Who We Are

For over a century, Big Brothers and Big Sisters have helped children reach their potential through professionally supported one-to-one relationships with proven results.

In 1904, a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter 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 beginning of the Big Brothers movement. 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.

More than a century later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders’ vision of bringing caring mentors into the lives of children. Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 50 states … and in 35 countries around the world!

More Than 100 Years of Big Brothers Big Sisters


Date Event
1902 Ernest Coulter, court clerk, helps organize the first New York Children’s Court; Ladies of Charity, later Catholic Big Sisters of New York, starts to befriend girls who come before the New York Children’s Court
1903 Businessman Irvin F. Westheimer befriends a young boy in Cincinnati, OH; seeds are formed for the start of Big Brothers in Cincinnati
1904 Ernest Coulter founds the organized Big Brothers movement by obtaining 39 volunteers, who each agree to befriend one boy
1912 The New York Times reports Big Brothers activity in 26 cities
1914 Ernest Coulter embarks on nationwide lecture tour on behalf of Big Brothers; planning begins for a national Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization
1916 Big Brothers work spreads to 96 cities
1917 The first national conference of Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations is held in Grand Rapids, MI., leading to the later organization of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation
1923 Big Sisters work geared to African-Americans is underway in Louisville, KY and Brooklyn, NY;

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., becomes treasurer of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation;

First motion picture based on a Big and Little Brother relationship is released by Paramount Pictures

1925 Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation holds its first conference for agency executives;

President Calvin Coolidge becomes patron of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation

1930 Six hundred delegates attend a Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation meeting in New York City on March 8
1934 President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt become patrons of Big Brothers and Big Sisters Federation
1940 National Committee on Big Brothers and Big Sisters service is created to continue to pursue the formation of a national group
1947 Big Brothers Association headquarters opens in Philadelphia
1948 Norman Rockwell produces the sketch that becomes a symbol for the Big Brothers Association
1951 Big Brothers of the Year Program begins, Associate Justice Tom Clark of the U.S. Supreme Court and J. Edgar Hoover are named
1952 Ernest Coulter dies
1958 Big Brothers Association is chartered by Congress
1969 Big Brothers Association grows to 150 affiliated agencies
1970 Big Sisters International is incorporated
1971 Big Brothers Association reports 208 affiliates
1977 Big Sisters International and Big Brothers Association merge, forming Big Brothers Big Sisters of America with 357 agencies
1984 Big Brothers Big Sisters of America occupies its new headquarters at 230 North 13th Street in Philadelphia
1985 Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is honored with a commemorative stamp by the Postmaster General
1986 Big Brothers Big Sisters begins long range governance planning process: creating standards and required procedures
1989 Public/Private Ventures begins study to gauge impact on youth of having a Big Brother or Sister
1994 Big Brothers Big Sisters kicks off Project 21st Century to develop mission and vision statements, goals and strategies;

“How-To” mentoring training developed

1995 Public/Private Ventures Study research shows measurable, positive results on youth who have a Big Brother or Sister, seminal research in the field of youth mentoring
1997 President William J. Clinton holds Volunteer Summit in Philadelphia; Big Brothers Big Sisters plays key role
1998 Big Brothers Big Sisters International is founded
2000 Big Brothers Big Sisters in Schools becomes a core program. Partnerships with schools and volunteer-rich organizations such as churches, colleges, employers, and fraternities are emphasized. The Amachi Big Brothers Big Sisters program which matches children of prisoners with church congregants is piloted.
2001 Brand New Thinking marketing program focuses on the shared experiences to broaden volunteer appeal.  The tagline “Little Moments, Big Magic” is developed
2002 The Service Delivery System, consistent approach for providing services to children at all agencies is created to increase Big Brothers Big Sisters’ ability to offer quality services to greater numbers of youth
2003 President George W. Bush announces three-year $450 million mentoring initiative in his State of the Union Address
2004 Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates 100 years of serving America’s youth
2006 First Lady Laura Bush stars in a public service announcement to recruit volunteers across the nation