Pro Juventute, Pro Senectute, Pro Familia, Pro Infirmis and Pro Mente Sana

These foundations emerged as a result of private initiatives. They are dedicated to the common good and priorities private welfare over state support.

A number of the foundations considered here, namely Pro Juventute, Pro Senectute and Pro Mente Sana, were set up on the initiative of the Swiss Philanthropic Society (SGG) while others were established by other private organisations. They illustrate the collaboration between the welfare state and private charity in the 20th century. The foundations receive state subsidies. In exchange for this support, the state charged them with various charitable responsibilities. This cooperation has been redefined in particular whenever the expansion or restriction of the welfare state was up for general discussion. The private foundations are also involved in the drafting of social legislation and are committed to the interests of their target demographic. 

Pro Juventute

The foundation Pro Juventute was founded in 1912 under the patronage of the SGG. It set up a central secretariat that was in charge of various responsibilities and maintained a network of local sections. The foundation coordinated the work of several children’s charities. Its board was traditionally composed of figures from politics, business and the military. A federal councillor was president of the foundation until the 1990s, which gave Pro Juventute some official status. 

The foundation was originally focused on children suffering from tuberculosis. It later took on the coordination of activities related to infant and children’s care, support for alpine farmers and war children, parental education, as well as finding foster places for orphans and abused children. Furthermore, it allocated education grants and organized leisure and holiday activities.

In 1926, Pro Juventute founded the project "Children of the Country Road" (Kinder der Landstrasse) aimed at removing children from Yenish families and settle them into Swiss society. This affected around 600 children in total. The project was terminated in 1973 as a result of media and political pressure. The Confederation and Pro Juventute issued an official apology in the mid-1980s.

Since the 1970s, Pro Juventute has focused its efforts on supporting parents (by means of information letters for parents); it devotes particular attention to single parents and has been running an emergency hotline for children and youths since 1998. At the same time, the foundation campaigned for Switzerland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (1997).

Pro Senectute

The foundation dedicated to the elderly, Pro Senectute, was founded under the auspices of the SGG in 1917. It advocated the creation of an old age and survivors’ insurance (AHV). The insurance scheme would seek to prevent the elderly, widows and widowers from welfare dependency. The welfare burden on municipalities and cantons was also to be reduced in favor of a more liberal vision of social provision. In addition, Pro Senectute disbursed individual support contributions to the elderly. Regional committees were set up in all cantons between 1918 and 1929. The role of the foundation changed after the introduction of the AHV in 1947. It was no longer responsible for direct material assistance; instead it developed concepts and activities for improving the living conditions of the elderly. As was the case with Pro Juventute, Pro Senectute also had for a long time a foundation president who was an acting or former federal councillor– since the 1990s this has been typically the head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs.

Following the introduction of the AHV, the foundation continued its work supporting elderly people in difficult situations. It expanded its name to Pro Senectute/For the Aged in 1978. Since the 1980s, the foundation has been publishing numerous specialist magazines and journals on promoting the social integration of the elderly.

Pro Familia

In 1920, Maurice Veillard, secretary of the Western Switzerland Association for Moral and Social Hygiene (Cartel romand d’hygiène sociale et morale), who would later go on to be a juvenile court judge and a pioneer of family and educational policy, suggested that the SGG set up a foundation to protect the family. In contrast to the proposal for Pro Juventute and Pro Senectute, the idea to found Pro Familia was not well received within the SGG. In addition to the educational and moral measures that were controversial within the SGG, Veillard also proposed measures to improve the economic situation of families. According to the family model espoused by bourgeois and philanthropic groups, economic aspects should continue to be a private matter free from state intervention. Despite these reservations, Pro Familia Vaud was established in 1923. It welcomed the provision of family allowances, defended traditional values and supported a rise in the birth rate.

The national Pro Familia foundation was set up in 1942 in the context of Catholic conservative mobilization for the defense of traditional family structures. Primarily Albert Studer-Auer, an active member of the Catholic Conservative League of Large Families, prompted the establishment of the foundation. The association supported the Catholic initiative ‘For the Family’ in 1942.

Over the course of the 1970s, under the directorship of the social democratic national councillor Hedi Lang, Pro Familia departed from an exclusively traditional conservative family model and opened up to new approaches. This progressive change in stance was accompanied by internal conflicts surrounding voluntary abortions, parental leave and maternity insurance. In 1992, Pro Familia released a Family Charter (revised in 2004) that addressed the living costs of children, the economic security of families and life-work balance

Pro Infirmis

In 1920, a number of associations dedicated to the blind, deaf-mute and the otherwise disabled founded the Swiss Association for the Disabled (SVfA), which changed its name to Pro Infirmis in 1935.

The umbrella organization was tasked with supporting the founding associations, representing their interests towards the authorities and the general public, and assisting the disabled. The Confederation started paying subsidies to Pro Infirmis in 1923. These subsidies were used to improve conditions in institutions serving the needs of the disabled. During the 1930s, Pro Infirmis founded special social services for the disabled in various cantons. At the beginning of the 1940s, Pro Infirmis operated over 11 social services with 17 qualified social workers. Pro Infirmis was committed to prophylactic disability policy until after the Second World War, even supporting eugenic measures such as sterilization programs and marriage bans. 

The work performed by Pro Infirmis changed once the Disability Insurance came into force in 1960, as it partially relieved private welfare efforts. In 1966 – when the Federal Law on Supplementary Benefits (EL) was implemented – Pro Infirmis received subsidies to finance its benefits for the disabled. Pro Infirmis has since campaigned for the disability insurance scheme to provide better support for the disabled, as well as for integration measures. Since the 1990s, the foundation has again been advocating the improved integration and equality of the disabled. It likewise supported the initiative ‘Equal Rights for the disabled’, which was rejected by voters and cantons in 2003, and played a key role in passing the Disability Equality Act in 2004.

Pro Mente Sana

After the Second World War, the issue of psychological wellbeing gained importance among charities as well as in the context of the leisure and consumer society. Warnings against societal disintegration reflected fears concerning the greater individualism of society and the breakdown of social norms and traditional values. Charitable organisations held the view that mental wellbeing was closely tied to the individual psyche, as it purportedly had always been.

In this context and as a result of consultation with doctors who developed new approaches to psychiatry in the 1960s and proposed new methods of treating mental illnesses, the SGG sponsored the foundation of Pro Mente Sana. Seventy-five organisations were involved in the constituent assembly of 1978, including benevolent societies, clinics, welfare institutions and associations. The stated goal was to defend the rights and interests of those afflicted by mental disabilities and illnesses. The foundation's mission was to raise awareness among the general public for modern treatment methods and to promote the social and professional integration of the mentally ill. Furthermore, the foundation sought to improve the way in which social insurance dealt with mental illnesses. It campaigned for the revision of disability insurance, particularly in support of promoting integration measures, as well as for the revision of health insurance. However, Pro Mente Sana clear preference for extending state intervention in social affairs also led to tensions with the SGG.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Ruoss Matthias (2015) Fürsprecherin des Alters. Geschichte der Stiftung Pro Senectute im entstehenden Schweizer Sozialsaat (1917-1967), Zürich 2015; Schumacher Beatrice (Hg.) (2010), Freiwillig verpflichtet, Gemeinnütziges Denken und Handeln in der Schweiz seit 1800; Kinder zwischen Rädern. Kurzfassung des historischen Forschungsberichts «Das Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse», hg. im Auftrag des Bundesamtes für Kultur, Zürich 2001.