The core values of the GFS, which was a national movement started in 1875, aimed at high moral standards for its members; they attempted to supply for every working girl of unblemished character a friend in a class above her own. There were two classes of membership: the working class girls, known as members, and the ladies, called associates. Both classes paid annual subscription fees tailored for their class, half of which went to the local group and half to the central office. Associates provided "recreation rooms" often in parish facilities, although sometimes in their own homes, where working-class girls could meet with associates and each other, read, sew, sing, and enjoy simple refreshments.
The GFS was not a participant in the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
In 1901 in Cosgrove, Mrs Atkinson at the Priory started a branch for girls who were mostly teenagers when the group began. They may have met at the Priory sometimes but mostly held groups in the Old School building. They paid 1/- each year to cover small expenses.
The first group included Mary Atkinson, the daughter of the Priory, Maggie Bull, who we can see from the census may have been a laundress, working from home, seven girls who were recorded as doing “Home Duties”, seven girls who were at work, and seven who were in service locally. It was common at the time for village girls to leave school and work at home for a time before going into service.
The youngest members were 15 years old and the oldest was Mary Clarke, who was a farmer’s daughter. This group must have been a great social event for girls who were away from home in service, isolated on farms, or simply bored with working or engaging in domestic work at home. Certainly from the register we can see that the girls out at work didn’t stay in the group very long.
The first cohort stayed in the Society until 1906, when there was a break in the records. When it re-started in 1909 it was with a much younger core group with girls as young as 11, getting ready to leave school. In the next few years only three of the original group stayed on, including the faithful Maggie Bull and Mary Atkinson. In this period a system of candidature was introduce whereby younger girls were introduced to the Society but were not full members until the following year.
Girls from the same family often joined at a similar time, although they didn’t always stay in the Society. Village families like the Jelleys, the Eglesfields and the Bushells all sent their girls to the group and Mrs Jelley eventually became an associate.
From 1915 some of the older members, now in their 30s, were designated as associates. The Society required these to be “ladies” rather than working class girls, and they were assumed to be the organisers of the groups. However, these ladies did not generally stay very long, possibly marrying or moving away, and by the 1920s Mrs Atkinson, Mary Atkinson and Mrs Jelley were the stalwarts carrying on the Society’s work.
The exception was Maggie Bull, who, as a working class girl started as an ordinary member at 17 and stayed with the Society until 1930, when it appears to have closed, by which time she would have been 46 years old. She was never made an associate, presumably because of the class rules at the time, but we know that she ended her days as an old lady living at Ivy Cottage on Priory Lane, where she was respected and looked after by local residents like the Tompkins family.