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America has been called “a nation of joiners.” In their daily lives, in their communities, and in their work and play, Americans have long joined voluntary associations to connect with others, pursue shared goals, and spur social change. Join In: Voluntary Associations in America explores this impulse to join together for a common purpose through a selection of items from the Library of Congress collections representing organizations from across the nation and across time. The associations featured cover a vast range of interests and goals and include faith-based organizations and benevolent societies, chambers of commerce, professional associations and labor unions, voluntary emergency service providers, groups advocating social and political change, as well as clubs for service, sports, and hobbies.
These powerful impulses to join, while not unique to the United States, have been shaped in part by the nation’s geography and diversity. The history of voluntary associations reveals the aspirations Americans have had for themselves and their country. It also reflects American society’s exclusions, discriminations, and divisions. Throughout, Americans have shown a remarkable ability to use the tools of association building, self-organization, and self-governance to achieve their goals. The wide variety of organizations they have created, at times benefitting from government, show independence and enterprise critical to the social fabric of this country.
Join In: Voluntary Associations in America and related programming are made possible by funding secured by The Federalist Society, with additional funds provided by the American Bar Association, Standing Committee on the Library of Congress.