History

Empower Missouri is the offspring of a social movement that began in the late 19th century. More than one hundred years ago, Missouri was a segregated state. St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States. A lynching occurred in Richmond, Missouri in March of that year. Women couldn’t vote; many died in large numbers in childbirth. Those that could work were segregated in the workplace doing “women’s work.” Children worked long hours in dangerous conditions or wandered the streets. Some were imprisoned in adult jails for delinquency.  Men died in horrible industrial accidents. The life expectancy age was 46. 

Because of these poor conditions, in 1901, a group of 41 Missourians came together to empower themselves to address these social ills. Empower Missouri was born. Empower Missouri’s first name was the Missouri Conference on Charities and Corrections modeled after a national organization. 

The first official meeting of the group of social reformers was in January 1901 at the YMCA in St. Louis. For the first decade, the organization was a meeting ground for progressive Missourians. They met at an annual conference, read papers on social issues and networked.

One decade later in 1911, more aggressive leadership emerged at the organization. Robert Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, headed the conference’s first legislative committee and moved the organization into a more activist role. He became involved in the pilot Mother’s Pension Program in Jackson County, the forerunner of the nation’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program created in 1935 as part of the Social Security Act.

Three years after Mr. Baldwin began his leadership at the organization, he was the one the first to issue a report about the status and conditions of “Negroes.” These reports and the horrible social conditions of people across the United States inspired the Missouri Conference on Charities and Corrections to change its name to the Missouri Conference for Social Welfare, signaling a more global view of social problems and solutions.

In 1915, the Missouri Conference for Social Welfare leaders worked hard to establish a Children’s Bureau and served on a “Children’s Code Commission.” Thirty child welfare bills were passed over a 20-year-period that established the foundation of Missouri Child Services.

In the early 20th century, to communicate more effectively, the Missouri Conference for Social Welfare created the legislative bulletin to inform people about what was happening in the state legislature. In 1933, the Missouri Conference for Social Welfare changed its name for the third time to the Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) because the organization had become much more than a conference. After the turn of the century, MASW changed its name for the fourth and final time to Empower Missouri. The new name “Empower Missouri” was chosen, driven by the brand position of “Mobilizing for Social Justice”.

For more than 120 years, Empower Missouri has been a voice for the voiceless in Missouri, whether fighting for civil and voting rights, or for Missouri’s homeless and uninsured. Empower Missouri is one the oldest organizations of its kind in the nation. It is a nonprofit and nonpartisan. Our objectives are the improvement and extension of health and affordable essential services for the people of Missouri.

Among many of Empower Missouri’s achievements over its 120-year history are: the creation of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, the establishment of a Public Defender System, the Children’s Hunger Relief Act and many others.

Empower Missouri has invested leadership in public social policy change for more than a century and has achieved some remarkable successes. Change in social policy results from the actions of a coalition of citizens and policy makers. Policy changes would not have occurred when they did without our significant involvement in more than century.