A Legacy of Fighting for a Better Hampshire County
The Beginning of an Idea
The United Way originated in 1887 when a Denver, Colorado woman, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi realized that a united front was needed to make Denver a better place. Their idea became the nation’s first united campaign. It raised $21,700 and benefiting 10 Denver area health and welfare agencies. In addition to collecting funds, the organization coordinated relief services, referred clients to agencies, and provided emergency grants for non-referable cases. This idea evolved, modernized, and consolidated under different names before becoming the United Way in 1970.
Our Beginning: 1920s -1940s
A call to action from “concerned citizens” in 1921 set in motion the birth of United Way of Hampshire County. The goal was to consolidate multiple Northampton fund drives into one to create one Community Chest.
The idea for combining fundraising had originated in Denver in 1887 and had taken local hold in Springfield in 1918. The first Northampton funding raising drive started in the spring of 1922. Others followed in Easthampton and Amherst.
By 1935, the Northampton Community Chest was consolidating and benefited from more experienced volunteer leadership like Honorary Director Mrs. Calvin Coolidge and Charles N. DeRose, publisher of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
The campaign saw great growth in 1938 with the September hurricane and ensuing flood, and during World War II as partner agencies were recognized, and commended, for their contributions to the community at times of great need.
Expansion and Merger: 1950s - 1960s
The first full-time staff person was hired in 1950. The campaign continued to grow, in no small part to the help from the newly created WHMP radio station.
It was customary to invite a person from outside the region as a guest speaker at the Annual Meeting held at Hotel Northampton and other events. U.S. Representative, and later governor, Foster Furcolo spoke in 1952. Senator John F. Kennedy attended the 1958 kickoff, despite a letter of protest from the Republican City Committee. In 1990 and 1991 Julia Child signed books the United Way Books & Cooks fundraising events.
The county’s separate Community Chests began to consolidate in the late sixties and seventies, with the city of Ware coming on board, to form what is the current configuration of United Way of Hampshire County. This includes all the town in Hampshire County, except South Hadley and Granby, which went with United Way of Pioneer Valley with a separate merger.
Great Growth: 1970s - 2000s
The organization experienced great growth under Executive Director John Sheehan who held the position from 1978 until 1998. The number of partner agencies doubled, from sixteen to almost thirty. Sheehan introduced pacesetter campaigns, early workplace campaigns who set an example for others, and leadership giving (over $1,000/year). The campaign grew from $360,000 to over $1,000,000.
In 2007, the grant process was improved at the request of agencies and donors. It was opened to agencies beyond the traditionally funded partner agencies and funding was expanded from one to three years.
For close to one hundred years, neighbors have strengthened Hampshire County through the work of United Way. Today, Hampshire County is one of the more desirable places to live in the county. It is known for its progressive thinking, giving, and livability. Over that time, neighbors have invested in the welfare and greater good of Hampshire County to the tune of over $37,000,000. United Way of Hampshire County is an unrivaled symbol of the power of giving and supporting community. We all benefit when we benefit others.