistance was given as a grant. 1
The University of Pennsylvania continued to give the Navy Relief Society a share of the profits from the Army-Navy game for several more years. The Navy raised additional funds by selling memberships in the organization. The Society had established several Auxiliaries to help in the collecting of information and the distribution of assistance. The plan was to have one Auxiliary in each state. In 1905, Auxiliaries were established at Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; the Navy Yard, New York City; League Island, Pennsylvania; the Naval Academy, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; and Michigan. Mrs. Higginson served for two years before resigning because of her husband’s orders to New York. Admiral of the Navy George Dewey was the second Society President and he remained President until his death in 1916. During his term, the Society expanded to 18 Auxiliaries and several “Branch Auxiliaries” as the smaller offices were called. The Articles of Incorporation had been amended to include “mothers listed as beneficiaries” as eligible for assistance. By this time, the Society had provided grants of over $250,000.00 to almost 2500 families. The advent of World War I brought official Navy recognition to the Society when a retired officer was ordered to special duty as Corresponding Secretary of the Society, and was permitted to use active duty personnel to handle correspondence. From 1917 – 1920, while her husband was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was an active Society volunteer and member of the Board of Managers. Thanks to her personal efforts, the American Red Cross and the Navy Relief Society came to a cooperative understanding of their complementary roles in assisting service members. The Society has always tried to provide quick relief when needed. During 1917, the Society had its first large-scale relief operation. The War Risk Insurance Act of 1917 established death compensation, but did not authorize the funds to pay the entitlements. The Society stepped in and issued standardized allotments until the Bureau of War Risk Insurance began issuing the appropriate checks. Throughout the War years the Auxiliaries tried to find ways to raise money for relief assistance. Songs and books were published, plays were performed, garden parties and carnivals given… all with the proceeds going to the Society to increase the available funds in the event of a major catastrophe. The New York Auxiliary stepped in to help families whose quarter’s allowances were not paid. Messrs. J.P. Morgan & Company set up an account of $10,000.00 for the Society to draw on. Interest-free loans were made to fifty-three families. The New York Auxiliary also established the Navy Relief Emergency Fund Committee to raise money in the event of wide-scale wartime disasters. The Committee raised $103,000.00 by staging a benefit at the New York Hippodrome, starring opera singers Enrico Caruso and Claudia Muzio. The funds were not needed for relief operations and were later transferred to the Society’s reserve fund.
After the War, the Society continued to expand its policies to include interest-free loans to active duty service members and their families â€œin special cases of distress.â€? With the new policy of allowing loans as well as grants, the Society began to broaden its visibility and its appeal for donations or memberships. May 1st was designated Navy Relief Day and was celebrated in honor of Admiral Dewey and his commitment to the Society. Bases were thrown open to the public. Philadelphia Navy Yard was especially successful, grossing over $23,000 in eight hours in 1920. In the early 1920s, the Society began its campaign to have Navy and Marine Corps dependents receive medical care in military hospitals, as the Army families did. While the Secretary of the Navy sympathized with the problem, no official response was to come for another 12 years. The Auxiliaries came up with a variety of solutions to counteract the lack of health care. In some locations, the Society paid for the use of a hospital bed in a local civilian facility. Parris Island came up with another solution. The Base Commander asked the Auxiliary to hire a nurse who could make home visits to families with new babies or other medical concerns. In 1922 the program was approved and Nell Watson was the first employee of the Navy Relief Society. The Parris Island Navy Hospital was so anxious to cooperate that it allowed her to use the base ambulance for her home visits. The Visiting Nurse program continued to expand even after military healthcare became widely available. The emphasis for the Visiting Nurse was, and continues to be, on meeting needs not met by other agencies or healthcare providers. The years between the World Wars were a time of great changes for the Society. In 1923, the Society was given its first permanent headquarters in the New Navy Building. Space was now available to hold meetings, transact business, and keep records. Prior to this time, meetings were held at the homes of volunteers and various members of the Board. In 1924, the Secretary of the Navy ruled that service members could repay Society loans by allotment. In 1926, the current Chief of Naval Operations was elected President of the Society. With this election, the senior naval officer on the active duty list officially served as President of the Society. The title was changed to Chairman of the Board in 1962, but the position remained in place until 1978, when the by-laws shared the position between the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Society continued working to get medical care in military hospitals for Navy and Marine Corps family members. Finally, in 1935, the Navy agreed to allow the care, but no funds were authorized to buy necessary equipment. Once again, the Society stepped in to help by loaning or donating money for the purchase of the supplies needed to care for women and children. It was not until 1943 that Congress actually appropriated the funds to expand Navy medical facilities to include dependent care. 3
