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.
Travelers Aid Union Station Traces Roots to 1913
Founded in 1913 by the YWCA, the Travelers Aid Society of Washington first went into service at the relatively new Union Station. Old editions of the Washington Post note that Travelers Aid volunteers were there in Union Station in March 1913 to assist travelers in the city for the first inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.
For a time, Travelers Aid shifted its operations away from Union Station when the terminal fell into disrepair and many operations were shuttered. Travelers Aid returned after a $160 million renovation restored the building to its former grandeur. Union Station is now a multi-faceted transportation hub for Amtrak, local rail transportation and many bus lines, including Greyhound.
Travelers Aid Society of Washington closed in 1997 due to financial challenges. At that point, Travelers Aid International took over the direct operations at Union Station along with the contracts at Washington Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.
The Union Station operations are funded with a grant from the District of Columbia and private donations.