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The Early History of United Way of Saginaw County

Over the last few weeks, we have focused on sites and structures that define our community; however, these are a brick and mortar manifestation of the spirt that drives our county and region.

“Looking back over the quarter century that the Chest [an early name for the United Way] has been in existence, it is evident that it has accomplished very much indeed for the community. Those of you who recall the conditions prior to formation will recognize the change that has come in the intervening years. Prior to 1920 we had a variety of unrelated agencies, each entirely on its own, with a succession of inefficiently conducted campaigns, with much wasted efforts, with no standards enforced on any agency. Practically all of the agencies were living on a starvation basis. They were inadequately financed. The people charged with their operation were required to give much of their time to more or less unsuccessful effort to raise funds for operation. In many cases, also, the cost of raising funds was very much out of proportion to the amount that actually went into the work of the agencies.” The First Quarter Century: Saginaw Community Chest, Report of the President, Arthur O. Cook, January 17, 1945

The United Way of Saginaw County, originally named the Saginaw Federation of Charities, was formed in 1919. Until that time, Saginaw's social needs were provided by separate, uncoordinated funding efforts such as hospitals, orphanages and much more. Saginaw's home front efforts during World War I also strengthened these organizations.

During the war, the people of Saginaw far exceeded the set goals of War Bond drives. At the end of the war, an influenza epidemic taxed the medical organizations and volunteer resources of the community. Yet, these experiences demonstrated the ability to volunteer and work together.

Saginaw General Hospital, today part of Covenant Hospital North Harrison Street Campus

St. Mary’s Hospital, now known as Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital. While this location remains the same, the entrance and address have been moved to South Washington Avenue.

One of the first projects undertaken by the Saginaw Federation of Charities was a major expansion of the community’s hospitals. An appointed Building Committee was responsible for:

· The erection of a modern fire-proof unit of 100 beds at Saginaw General Hospital

· The addition of an 85-bed unit at St. Mary’s Hospital

· The establishment of the Central Pathological Laboratory in Saginaw

· A capacity increase of the Children’s Home, then known as the Home for the Friendless, and various other building improvements.


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