During the Depression years, the Society provided assistance to families who suffered losses in the Long Beach, California earthquake of 1933, and to both officers and enlisted men while families adjusted to the lower standard of living after Congress enacted the 15% general military pay cut. Also during this time, the Society received a memorial bequest from Mrs. Harry Marsh Hodges which stipulated that the money should be used for the relief of deserving widows and children of men who had retired from the military prior to their death. This was the beginning of assistance to retirees. World War II brought millions of additional men into the military. The Society liberalized policies to help meet the emergency needs of families who had not yet received their allowances or who were learning to “make do” with substantially smaller incomes. The President of the Society was busy with his wartime responsibilities as the senior Naval Officer. He appointed Admiral J. O. Richardson as Executive Vice President of the Society. As Executive Vice President, Admiral Richardson effectively ran the organization. This title was changed to President in 1962 when the CNO’s title became Chairman of the Board. A National Citizen’s Committee was formed to raise money for the Society, with Clarence Dillon, a prominent New York financier, as its chair. One of its more visible efforts was the Hollywood Victory Caravan. A cadre of well-known stars spent several weeks touring the United States in a series of shows. The Committee was hoping to raise $5 million dollars, but thanks to the generosity of our citizens, $10 million dollars was the total amount raised. Those funds that were not used for relief services during the war were incorporated into the Society’s reserve fund. Through careful investments over the years, the interest from the Reserve Fund has been able to pay the administrative expenses of the Society so that all dollars donated by service members are used for emergency relief. After the War, the Society made numerous improvements to the way it did business. Vice Admiral Vincent F. Murphy was elected President in 1946, and remained so until 1962. He initiated the policy “to err on the side of the client.” He also started a “Field Visitation Program.” Miss Lucia Murchison was "secured for a temporary period" to help set up the program to "establish a more personal contact and closer relationship" with the Auxiliaries. She left in 1944, and was replaced by a succession of active duty people. Once WWII was over, these active duty representatives were discharged from military service. In 1948, Admiral Murphy hired Miss Myrle James as the Society’s first professional Field Rep, and she began the actual field visits. Later she was joined by three additional field representatives and together they formed the “Teach and Travel Team.” She remained active with the Field Rep program until shortly before her death in 1966. These women and future “Field Reps” visited the Auxiliaries to teach the volunteers consistent policy and procedures to ensure that Society clients received equitable service worldwide. 4
During the post war years, the Society worked behind the scenes to encourage Congress to enhance the “quality” of military family life. The Dependents Assistance Act of 1950 mandated that enlisted persons provide allotments directly to spouses. This stabilized the Society’s caseload for basic living expenses and gave some peace of mind to families when the ship deployed. Likewise, the 1956 Medicare Bill funded health care for elderly retirees and their survivors, and allowed civilian health care for active duty families in certain situations. This act significantly reduced Society financial assistance for medical expenses. The Cold War of that era also impacted Society assistance. Early in the 1950s, the Camp Pendleton office had provided aid to families unprepared for the deployment of troops to Korea. In 1958, the Society again provided deployment-related assistance, this time to dozens of Sailors who were on leave when President Eisenhower ordered their ships to transport Marines to Lebanon. The Navy authorities bused the sailors to Norfolk, where they received basic assistance, including hosing, clothing, food, and comfort items from the Norfolk Navy Relief Society until travel arrangements could be made to reconnect with their ships. The sixties were turbulent times for the entire county. Beginning with the Cuban Missile Crisis, during troop build up of the Vietnam era, and throughout several natural disasters, the Society was able to extend its helping hand. In 1962, the Guam office assisted in the wake of a typhoon that damaged over 45,000 homes. That same year, the Little Creek Branch of the Norfolk office opened the Thrift Shop to 2800 dependents who were evacuated, in October, from Cuba to Virginia with only 15 minutes notice. In 1969, Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast and the Pensacola Navy Relief Office was there to help the military families. Concurrently, the Headquarters was working to increase the Society’s influence. Formalized reciprocal assistance agreements were established with our “sister” agencies, Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. The Society’s by-laws were amended to expand enlisted representation on the Board of Managers. The presence of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps made the Society more aware of and responsive to the needs of the enlisted community. The volunteer pool was expanded since the dependents of all rates and ranks were now encouraged to become volunteers. The Education Program was given new life. Providing educational opportunities for widows and orphans was one of the initial programs of the Society. In 1964, then President Vice Admiral Harry B. Jarrett USN (Ret.) recommended that an Education Fund be established to assist service members with loans toward a college degree for dependent children.
