The Big Brothers Big Sisters tradition of changing child’s lives through trusting and enduring relationships dates back more than a century. Here in Eastern Missouri, we think of 1904 as the year that St. Louis hosted the World's Fair and the Olympics. However, 1904 was notable for at least one other reason.
That year, in New York City, a young court clerk named Ernest Coulter decided to do something about the fact that he was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the formal beginning of the Big Brothers movement.
However, the use of the term "Big Brother" for an adult mentor goes back two years earlier, to 1902, when a young businessman in Cincinnati noticed a young boy rummaging for food in a garbage bin. Even though the man was on his way to the office, he paused to strike up a conversation with the boy. The two struck up a long-term friendship. Several of the man's friends followed his lead in helping other disadvantaged boys, one of whom referred to his mentor as his "big brother."
In 1914, Juvenile Court Judge Thomas C. Hennings Jr. brought the Big Brothers program to St. Louis. By 1916, Big Brothers had spread to 96 cities across the country. At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children's Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters.
Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers of America and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. This national merger came a year after Big Brothers and Big Sisters had joined forces in St. Louis.
Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders' vision of bringing caring adults into the lives of children. Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 50 states — and in 35 countries around the world.