The St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, named in honor of Scotland’s patron saint, is believed to be the oldest charitable membership organization in continuous existence in North America. It was organized in 1747 by twenty-five prominent Pennsylvanians of Scottish ancestry to assist the large numbers of destitute Scots arriving in Philadelphia at that time. Its early members count five signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The Society created a treasury for the organized distribution of funds to these immigrants and a network for providing jobs or transportation for them. Throughout the periods of steady immigration in the 18 and 19th centuries and, particularly, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Society provided food, coal, clothing, and work to scores of distressed Scottish families.
The Society’s Assistance Committee continues to provide financial assistance to Scottish widows and orphans in this region, as well as to Scottish nationals who have needed legal or medical help. The Society also supports several other projects dedicated to the preservation of Scottish customs and traditions, including piping competitions, Scottish dance groups, and highland games.
In 1958 the Society created a separate Foundation to provide scholarships enabling local students to study for a year at a Scottish university. over the years Through generous contributions of its members the Foundation now is able to send five students each year to study at Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen Universities, and to bring a student from St. Andrews University the University of Pennsylvania. The participating colleges and universities hail this program as one of the most extraordinary and valuable scholarship experiences available.
At its offices in Philadelphia the Society maintains a library containing several thousand volumes relating to Scotland and Scottish mores. The Society’s remarkable records of its history and activities are preserved there and made available to interested scholars. The offices also contain the Society’s relics, honors, and memorabilia accumulated since 1747.
The Society has honored the immeasurable contribution of Scots to the life and character of the nation with the establishment in 2011 of a monument to Scottish immigrants in Philadelphia , through the support of generous individuals and organizations.
The Society’s members have maintained their founding fathers’ tradition of holding a formal dinner each year on November 30, St. Andrew’s Day, for 268 consecutive years as of 2015. The dinner is one of the great social events in Philadelphia drawing approximately 400 members and guests for an evening of pipe bands, toasts, speakers, songs, camaraderie, and Scottish fare.
Each January, the Society holds a dinner to celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s poet laureate, Robert Burns in fellowship with the hundreds of celebrations held worldwide in his honor. The Society annually celebrates the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan and holds a Ceilidh in June for the enjoyment of friends and families.