Our History

Dr. Edgar J. Helms, Jr., Founder of Goodwill Goodwill Industries International was founded in 1902 in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms. Helms collected used household goods and clothing in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired poor people and immigrants to mend and repair the used goods. The goods were then resold or were given to the people who repaired them. The system worked, and the Goodwill philosophy of "a hand up, not a hand out" was born.

During the decades that followed, Helms' vision spread as Goodwill organizations sprung up throughout North America . The depression era brought an increased focus on people with disabilities. In later years, people with economic and social barriers to employment began to benefit from Goodwill's outreach.

In 1930, Elizabeth Murray, a social worker and advocate for people with disabilities, who strongly believed in the Goodwill mission, initiated a campaign to establish Goodwill of Greater Washington in the nation's capital.

For five years, Mrs. Murray recruited community leaders and solicited funds. On May 31st, 1935, Mrs. Murray and six other community leaders signed the incorporation papers for what was then known as Goodwill Industries of Washington, DC.

Goodwill industries (circa 1938)

In 1939, a generous $100,000 donation from Anne Hubbard Davis allowed Goodwill to purchase its own building at 1214 New Hampshire Avenue . Thus Goodwill of Greater Washington's legal name is Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries. By then, Goodwill had 126 employees, 5 stores, a dry cleaning plant, shoe and furniture repair shops, and 5 trucks.

In 1956, Goodwill opened a comprehensive rehabilitation center to serve the large number of veterans with disabilities. Employees refinished and restored donated items which were then sold in Goodwill's retail stores.

"Not a coin in his hat, but a tool in his hand"

Since then numerous volunteers have worked diligently to help generate both money and awareness for Goodwill's critical mission to provide job training for people with disabilities and disadvantages. The Goodwill Guild, a group of women volunteers, played an intricate key role in facilitating fundraisers to benefit Goodwill's mission. These fundraisers included a benefit performance of "Portrait of Jennie" sponsored by First Lady Bess Truman, a luncheon fashion show at the Terrace Room of the Shorham Hotel, another fashion show, "Holiday Internationale," held in the in the Grand Ballroom of the Willard Hotel, daily open houses where Washington diplomatic and society hostesses volunteered their services to pour tea, and an annual benefit "Bookworms" in the guise of a literary masquerade at the Sheraton Park Hotel held by honorary patroness Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.

We are mostly well known for our Annual Embassy Tours, Annual Used Book Sale, and The Fashion of Goodwill.

Gladys Lisanby with Barbara Bush

The Annual Embassy Tours went on for 52 years and ended when the 9/11 attacks occurred for security reasons. This popular event brought people from all over the U.S. and was mentioned in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times promoting the annual event. First Ladies such as Nancy Regan and Hillary Rodham Clinton participated as chair members. All money raised went to Goodwill's mission.

Goodwill was known to have had the biggest Goodwill Industries' Annual Used Book Sale event on the East Coast which went on for 41 years. People would come from all over to start waiting in lines early in the morning to purchase their books for 50 cents. One year the First Lady, Barbara Bush, participated as a volunteer at one of the book sales held at the Convention Center.

And we continue to evolve.

Most recently, Goodwill of Greater Washington is known for its fashion shows. The Fashion of Goodwill began in September 2005 changing the face of our thrift stores. It's "not your grandmother's closet" we like to say, but instead retail stores where you can find contemporary and vintage fashion and apparel. On September 12, 2007, we launched the very first Virtual Runway Show & Online Auction. This was a huge success for Goodwill! We gained public media attention in The Washington Post and CNN. From then on we were mentioned in fashion blogs and other fashion news while promoting that all purchases made at Goodwill Retail stores went to provide free job training for people with disabilities and disadvantages. Again, on September 28, 2008 we launched a virtual fashion and live fashion show with a French theme at The French Embassy creating yet another successful event. This landed Goodwill on the front page of The Washington Post.

Today, GGW operates a successful chain of retail stores; cleans millions of square feet of office space; and employs more than 700 people. In our contracts division more than 78% of our associates have a disability.

Goodwill of Greater Washington is an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) nonprofit workforce development organization that has helped tens of thousands of Washington metropolitan area residents get jobs since 1935. With your continued support we can serve thousands more!

Other Historical Facts:

First Lady Bess Truman Heads Sponsors of Goodwill Industries Show

  • Benefit performance of "Portrait of Jennie" at the Trans-Lux Theater with proceeds to go to the Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries
  • seeking $25,000 to continue it's rehabilitation services

Goodwill Fashion Show, November 8, 1950

  • The Goodwill Guild of the Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries held a luncheon fashion show at the Terrace Room of the Shorham Hotel. Daytime and evening fashions by well-known American designers were featured.

2nd Goodwill Fashion Show, "Holiday Internationale"

  • Sponsored by the Advertising Club of Washington & the Davis Memorial Guild of Goodwill Industries in cooperation with Holiday Magazine in the Grand Ballroom of the Willard Hotel
  • Fashions came from Julius Garfinckel; featured travel and resort wear
  • Commentary by Ruey Messenger

"Employ the Nationally Handicapped Week", October 13, 1951

  • President Truman & District Commissioners officially announced "handicapped week"
  • Window displays, spot radio, and television announcements
  • Held an open house

Open Houses, 1953

  • Tours were held daily
  • Washington diplomatic and society hostesses volunteered their services to pour tea
  • It was encouraged for people to come to "a practical demonstration of everyday Good Samaritanism."

"Bookworms", 1967

  • Junior Guild of the Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries stages its 12th annual benefit in the guise of a literary masquerade at the Sheraton Park Hotel
  • Wear costumes of story-book characters
  • Honorary patroness was Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson
  • A benefit help provide job training for people with disabilities and disadvantages

Boy Scout Good Turn Day, Nov. 13th

  • Cub, Boy, and Explorer scouts conducted a door-to-door campaign to collect clothing, household items, and toys for refurbishing.
  • More than 25,000 bags were collected

New Rehabilitation Center

  • The new center opened officially when Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower cut a blue and gold ribbon across the entrance.
  • This project was possible because of a Federal Grant of $92,500 extended through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Health, & Education and Welfare.
  • This was part of National Goodwill Week for which president Eisenhower issued a personal message calling attention to the role of Goodwill Industries throughout America in providing employment, training, and rehabilitation services for handicapped and disabled men and women.

Foggy Bottom Career Center Opens, 2011

  • GGW opened its third career center in the Washington, DC area near the campus of George Washington University serving youth and veterans with disabilities

Rebirth of Fashion of Goodwill campaign, September 2012

  • After a three year hiatus due to the recession, the Fashion of Goodwill Runway Show & Gala returns with a bang! “La Passione di Milano” was held at the Embassy of Italy in September, 2012, drawing over 400 guests and generating more than $200,000

Goodwill of Greater Washington is an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) nonprofit workforce development organization that has helped tens of thousands of Washington metropolitan area residents get jobs since 1935.

To contact Goodwill Industries International or locate Goodwills in other states, click here.

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