By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
In 2024, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation will celebrate its 60th anniversary! Throughout the year we will reflect on our history, reconnect with all of those who have helped us to fulfill our mission, and plan for how we can have even greater impact over the next sixty years.
In 1964, the Beatles launched their first World Tour. The average income in the US was $6,000 and the price of gas averaged 30 cents per gallon. Demands for racial justice in cities throughout the country made clear the urgent need for social and economic reforms. In response to the civic unrest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize. Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Lyndon Baines Johnson launched his War on Poverty, the set of initiatives designed not only to relieve symptoms of poverty, but ultimately to eradicate it.
With cultural changes simmering throughout the nation, on December 14, 1964, in Suite 800 of the Old Commercial Trust Building at 15th and Market Street, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation came into existence. The Bar Foundation’s newly adopted charter and bylaws charged it with “seeking to advance and improve the administration of justice; improving relations between members of the Bar, Judiciary and public; providing charitable assistance to needy and indigent members of the Bar and supporting worthy causes of a charitable nature related to the legal profession.” The first grants made by the Bar Foundation were to the Philadelphia Legal Services for Juveniles Project and the Philadelphia Bail Project which was part of a national movement to reform the bail system.
Since those first grants, the Bar Foundation has given nearly over $13,000,000 in unrestricted grants to nearly forty nonprofit partners. The Foundation has also developed training programs, fellowships and awards. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is the Bar Foundation for the entire community. In addition to our grants and programs, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation has grown a community of individuals, law firms, and businesses committed to building a more equitable society. With the upcoming diamond anniversary, the Foundation will create opportunities to bring together those people whose work has been instrumental in making the Foundation flourish.
The work of the Foundation, nearly sixty years after its origin, is more important than ever. The need for legal services is far outpacing the capacity of our public interest legal aid agencies to deliver vital services. The lack of access to justice not only harms the individuals in need, but impedes the administration of justice for everyone and undermines the rule of law in our community.
So, let us celebrate 60 years of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, and as we join in a collective toast, let us revive traditions, create new ones, and plan for the next six decades of removing barriers to justice!