Frederic Ozanam established the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, France, in 1833. The society was originally named the Council of Charity, and consisted of Ozanam and several of his peers. The first American conference was formed in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1845.
Ozanam was studying law in Paris when a fellow student challenged him during a debate, asking exactly what Ozanam and other Catholic students were doing to help the poor. Shortly after forming the Council of Charity, Ozanam placed it under St. Vincent de Paul's patronage. De Paul had worked to help the poor in 16th-century France. The society continued to expand its work within France over the following years.
The society established its first conference in England in 1844, consisting of 13 members in London. The society worked to provide employment for boys, along with care for young children. As of 2015, the society has over 10,000 members in the United Kingdom.
In 1845 an American pastor, Father John Timon, visited Ireland and brought news of the society's work back to the United States. Father Ambrose Heim worked to establish the society in the United States, and the society's international council formally recognized the U.S. organization in 1846. There are currently over 170,000 society members in the United States, who provide assistance with disaster relief, job training and food pantries, among other programs.