History and Philanthropy

Our Founder, Anne Banning

Assistance League was the first nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization founded in the West to recognize the potential of volunteers in helping those less fortunate to a better, more meaningful life. Today, chapters across America address the emotional and physical needs of children and adults of all ages regardless of race or creed.

Our founder, Anne Banning, was born Anne Ophelia Smith in 1871 in Los Angeles. In 1890, she married Hancock Banning, son of Los Angeles pioneer Phineas Banning. Co-founder, Ada Edwards Laughlin was born in 1873 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her family moved to northern California when she was 17 and she attended Stanford University. She taught school before her marriage in 1904 to Homer Laughlin Jr. They lived in Los Angeles and met Anne and Hancock through the Los Angeles social scene.

Anne_BanningAnne Banning was a member of a small group of prominent Los Angeles ladies who did local charitable work beginning in the mid 1890’s, calling it Assistance League. In April 1906, the women of Assistance League responded to the San Francisco earthquake and fire by collecting money and sewing clothes. The next year, the newspaper reported the ladies “wished to be a permanent organization and be of assistance to everyone who needs it.” As America entered the war in Europe, Anne Banning organized the Los Angeles Red Cross unit in 1917 and served as Director. Its fundraising unit was the Red Cross Shop, which became the model for Red Cross shops across the country, using Anne Banning’s printed guidelines.



In 1919, Anne Banning and a group of twelve friends, including Ada Edwards Laughlin, formed Assistance League of Southern California to provide food and clothing for local families severely impacted by World War I. A bungalow in Hollywood was purchased as the community house in 1923. The first services were Good Samaritan, Day Nursery, Girls’ Club and Theatre for Children. Film Location Bureau, Attic Tearoom, Women’s Exchange and Trousseau Shop provided the revenue. Originating between 1920 and 1930, these were pioneer services emulated by both public and private agencies.



As needs in adjoining communities were recognized, other organizations wished to follow this philanthropic philosophy. Anne Banning and Ada Laughlin organized National Assistance League® in 1935 to promote the growth of effective volunteerism through leadership training and education. By the time Anne and Ada retired in 1948, there were chapters in San Pedro, Santa Ana, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena, Glendale, Pomona Valley, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara.

Anne Banning felt it was fine to serve youth, but important for youth to serve. Informal girl groups began in the 1930’s and were consolidated in 1944. Shirley Temple was a member of the Beverly Thrifties who supported the thrift shop. In 1959, guidelines were prepared for auxiliaries of members under the age of twenty-one and in 1961, all teenage auxiliaries were given the name “Assisteens®.”


Through the gift of service to their communities, Assistance League chapters continue to fulfill Anne Banning’s philosophy of volunteer service: “To act as a friend at any and all times to men, women and children in need of care, guidance and assistance, spiritually, materially and physically.” Today, Assistance League is a national nonprofit organization that puts caring and commitment into action through community-based philanthropic programs.