Mission Statement

The mission of the Arthritis Foundation is to improve lives through leadership in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis and related diseases.

In 2008 the Arthritis Foundation celebrated 60 years of service toward its mission. Learn more about the Arthritis Foundation and how we help you and others concerned about arthritis:

What Services Does the Arthritis Foundation Provide?
How is the Arthritis Foundation Organized?
What is Arthritis and Rheumatism International (ARI)?
What is the history of the Arthritis Foundation?
How do I contact the Arthritis Foundation?

What Services Does the Arthritis Foundation Provide?

Arthritis Foundation efforts center on the three-fold mission of the organization: research, prevention and quality of life. In 2007, the Foundation provided nearly $14 million in grants to more than 200 researchers to help find cures, preventions or better treatments for arthritis. Over its 60-year history, the Arthritis Foundation’s $400 million investment to more than 2,200 researchers has resulted in major treatment advances for most arthritis diseases.

The Arthritis Foundation also provides a large number of community-based services nationwide to make life with arthritis easier, including:

  • Self-help courses
  • Water and land-based exercise classes
  • Instructional videotapes
  • Public forums
  • A wide variety of free educational brochures and booklets
  • The national, bimonthly consumer magazine Arthritis Today
  • Continuing education courses and publications for health professionals

Arthritis Foundation volunteers serve as advocates to local and national governments on behalf of the 46 million Americans with arthritis and chronic joint symptoms. Their successes include the federal establishment of a national institute for arthritis among the National Institutes of Health, increased federal funding for arthritis research and state funding for arthritis medications. An Arthritis Foundation telephone and e-mail information service answers questions from nearly 150,000 people per year.

How is the Arthritis Foundation Organized?

The Arthritis Foundation is the only national, voluntary health agency seeking the causes, cures, preventions and treatments for the more than 100 forms of arthritis. The Foundation has 150 chapters and service points nationwide to provide community-based programs and to raise funds. The Arthritis Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization with program, research, budget and policy decisions made by volunteer committees. Paid staff provides professional expertise and support for volunteer efforts.

What Is the History of the Arthritis Foundation?

For centuries men and women, young and old, have been affected by a disease in which little was known except its symptoms. But in 1948, a group of scientists and physicians came together to take action against this condition called arthritis. Perhaps heartened by breakthroughs in medicine, this community of scientists envisioned a day when a cure for arthritis would be discovered and the millions of people with arthritis would no longer suffer. Their actions resulted in the formation of the Arthritis Foundation.

As you stroll through our history, we encourage you to view it not only as a historical retrospective, but with an appreciation of just how many of the dreams of our early founders have become reality. Our accomplishments must serve as our inspiration for all the work that is yet to be done -- for the ultimate fulfillment of our mission. And this inspiration is easily drawn from the many milestones that have paved the pathway of these more than 50 years.

Here are only a few ...

Then ... In 1948, there were an estimated 7 million Americans with arthritis.
Now ... there are 46 million Americans diagnosed with arthritis and chronic joint symptoms.
Then ... there were four rheumatic diseases under the Arthritis Foundation umbrella.
Now ... we have more than 100 arthritis-related conditions of concern.
Then ... the Arthritis Foundation's first year's income from fund raising was just over $500,000.
Now ... our revenue is more than $136 million nationwide.
Then ... there were only 13 start-up chapters.
Now ... we have 43 chapters with hundreds of service points nationwide.
Then ... there was no official nationwide observance to increase visibility of the seriousness of arthritis.
Now ... each year the month of May is observed as National Arthritis Month, following a 1972 Presidential Proclamation of the observance.
Then ... there were no formal treatment guidelines for arthritis and few effective medications, mainly aspirin and cortisone.
Now ... we have a plethora of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), newly emerging second-line therapies, and even new insights into how therapies might be delicately combined. All of these advances have demonstrated a remarkable impact on a person's ability to maintain a quality life, as well as the possibility of slowing or even arresting disease progression.
Then ... In 1948, less than $11,000 was spent on arthritis research in the U.S.
Now ... the Arthritis Foundation budget alone reaches more than $14 million for arthritis research with millions more being spent by the federal government and the private sector.

In short, the Arthritis Foundation was the genesis of today's arthritis research programs and has nurtured its growth in both the private and public sectors. Since 1948, the Foundation has spent more than $400 million to support some 2,200 scientists and physicians in arthritis research.

Organized in 1948 as the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation, the organization's name was changed in 1964 to the Arthritis Foundation. The following year the American Rheumatism Association (ARA) merged with the Foundation and became a section. In 1965, an additional professional society was established within the Foundation as the Allied Health Professions Section. In 1980, its name was changed to the Arthritis Health Professions Association (AHPA). The American Juvenile Arthritis Organization (AJAO) was established in 1981 as a membership group within the Foundation, and in 1991, AJAO became a Council of the Foundation. In January 1986, the ARA became a separate, independent organization and now is known as the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). In January 1994, the AHPA became a division of the ACR, and its name was changed to the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals.

Realizing the Vision

In the 1940s there was very little awareness about arthritis and even less being done about it. The number of Americans with arthritis was estimated to be 7 million, but there was a lack of available quality medical care and little or no research being conducted. At the time, there were only seven locations in the country where physicians and medical students could learn about arthritis, and only six treatment and research centers. The general consensus among both the medical community and the public was that nothing could be done about arthritis.

This conclusion was unacceptable to the members of the American Rheumatism Association, a small group of approximately 300 physicians who were the only medical professionals with advanced knowledge and training in rheumatic diseases. In 1948, inspired by the successes of the medical community in treating such conditions as polio, this group of physicians played an important role in forming another organization, the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation. Their goal was to conquer one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. The several doctors who initiated the discussions of organizing a new national effort agreed that a nationally-prominent businessman should be recruited to head it. Dr. Richard Freyberg, then of New York City, had a patient with rheumatoid arthritis named Floyd Odlum who was chair of the board of the Atlas Corporation. Mr. Odlum agreed to become the organization's first chairman and held the first meeting of the Board of Directors on May 6, 1948.

