In 1633, a French widow named Louise de Marillac and a French priest named Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity to serve the poor of France.
Saint Vincent de Paul had organized the first "Charities" (or Confraternities) in 1617. The Confraternities were composed of women from relatively modest backgrounds, who wished to devote themselves to the service of the poor and the sick in their villages or parishes.
Saint Vincent de Paul brought these Confraternities to Paris, where the number of young women serving in them grew. In 1630, Saint Vincent de Paul entrusted these young girls to Louise de Marillac, who was already assisting him in the organization, visitation and follow-up of the Confraternities. The young women were then dispersed throughout Paris, each one serving in a different Confraternity.
Louise de Marillac quickly realized the need to bring the young volunteers together so that she could give them a better formation and accompany them in their corporal and spiritual services. With Saint Vincent de Paul’s authorization, Louise de Marillac brought the young women together, and on November 29, 1633, she received the first six Daughters into her home. This date marks the official "birth" of the Company of the Daughters of Charity.
The Daughters of Charity were unlike the established religious communities at that time. Up to this point, all religious women were behind cloister walls and performed a ministry of contemplative prayer. Saint Vincent de Paul, however, wanted the Daughters to be free to walk the streets of Paris in response to the needs of the poor, and to live among the people society had most abandoned. He recommended that his Daughters care for the poor in their homes, so that they might get to know the poor in their natural setting.
Almost two centuries later, Elizabeth Seton, the American founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, adapted the rule of the French Daughters of Charity for her Emmitsburg, Maryland community. In 1850, the Emmitsburg community united with the international community based in Paris, thus beginning the first American community of the Daughters of Charity.