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Our Story

More than 75 years of progress toward creating a world free of MS.


In 1946, a movement began that changed the world for people affected by MS.

When Sylvia Lawry's brother, Bernard, began experiencing visual and balance problems in 1945, she and her sister Alice placed a classified advertisement in The New York Times: "Multiple sclerosis. Will anyone recovered from it please communicate with patient." The sisters received 54 replies from people as desperate as they were. Most asked to be informed if the two heard anything promising. "I was looking for medical clues that might have helped my brother," Ms. Lawry said in an interview with The New York Post in 1959. "But when the responses started to snowball and come from all over the country, I decided to give up the law and let my creative energies spill over into helping people with MS."

Sylvia realized the need for an organized effort to encourage and finance research into the cause, treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis. On March 11, 1946, Ms. Lawry, a young woman without a scientific background, gathered 20 of the nation's most prominent research scientists and medical experts and founded what would become the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Her passion and perseverance launched a movement that's led to more breakthroughs than the world has seen for any other neurological disease.

The National MS Society brings the MS movement together—and turns our power and passion into real results. When the Society was founded more than 75 years ago, MS was neglected and poorly understood. What began as one woman's vision and commitment is now a nationwide organization leading the global charge to create a world free of MS.

75 Years of Progress Timeline

1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s



  • Sylvia Lawry reaches out to people with MS via New York Times ad on behalf of her brother, Bernard


  • National MS Society founded


  • First research grant to Elvin A. Kabat, MD at Columbia University



  • First effort to determine how many people live with MS in the US
  • Society founder plays a critical role in the establishment of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health



  • Criteria used to diagnose MS first developed


  • Sylvia Lawry rallies global MS organizations to found the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation



  • U.S. Congress appoints a national commission on MS



  • MRI first used in MS 



  • Standards for conducting clinical trials in MS established 



  • Americans with Disabilities Act passed, requiring accessibility in public spaces and prohibiting discrimination against people living with disabilities


  • First disease modifying therapy for multiple sclerosis is approved  


  • Tools for describing types of MS is first released  


  • Society website launched to provide information and resources for people with MS  
  • Information Resource Centers are launched in selected chapters across the country to provide personalized support to people with MS



  • McDonald diagnostic criteria released, speeding time to MS diagnosis  


  • Society takes a stand supporting stem cell research   


  • Society commits to funding commercial scientific research to help speed up the rate at which disease modifying therapies could become approved and available   


  • Multiple Sclerosis Research Program established by Congress and Department of Defense



  • First oral disease-modifying therapy approved 
  • MS diagnostic criteria revised to further reduce the wait for an accurate MS diagnosis 
  • Affordable Care Act passed, increasing access to care for millions of people in the US, thanks in part to the efforts of MS Activists on Capitol Hill 
  • Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute founded  


  • The International Progressive MS Alliance, an unprecedented global collaboration to end progressive MS is founded by six founding organizations, including the National MS Society   


  • Tools for describing types of MS revised  


  • National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System established by the Centers of Disease control to collect information on incidence, age, race, ethnicity data, as well as geographic data that can help refine and target research we hope will lead to a cure  


  • First treatment for progressive MS is approved  
  • MS Navigator® is launched so that 100% of people affected by MS nationwide have access to a dedicated partner for overcoming challenges    


  • A Society-led study found that the prevalence of MS was nearly 1 million people living with US with the disease, twice as many as previously reported




  • 20 disease modifying therapies available 

Together, we will continue to drive progress until we achieve our vision of a world free of MS.


© 2024 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.