We currently know civic societies as a widespread part of the amenity lobby, yet their history is little explored. Focusing on the emergence and growth of civic societies before 1960, this article examines some of that history. The first section provides a background context, linking civic groups to shifting ideas about architecture and space, and to reform movements of the nineteenth century. The second section explores the growth in numbers of associations and their memberships. The third section develops a discussion of the ideas and activities of societies, focusing particularly on their articulation of social and spatial interconnection, their use of a prescriptive urban aesthetic and their political influence.