The Society expansion extended to other programs, as well. Children’s Waiting Rooms were maintained in conjunction with Naval Hospitals. These provided childcare for healthy children while a parent or sibling was being seen in the hospital. In the Seventies, the Society dealt with problems compounded by our conflict in Vietnam. In 1972, the Bureau of Naval Personnel ran out of PCS travel money, so the Society stepped in to lend the money needed for service members to move to another duty station. Changes in the military pay system meant that service members could not easily get their entitlements when they were on travel or newly transferred. Again, the Society was there to help. Fortunately, the Society’s Volunteer strength was at its peak. In October 1978, Congress was slow to authorize the Defense Appropriations Act, leaving the government “broke.” There was fear of a “payless payday.” The Society borrowed against its Reserve Fund to have money available so that Naval Service families would not go hungry while Congress debated. Our 7,000 Volunteers were ready to make payday happen wherever Sailors and Marines were stationed. In 1980, Navy Relief Society President Vice Admiral Robert S. Salzer resurrected an earlier practice of having Society offices aboard ships. These shipboard offices were established to provide more immediate assistance to service members when at sea. Casework and policy training was provided by homeport Auxiliaries to active duty service member volunteers. Thus Society assistance became immediately available to personnel afloat. The middle 80s brought the Society into the computer age. The transition from paper and pencil bookkeeping to casework and loan management by computers was at times painful. This modernization of business practices often met with resistance in the field. Volunteers encouraged and embraced this better way to track finances, and more efficient way to provide client service. Headquarters provided oversight to the field offices and was able to assume responsibility for tracking and recovering delinquent loans, converting loans to grants when the situation warranted such a step. The 1990s brought further refinements in business processes. The Society’s name was changed from the Navy Relief Society to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, thus verbalizing our commitment to both Sailors and Marines. Program Coordinators were hired for both the Visiting Nurse Program and Volunteer Management. These program coordinators made site visits, as did the Field Reps, but their focus was on increasing the effectiveness of the specific programs, not that of providing comprehensive Society training. Thrift Shops have been in existence since the Depression era. NMCRS Volunteers have been knitting and sewing layettes for newborn Navy and Marine juniors since WWII. A formal financial management program was instituted in the 1980s. Budget Counselors taught practical, hands-on money management skills to Sailors, Marines and their family members until the Navy agreed to fund this program. Visiting Nurses continue to make home visits to families with new babies and others in need of home nursing education. 6
By 2002, Headquarters finally accomplished the goal of centralizing casework. The new Casework Assistance Program (CAP) has put the Society on a consolidated computer system, which means that Full Service Office caseworkers have access to the Societyâ€™s database. This has meant improved customer service. Accounting and Loan Management functions are handled at Headquarters, leaving the Volunteers in the field activities free to concentrate on client needs. To implement CAP, the Field Representatives restructured their program, capitalizing on the Training function. This standardized training program encouraged volunteer recruitment and retention. In 2003, six Area Trainers were hired to provide comprehensive and consistent localized training to the Societyâ€™s field locations. Our Centennial emblem, designed by Miramar Volunteers and employees, points to the evolution of the Society. The original seal showed the anchor with its center star, encircled by the Navy Relief Society name. In 2003, we added color as well as content. The anchor is now superimposed on the world map, reflecting our worldwide operations. The inclusion of the Marine Corps in our name change of 1990 is also reflected in the gold braid around the sealâ€™s perimeter, and the in the red banner announcing our centennial. The Society is now officially Navy blue, scarlet and gold. The passing of the years has seen our name changed, our resources increased, our client service methods restructured, and our policies and programs modified. The root of the organization, however, remains firmly embedded in the philosophy that this Society exists to assist sea service people in need. Thank you for your contributions to this dynamic organization. Enjoy this Centennial Year.
Establishment Dates Location
Bangor Beaufort Bethesda Bremerton Brunswick, Maine Camp Lejeune Camp Pendleton Charleston Cherry Point Corpus Christi Everett Fallon Ft Worth Great Lakes Groton Guam Gulfport Ingleside Jacksonville Kaneohe Bay Kings Bay Lemoore Little Creek London Mayport MCRD San Diego Millington
Jan 1, 1979 Jan 1, 1957 March 1, 1973 April 1, 1908 Jan 1,1951 May 9, 1942 July 8, 1948 Dec 31, 1911 Oct 14, 1943 April 1, 1941 Dec 6, 1940 Jan 1, 1962 March 3, 1945 May 22, 1917 Feb 6,1930 Oct 1, 1917 June 1, 1994 June 14, 1995 Feb 1,1941 Jan 1, 1954 April 1, 1997 Sept 5, 1961 Sept 1, 1953 Oct 1, 1952 May 8, 1905 Oct 1, 1957 Jan 14, 1943
Location Miramar Naples New Orleans New River Newport Norfolk North Island Oceana Okinawa Parris Island Pascagoula Patuxent River Pearl Harbor Pensacola Port Hueneme Portsmouth, VA Quantico Roosevelt Roads Rota San Diego San Onofre Sigonella Twentynine Palms Washington Navy Yd Whidbey Island Yokosuka Yuma
Date May 1, 1963 Jan 1, 1971 Nov 1,1917 April 6, 1964 March 19, 1905 Oct 1, 1905 1952 Dec 31, 1953 Jan 1, 1964 May 1, 1921 Jan 1, 1971 1948 Oct 1, 1928 Feb 1, 1917 Jan 1, 1948 May 1, 1925 April 1, 1921 Nov 1, 1948 Nov 1, 1973 July 1, 1918 1966 Sept 13, 1956 May 6, 1953 March 1, 1907 March 1, 1978 July 1, 1959 Feb 26, 1959
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society 100 years