ABS History

 

Founded in 1868 by a group of concerned businessmen and community leaders, the AMERICAN BENEVOLENT SOCIETY (ABS) preceded the U.S. Embassy Consular Services and the U.S. Social Security System in providing services to those in need, especially to Americans living in Mexico. Initially, these needs included helping Americans to find work and providing pensions, scholarships and medical assistance.

The AMERICAN HOSPITAL was founded by the ABS in 1886 in order to provide health care services to the community and to complement the private health care system in Mexico. In 1947, the American and British hospitals merged to form the American British Cowdray Hosipital (ABC), which today is recognized as one of the finest health care institutions in Mexico and Latin America. The ABS works closely with the ABC Hospital and refers needy cases for charity care.

The AMERICAN CEMETERY is another service provided by the ABS and was founded in 1898. The cemetery property of 7.5 hectares was purchased from the Hacienda Tacuba, and parcels were sold off to other benevolent societies including the Spanish and British for use as cemeteries. At present there are over 14,000 gravesites and niches at the American Cemetery. It is considered an historic site while providing burial services in a dignified and efficient manner.

During the early years, the ABS also served an important social function in the community through the planning of Thanksgiving dinners, Presidential Inaugural Day Balls and Fourth of July picnics. To this day, the ABS holds events for these holidays and more.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, volunteerism was of great importance and the ABS had its own women’s auxiliary. The Society also extended services to the greater Mexican community with the preparation of food baskets for the needy, and a used clothing store. The used clothing store “Casi Nueva” is now run by the Junior League of Mexico City.

The ABS also operates CAZA LIBROS, a second-hand English language bookstore. It was initially founded during World War II to assist with the war effort. Second-hand books in English and many other languages are donated to the store and resold at discount prices. Caza Libros is run primarily by volunteers, and all sale proceeds help support the social services provided by the ABS.

The ABS managed a rest home, Casa Silby, for senior citizens. The facility was closed in the early 1980’s. However, the focus on senior citizens has continued, and a senior group known as the “Young at Heart Club” was formed which was later replaced by our much-appreciated Senior Center. Today, the Senior Center is known as the Lifelong Learning Center. It provides physical, mental and cultural activities for people of all ages. The ABS offers transportation for senior center participants.

In 1985 the ABS was one of the first community organizations to respond to the disaster resulting from the devastating Mexico City earthquake in September of that year. A special program was developed for Mexican amputee victims providing them with comprehensive rehabilitation, counseling, medical attention, economic assistance and prostheses. This successful program came to an end in 1991.

The ABS continues to address the needs of Americans through its Social Service program, offering financial assistance, psychological support, referral services, and home and hospital visits. In 2003, the ABS began “Meals on Wheels” bringing hot meals to people living alone who are debilitated by illness or advanced age. Participating in the ABS Social Service program are a number of Americans living in both Mexico City and Cuernavaca who receive ABS casework services.

In 1995, the ABS started a successful Corporate Membership Program for companies to contribute to the ABS through cash and/or in-kind donations every year. At present there are over 200 paying members and volunteers who help support the work of the Society. Throughout its history, the ABS has continued to address the diverse needs of the community.

The living, breathing history of the ABS and Americans living in Mexico continues. To learn more about the history of Americans in Mexico and/or to tell us your story, check out the Story Archive Project the ABS started. We are collecting and documenting the largest body of oral histories ever gathered from foreigners living in Mexico. Expats speak out about love, survival, immigration, culture, community and the challenges and joys of cross-border life. We accept all materials related to the history of the English speaking community in Mexico and are committed to archiving them. Help us keep your stories alive.