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History

FISA Foundation has always focused on women, girls, and people with disabilities, continually evolving to meet the changing needs of the community.

FISA’s roots were planted in 1911, when alumnae of six girls’ college preparatory schools (Bishop Bowman, Dobbs, Farmington, Ogontz, Thurston-Gleim and Winchester) formed a membership organization known as the Federation of Girls’ School Societies, which was later renamed The Federation of Independent School Alumnae. Their intention was to improve the lives of poor and working class women. After carefully assessing the needs and opportunities, they founded Harmarville Convalescent Home for Women, which provided a safe haven for low income and unwed mothers to recover after childbirth or surgery. Women were served with care and without judgment about their life circumstances. Harmarville Convalescent Home had the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates in the nation.

Over time community needs changed and other safety nets became available. Rather than allow the facilities to fall into disuse, the Federation reassessed the needs and gaps in services. In 1956, the women refocused the mission on meeting the rehabilitation needs of people with disabilities by converting the convalescent home into Harmarville Rehabilitation Center. During the following decades, Harmarville became known internationally for its innovative therapies for people with physical disabilities.

In 1996, to meet the increasing challenges presented by managed care, the trustees of the Harmarville and the Federation decided to sell the Center to a for-profit company that was subsequently purchased by HealthSouth Corporation. As the founder and owner of Harmarville, the Federation received the proceeds of the sale and established the FISA Foundation with a mission to improve the lives of women, girls, and people with disabilities to continue its legacy of charitable work. Although the acronym was chosen as a tribute to the Federation of Independent School Alumnae, “FISA” is the official, legal name of the Foundation.

In 2021, for the first time in its history, FISA Foundation revised its mission statement and funding priorities to address longstanding racial inequities. The new mission statement:

FISA Foundation champions equity, justice, safety, and inclusion for women, girls, and people with disabilities, combatting systemic racism that impedes progress for these populations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

To learn more about FISA Foundation, please contact us to request a complimentary copy of Uncommon Women, a detailed account of our history written by Mary Brignano.