Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services has empowered families to learn, to earn, to heal and to thrive.

Founded as the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, our organization has helped families get through the devastating hardships of poverty, world wars, epidemics and natural disasters.

Throughout our long history we have reached out to help the young and old, unemployed and working poor, long-time citizens and new immigrants and those challenged by changing economics, troubled relationships, inadequate education and mental health issues. We’ve supported them with financial aid, counseling, education and legal services. But most of all, we have bolstered the strength that lies within each person, provided hope for a brighter future and helped individuals and families reclaim their dignity and purpose.

Timeline of Our History

The Chicago Relief and Aid Society


Though little is known of the particulars of the Relief and Aid Society during the Civil War, a Soldiers’ Relief Committee was formed and aid was extended to needy soldiers’ families.


The Chicago Union Stock Yards are completed.


The Haymarket Riot


The Chicago Relief and Aid Society and Chicago Charity Organization merge, bringing a greater focus on poverty prevention to the organization.


Jane Addams founds Hull House. Later Addams will become a board member of United Charities.


Chicago hosts the World’s Columbian Exposition.


The Chicago Legal Aid Society is formed by the merger of the Bureau of Justice and the Protective Agency for Women and Children.
“The history of Legal Aid (civil) stretches back for more than a hundred years. The first organized effort to provide free legal help for those unable to hire an attorney was the Protective Agency for Women and Children, established in 1886 by the Women’s Club of Chicago, ‘to protect young girls from seductions and debaucheries’ by men posing as employers. The Der Deutsche-Rechtaschartz-Verein (later named the Legal Aid Society) in New York in 1876 is sometimes referred to as the first, but it helped only German immigrants. The Bureau of Justice, in 1888, was the first true legal aid service not limited by race or gender. The two pioneer services in Chicago combined in 1905 to form the Legal Aid Society.”

From “Balancing the Scales of Justice,” by Junius Allison.


The Chicago Tribune turns over Camp Algonquin, a 20-acre fresh air camp on the Fox River, to the Chicago Relief and Aid Society. The focus of the camp was nutrition and physical help, providing sunshine, fresh air and food to mothers and children from the crowded city. Children from the Stock Yard district were often too ill to attend Camp Algonquin, and instead went to Camp Harlowarden to receive proper nutrition and medical treatment for tuberculosis.


The Chicago Relief and Aid Society and the Chicago Bureau of Charities merge to form United Charities of Chicago. The organization began to more actively promote progressive public policies and address health issues such as tuberculosis.

United Charities of Chicago



The Great Depression


United Charities helps establish the Community Fund of Chicago, now the United Way.


United Charities leader Joel D. Hunter serves on an official advisory council established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help shape what would become the Social Security Act.


Psychiatrists were hired in 1934 to train staff and provide counseling for family problems. In 1935 the counseling services were officially named the Family Service Bureau and for the first time, a considerable number of financially independent families received “family consultation.”

The Second World War


United Charities helps the growing number of war refugees find work, and provided relief and relocation services. The agency also helped women working the jobs of men sent to war who had difficulty securing child care, as well as returning veterans. Legal Aid and casework staff were added, along with an increase in psychiatric services.

By the 1950s more attention was being paid to “multi-problem” families who struggled with complex social issues, difficult family relationships, economic and housing pressures, and mental illness. The Family Service Bureau had a Women’s Service Division to help unmarried mothers and their children, and a Service for the Aged.


United Charities establishes the Calumet Center to serve the communities of Roseland, West Pullman, Riverdale, Washington Heights, Morgan Park, and Chatham.

In the late 1950s, a small group of women from Glen Ellyn and Wheaton who had a strong desire to help less fortunate families in the area began the Treasure House resale shop in a fixed-up two-bedroom apartment with two bags of items leftover from a rummage sale.


The Civil Rights Act outlaws segregation and the Voting Rights Act is passed. President Lyndon Johnson introduces the War on Poverty.


United Charities expands its services and opens its first suburban office, Southwest Center, in Palos Hills to serve southwest Cook County.


The agency began a Consumer Credit Counseling service and helped the Chinese community establish a Chinese-speaking social agency for immigrants.


The Union Stock Yards close.


United Charities begins serving Southeast Chicago out of a one-person office in a church basement, to serve the community that was severely affected by the closing of local steel mills.


United Charities furthers its expansion in the suburbs, acquiring the DuPage Center. Black Monday, the second-largest stock market crash in the US, hits the nation’s economy.


United Charities changes its name to Metropolitan Family Services to better reflect the work and scope of the broad community it serves, and opens the Midway Head Start Center.


Metropolitan Family Services acquires the Family Counseling Service, establishing the Evanston/Skokie Valley Center.


Metropolitan launches the Young Fathers Initiative at the Southeast Chicago Center.


Metropolitan Family Services opens North Center, serving the Belmont-Cragin, Hermosa, Irving Park and Portage Park communities.


Metropolitan Family Services opens the new Children’s Center; sells Camp Algonquin to the McHenry County Conservation District to keep the pristine riverfront property available for public use.


Metropolitan is awarded the contract for Head Start in DuPage County, acquires the Court Advocacy program, and is named United Way Agency Partner of the Year.


Metropolitan convenes Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), working with eight partner organizations to address violence issues in Chicago.