The Travelers Aid movement actually began in 1851, when Bryan Mullanphy, a former mayor of St. Louis and philanthropist, bequeathed $500,000 to the city of St. Louis to be used to assist “bona fide travelers heading west,” primarily women and children traveling alone.
The Travelers Aid Society of New York was founded in 1907 by Grace Hoadley Dodge. The organization’s primary purpose was to provide social work to women traveling alone in order to protect them from moral danger, specifically white slave trafficking.
The Travelers Aid Society of Washington (D.C.) was founded in 1913 by the YWCA and began assisting travelers at the relatively new Union Station. Travelers Aid volunteers were at Union Station in March 1913 to help visitors navigate the city for the first inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.
The first National Travelers Aid Association was founded in 1917, created to serve all people regardless of gender, age, class, race or religion. Travelers Aid welcomed immigrants to the United States, with operations at or near many ports of entry.
In 1941, just prior to World War II, President Roosevelt called on the National Travelers Aid Association and five other national organizations to form one entity charged with boosting U.S. military morale. And the USO was born.
When the federal government opened the new Washington National Airport in 1941, the USO was an established presence there. In 1947, after World War II was over, the Travelers Aid Society of Washington took over the USO responsibilities at the facility.
In 1957, Travelers Aid opened its first information booth at what was then known as Idlewood International Airport, renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1964 following the 35th president’s assassination in 1963.
The Travelers Aid program at Washington Dulles was launched in 1963, with one desk on the Baggage Claim level. The program now has 14 locations, making it one of the busiest airport programs run by Travelers Aid International.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeing a need to improve its customer service at Newark International Airport, instituted a Travelers Aid Program there in 1992.
Travelers Aid began operating at Bradley International Airport in October 2018 with a group of 40 dedicated senior volunteers. The program now includes students, young professionals and working adults, and now numbers 65 volunteers.
A Network of Support for Travelers
The Travelers Aid Society of New York began in 1905 by a group of Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant woman organized by Grace Hoadley Dodge, a social welfare worker and philanthropist, as a non-sectarian organization with a sole purpose of protecting women travelers. In that first year, the organization worked out of Grand Central and Pennsylvania railroad stations as well as a one-room office on West 34 Street. In 1907 the organization was formally incorporated.
The New York society in 1917 joined other Travelers Aid organizations to form the National Travelers Aid Society, also headquartered in New York. Travelers Aid International, now based in Washington, is the successor to the National Travelers Aid Society.
During the period of World War I, Travelers Aid assisted with influx of migrants traveling to New York from other parts of the country because of labor demands there and suffering local economies elsewhere. After the war, the agency assisted thousands of “war brides” and the returning servicemen. In 1921, Travelers Aid expands its services to include aid to the homeless and aged.
In 1923, Travelers Aid began sending some of its staff members to the New York School of Social Work for formal training. And, in 1925, it became one of the first organizations to provide psychiatric services to its clients.
During World War II, Travelers Aid, with the new USO, jointly operated exclusive servicemen lounges in the railroad stations. During the Korean War, it reopened a lounge in Penn Station.
Travelers Aid continued its tradition of assisting stranded travelers when, in 1957, it opened its first information booth at what was then known as Idlewood International Airport, renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1964 following the 35th president’s assassination in 1963.