During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of Americans received life insurance and other social welfare benefits through fraternal and mutual aid societies. The Artists' Fund Society was one such society. It was founded on February 5th, 1859, and incorporated on April 13, 1861. The primary mission of the organization was to provide aid to members experiencing disablement, sickness and distress, and to provide assistance to the widows, children and families of deceased members. In 1862 the Society additionally created a benevolent fund to provide aid to artists who were not members.
The original constitution of 1859 simply stated that members were required to be “artists by profession.” However, by the 1930s amendments stipulated that members must live in New York City or close enough to attend meetings, and that no person over the age of 45 could become a member.
The organization’s leadership consisted of a “Board of Control” comprised of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and five other members. The Board of Control met monthly, and the Society sponsored an Annual Meeting for all members followed by an Annual Dinner for members and friends.
From 1860 through 1889, members were required to annually contribute a piece of art work to be exhibited and sold at auction. Money from the sales was deposited in a Special Investment Fund. Investments were made on first class bonds and mortgages and stocks of the United States and State of New York. Widows were paid annual interest on a sum of $1500, and then paid a lump sum of $1500 when their youngest child reached age 21. (The sum was raised over the years per amendments to the Constitution.)
In 1890, the system of selling art work was replaced with a system of “assessments." The Society required members to pay an assessment fee of $5 within 30 days of the death of a member; the beneficiary of the member received a percentage of the total amount collected.
Records indicate that in 1936 the Board of Control was considering re-organizing or dissolving the Society due to an increase in the number of members unable to pay their assessments, difficulty finding new young members and “a general lack of interest in the society.” A decade later, in 1946, the Artists’ Fund Society was formally consolidated with the Society of Illustrators, Inc.