Our Beginning

The 1940s

The Foundation got off to a fast start. In its first years it focused on establishing chapters around the country and raising funds to support the Foundation's research and education initiatives. By the end of the first year, 13 chapters had been established and more than $500,000 had been raised. This first campaign, chaired by Bob Hope, set out to raise money to be split evenly between research and chapter-based arthritis clinics in hospitals.

The first year of the Arthritis Foundation also saw three major arthritis research discoveries: a blood factor linked to rheumatoid arthritis indicating a deficiency with the body's immune defense system; cortisone, a drug which enabled people with arthritis to move their joints freely and often without pain; and the lupus erythematosus (LE) cell, which enabled physicians to recognize systemic lupus more readily.

Progress in arthritis research continued after these three initial discoveries and scientists began to learn about the limits of cortisone, as well as its side effects. Scientists also learned that arthritis was not just one disease, but many, making arthritis research more challenging and intriguing, which served to attract more scientists to the field. Other significant accomplishments during the Foundation's first years were the establishment and distribution of minimum standards for arthritis clinics and the publication of the first issue of the Bulletin on the Rheumatic Diseases.

The 1950s-60s

The 1950s and early 1960s were years of great progress for the Foundation, particularly in the area of communication. As Foundation-sponsored research efforts were well underway, initiatives directed toward educating and informing both the medical community and the general public began. For the medical community, this marked the beginning of shared ideas concerning arthritis research and treatment at conferences, highlighted by the first national conference held in Bethesda, Md., in 1953.

Communicating to the public also became a priority in the '50s and '60s which saw the establishment of the Russell L. Cecil Medical Journalism Awards in 1956. These awards recognize excellence in the news media by honoring reporters and editors who accurately convey information to the public about arthritis. At the same time, the success of the Arthritis Foundation's first telethon in Southern California charted the course for nationwide telethons. Over the years, these telethons have significantly increased both fund-raising and awareness efforts.

Communication efforts were also stepped up in 1960 with the publication of "Misrepresentation of Arthritis Drugs and Devices in the U.S.," a report designed to inform the public about widespread misinformation involving "miracle cures" for arthritis. The Foundation also continued to use celebrities to educate the public about arthritis and help raise money for research. Continuing the work Bob Hope had started in 1948 were national icons such as George Burns, Charlton Heston and Lucille Ball.

With the 1960s came great change for the Foundation, allowing the Foundation to build on its strengths and improve its areas of weakness. The most notable change was its name, when in 1964 the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation reorganized and became the Arthritis Foundation.

The subject of change continued to be a central focus for the Foundation when in 1966 it realized the need to develop its first long-range plan. This plan directed the Foundation to confront the arthritis problem in a broader scope, extending the reach of services to impact a larger range of people and to establish working relationships with other agencies and groups concerned with arthritis.

In 1969, the government drastically cut funding for arthritis research, threatening to end vital projects. The Foundation responded by reaching out to the public, whose donations allowed research programs to continue uninterrupted.

The 1970s-'80s

The 1970s were years of growth and recognition highlighted by a 1972 designation of May as National Arthritis Month by Congress and the President. This month serves as a pivotal time for emphasizing research, service, education and fund raising. Support of arthritis treatment and research by Congress continued in 1974 when the "National Arthritis Act" was passed. The first arthritis legislation in more than 25 years, the act officially recognized that arthritis was a major health problem which had to be addressed. The act also authorized funds to develop arthritis centers, assist medical schools in adding arthritis programs and establish a national commission to create long-range plans to combat arthritis. In addition, the establishment of the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) within the National Institutes of Health gave new focus to arthritis research in America.

With the support of the Foundation, arthritis research continued to progress steadily in the 1970s, especially in improving the quality of life for people with arthritis. These developments included dramatic improvements in joint replacement surgery, primarily for hip replacements, and improved techniques for foot and hand surgery. In addition, the introduction of several new anti-inflammatory drugs helped decrease standard side-effects and increase treatment options.

In the 1980s, the Foundation made great progress in reaching out to all parts of its membership. One aspect of this new broadened scope was the formation of the American Juvenile Arthritis Organization (AJAO), a new section designed to address the needs of children with arthritis. Another prominent step to increase public outreach was the launching of Arthritis Today, a national magazine designed to help people with arthritis live better lives. The Foundation also established a toll-free information line that serves the public by providing answers to questions about arthritis and giving them referrals to nearby chapters.

Celebrating 50+ Years of Help and Hope

In recent years, the Arthritis Foundation has continued to speak for the millions of Americans with arthritis. Two key examples of these successful efforts were the revision of Social Security Administration rules on children's disability benefits and the support of the Health Insurance Portability Act. In addition, over a recent five-year period, the Arthritis Foundation helped triple funding for NIAMS.

Throughout its 50-plus year history, the Arthritis Foundation has experienced steady growth and has made great strides in the treatment of the many forms of arthritis. The Foundation has been a tremendous sponsor of research and, since 1948, has spent $400 million to support some 2,200 scientists and physicians in arthritis research.

How Do I Contact the Arthritis Foundation?

For more information about the Arthritis Foundation or arthritis, feel free to contact us.

Write to us:
Arthritis Foundation
P.O. Box 7669
Atlanta, GA 30357-0669

Call us:

Email us:
Arthritis Answers

Or contact your local office:
Chapter Locator
Nebo Content Management System Tracking