Women’s History Month – Catherine Hershey and The Lancaster Charity Society

Catherine Hershey, Philanthropic Catalyst

Catherine Sweeney Hershey married Lancaster confectioner Milton S. Hershey on May 25, 1898. Prior to his marriage, Milton Hershey showed little interest in philanthropy. Soon after his marriage, however, the successful businessman and proprietor of both the Lancaster Caramel Company and the Hershey Chocolate Company made his first verifiable charitable gift—a substantial donation to Franklin and Marshall College to equip a chemical laboratory in the college’s new Science Building (now Stager Hall). Christened The Milton S. Hershey Chemical Laboratories, the June 1902 minutes of the board of trustees recorded that, “The Chemical Department has been splendidly equipped by Milton S. Hershey of this city, the outfit costing about $5,000.” Click on the images below to see a larger size. 

The Lancaster Charity Society

As leading citizens of Lancaster, the Hersheys participated in a variety of social clubs and charitable organizations. Catherine Hershey became an active member and supporter of The Lancaster Charity Society, an organization founded in 1904 to “promote the extension of charity to all persons worthy of it.” This included distributing clothing and other necessities as well as meals and lodging to individuals and families, finding homes for children in need, and jobs for those who could work.

In the organization’s first annual report (1904-1905) and second annual report (1905-1906), Catherine Hershey—as Mrs. M.S. Hershey—appears as a member of the Conference Committee. This committee met every Monday to review cases of families in need in order to provide relief and find gainful employment whenever possible. Catherine Hershey—as Mrs. Milton S. Hershey—is also listed as one of 7 inaugural life members meaning that she made a contribution of $100; this at a time when the cost of an annual membership was $5. The organization noted her death on March 25, 1915 in their eleventh annual report (1914-1915), by marking her as “deceased” and including her name in the “In Memoriam” section of the report. Click on the images below to see a larger size.

The Legacy of Catherine Hershey

Although Catherine Hershey was no longer able to actively participate in the work of the Conference Committee following her move to the town of Hershey in 1905, her experience with The Lancaster Charity Society gave her a unique insight into the needs of families and of children. Her work helping families and children most likely contributed to the decision of the Hersheys to found a school for orphan children in 1909 and to have Catherine sign the Deed of Trust along with her husband as a cofounder of the school. Before her untimely death on March 25, 1915, Catherine also played an integral role in planning the home life program of what is now Milton Hershey School—a cost free home and school for over 2,000 children of need.

From Archives Blog