History of Foundation

Martha Davis & The Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation

The Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation was established in 1948. While the Foundation through its Board of Trustees and its many activities are well known throughout the state, few people know of the gracious lady whose gift established the Foundation – Ms. Martha Davis.

Ms. Davis, born into a family of wealth and distinction, had the opportunity of living in affluence. Her great-grandfather was Governor of Massachusetts, her father the great uncle of Henry Cabot Lodge, her mother Anne Hubbard a member of the distinguished Hubbard family which included founders of the National Geographic Society, and a relative of hers married Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The Davis family had homes in Washington, D.C., Chautauqua, New York, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and in Sarasota, Florida. As a child, Ms. Davis lived several years in France and she traveled extensively throughout the world.

In the midst of this sheltered and secure life Ms. Davis began her own search for identity which was eventually personified in her commitment to helping the poor, the deprived, and the troubled person. She chose to develop her own independence and to find her own unique contribution to the resolution of human problems.

She started with the Boston Home and School Association in 1914 as a visitor (comparable to a School Social Worker today). In 1919 she went to the New York State Charities Aid Association as County Agent in Ulster County and in 1924 moved to Chicago as Director of the Southern Branch of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society.

She came to Louisville in 1929 to become director of the Mother’s Aid program in Jefferson County. After this was incorporated into the federal Aid to Dependent Children program, she directed the Jefferson County Welfare Department.

 Her college education was interspersed between her work. She attended Simmons College in Boston, the University of Chicago, the New York School of Social Work and finally completed her A.B. degree at the University of Louisville in 1938. She then began taking courses at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. Showing the same determination and commitment to achieve her goal she worked for eleven years taking courses when she could, until she had completed all of her course work and thesis. In June of 1949 at the age of 64 she was awarded the Master’s degree in Social Work from the Kent School.

After the deaths of her parents, Ms. Davis was bequeathed a sizeable sum. She took most of it and in 1948 quietly established the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation to aid poverty-stricken and vocationally handicapped Kentuckians, especially in the rural areas.

In her last years, she was honored many times, often in opposition to her preferred wish to remain in the background. She maintained her long interest in the Foundation’s many projects. She never attempted to interfere or force her ideas on the trustees of the Foundation although her advice was often sought. Throughout the years she maintained a quiet dignity, a steady interest, and an optimistic view of the struggles people endure to make the world better than they found it.

Ms. Davis died on February 10, 1968. Her spirit lives on through the work of the Kentucky Social Welfare Foundation.