A Legacy of Women Helping Women Will Benefit UConn Health

For nearly 200 years, the Widows Society has been working to improve the lives of Hartford-area women. Now, that commitment is being extended to female patients at UConn Health.

Five members of the Widows Society, a group that has endowed a fund at UConn Health to help female patients pay for their treatment.

Members of the Widows Society, who have endowed a fund at UConn Health to help uninsured and underinsured female patients, in a photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic (Contributed photo).

For nearly 200 years, a group known as the Widows Society has quietly made a difference in the lives of Hartford-area women. Formed by women to support the widows of sailors who did not return from sea, the Widows Society’s mission is the same in 2020 as it was in 1825: to support single women who are underserved and underrepresented.

The Widows Society initially distributed aid in the form of food baskets and cash; later they gave monthly stipends, and more recently, the support was given through grants to organizations serving women in need. Now, the group—which today is comprised of five women in their 70s—is taking the opportunity to support women in a different way, by disbanding the Widows Society and distributing its assets to organizations that serve women.

Mary Luciano, the Widows Society’s vice president and treasurer, explains, “We realized that the way we were giving money was not really serving people in the way it should serve people who are in need today.”

UConn Health is one of the organizations to benefit from the group’s generosity: The Widows Society Endowed Fund for Financial Support was established with a $2 million gift and will support programs that focus on uninsured and underinsured female patients, supplementing the bills of female patients in need. Women’s health issues have always been a driving force behind the Widows Society’s work, so the decision to give to UConn Health—a nonprofit hospital whose patients include uninsured and underinsured females—aligned with the group’s mission.

Of particular importance to the Widows Society is that the fund will support patient care in any area, including mental health programs. According to Luciano, who has been a member of the Widows Society since 2008, the topic of mental health has long been a part of the group’s history. “The women the Widows Society encountered, with financial troubles or needing help in other ways, often also had mental health issues,” she says.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn Health’s CEO and vice president for health affairs, notes that this gift is unique in the breadth of its support, in that it is not limited to a particular area of care. “This endowed fund will make a tremendous impact for female patients across all areas of the hospital,” he says. “These uninsured and underinsured patients will have access to the best possible medical care, thanks to the Widows Society’s gift.”

The Widows Society members are confident that through their endowed fund at UConn Health, they will be able to continue supporting females, of any age, who need it most. “We are so excited that someone who is uninsured or underinsured with a medical need, in any spectrum, will have help paying their medical bills,” Luciano says. “No one is turned away.”

Luciano adds that the legacy of the Widows Society is one of women helping women, and the beauty of seeing a need and finding a way to help. “We are ordinary, unnamed women taking care of ordinary, unnamed women,” she says. “And that’s powerful.”

Though the Widows Society has operated anonymously, the UConn Foundation’s Women and Philanthropy program is pleased to celebrate the members as part of its inaugural 100 Women Giving $100,000 initiative in recognition of their transformative gift. Through this initiative, the Women and Philanthropy program aims to celebrate female philanthropists and allies who support any area of the University, amplifying and leveraging the power of women supporting UConn.

Through their endowed fund at UConn Health, the Widows Society has ensured that their legacy of women helping women lives on.