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A History of Family & Children Services

March, 2019

In 2023, Family & Children Services will celebrate its 120th anniversary. In each newsletter between now and then we will feature an article exploring some aspect of our history. Ultimately, these articles and others will be compiled in an institutional history book featuring photographs, newspaper clippings, and other archival materials.

Ever since Family & Children Services’ initial organization in 1903 as the Women’s Civic Improvement League, it is people who have anchored us and people who have inspired us. Accordingly, people will serve as the primary focus of this institutional history.

We can think of no more fitting a person to begin with than our foundress, Caroline Julia Bartlett Crane. The following article explores Caroline’s personal history alongside a history of our organization’s first nine years (1903 through 1912).

Family & Children Services

Caroline Julia Bartlett Crane
& the Women’s Civic Improvement League


When Caroline Julia Bartlett was born in the village of Hudson, Wisconsin, in 1858, there was no denying her birthright claim to the title of pioneer. But she was a pioneer in more senses than the temporal-geographic alone: Caroline was an early American feminist, civic leader, social reformer, minister, as well as a nationally recognized authority on city sanitation. She was also a daughter, sister, wife, and mother.

Caroline was born three years before the start of the Civil War, the third daughter of Julia Ann Brown and Lorenzo Dow Bartlett. Julia and Lorenzo had married in secret when Julia was just two months shy of her 15th birthday (Lorenzo was 24). Teenage matrimony and motherhood were not uncommon for the era, and thus, it is notable that Caroline comments in her autobiography on how very young her own mother was when her childhood formally came to a close.1

Julia and Lorenzo Bartlett welcomed their first baby, a little girl, into this world just over a year after their March 1849 wedding; a second daughter followed not long after. By Julia’s eighteenth birthday, she was the mother of two young daughters. By her nineteenth birthday, both of Julia’s daughters would die from separate illnesses, and she and Lorenzo would face the sadness of burying them.

The young parents, Julia and Lorenzo, were devastated, and the pain of their loss remained raw for the rest of their lives. According to Caroline, neither of her parents was ever able to speak of the two older sisters who she never met, but she felt the impact of their deaths most acutely in her parents’ forever-altered relationship with religion. Julia and Lorenzo had grown less certain in their faith.

After several years without children in their home, in August of 1858 Julia gave birth to Caroline. Two years later, in 1860, the Bartletts’ last baby and only son, Charles Lorenzo, was born. Caroline and Charles shared a close relationship throughout their lives.

As children, Caroline and her brother absorbed their parents’ religious ambivalence, all while faithfully attending the local Congregational Sunday School. Caroline recalls asking earnest questions of her instructors, which “were always dismissed with something like a kind rebuke.”2 In spite of such dismissals, her curiosity blossomed.

In 1874, when Caroline was 16 years old, she had her first encounter with Unitarianism. At the time, her family was living in Hamilton, Illinois, and a Unitarian preacher from Keokuk, Iowa, preached in their local city hall. He awoke something inside Caroline, and within hours of hearing him speak, she declared to her father her ambition to become a Unitarian minister.

And so began the journey that would eventually lead Caroline to Kalamazoo, Michigan.



Caroline Julia Bartlett Crane


The Journey

In the fall of 1879, 21-year-old Caroline graduated as valedictorian from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her aspirations to pursue graduate study in theology were slowed because of her financial situation. Without the funds necessary to immediately continue her education, Caroline determined that her best option was to work until she had saved enough money for tuition and expenses.

Caroline accepted work in Montrose, Iowa, as a school principal and elocution instructor. After one year in Iowa, she moved again, this time north, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she worked as a reporter and assistant city editor for the Minneapolis Tribune. According to Caroline’s entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography, “She saw reporting as an alternative to ministry; it was another way of bettering society.”

Her next job was as city editor of the Oshkosh Morning Times in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where her contemporaries included the journalists Charles Edward Russell and Albert Shaw; she shared a lifelong correspondence with the latter. In 1885, Caroline landed an interview with the great American author Mark Twain, whose second book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was released that same year.

Reflecting on her time as a newspaperwoman, Caroline wrote in her autobiography, “Nothing ever did so much bring me down to earth and make a rather practical woman out of a day-dreaming enthusiast, as these three years of newspaper work. But I was nearly 27 years of age, my life was moving fast, and I did not want to devote it to this kind of work.”3

In 1886, Caroline applied for, and the Iowa State Unitarian Conference accepted her, “as a candidate for the ministry,” and the following year she was called to lead a recently-established congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.4 Caroline’s intentions had been to pursue, in modern parlance, an experiential education - to study ministerial texts and the Bible at the same time that she led the small congregation. But under her leadership the small congregation grew threefold in just two years, and as a result, Caroline found herself without the time she had expected and needed for her studies.

Formally educated or not, Caroline was beginning to establish a reputation as a gifted minister. Before long, in 1889, the leadership of the Western Unitarian Conference urged Caroline to resign her position in Sioux Falls in order to “resurrect what seemed a dead movement” at the First Unitarian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.5 The Kalamazoo church, established in 1858, had suffered a divisive quarrel four years earlier and had not hosted a single service since.

From Caroline’s autobiography:

I accepted the call to the Kalamazoo church with the understanding that I should pursue certain studies at the University of Chicago and would spend two or three days a week at most in Kalamazoo, doing all that I could to resurrect the church and get it on its feet again... I had not been in Kalamazoo a month before I realised how much all of my time and energy were needed for the work right here, whereupon, I voluntarily relinquished my Chicago plans and devoted all of my energies to the work thus laid upon my door-step.6

Caroline was promptly ordained. As Kalamazoo’s newest minister, she set to work addressing the multitude of social issues affecting her congregation and city residents in general. She “promoted a seven-day church with social programs for all people, regardless of race, color or creed,” and successfully persuaded her congregation to become nonsectarian and take on a new name, the People’s Church.

A good indication of Caroline’s increasing celebrity came in 1891 when, as minister of the People’s Church, she accepted an invitation to deliver the closing sermon at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Washington, D.C.7

On December 31st, 1897, 37-year-old Caroline married a local man ten years her junior, Dr. Augustus Warren Crane, a remarkable innovator in the emerging fields of radiology and radiography (x-rays).

In her autobiography, Caroline recalls that long before her marriage, “my mother exacted a promise from me that, should I ever marry, I would devote myself seriously to the duties of housekeeping and house management - I promised most readily because I hadn’t the slightest idea that I would ever assume such a role.”

In her new role as wife - and thus, housekeeper - Caroline soon observed that her “attention was challenged by the unnecessary amount of dust which blew our way and the minute particles of soot which seemed to find their way to the sill of even the closed windows in winter.” This observation led first to frustration and then to action; Caroline promptly organized through the People’s Church a “School of Household Science.”8

The Activist

In 1898, Caroline resigned the pulpit in order to devote herself fulltime to her work as a civic leader and social reformer. Among her chief concerns were treatment of the poor and public sanitation.

A year before Upton Sinclair’s novel-turned-expose on the meatpacking industry, The Jungle, was published, in March 1903 Caroline joined forces with Battle Creek businessman and physician, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, to address state legislators regarding the widespread consumption of diseased meat in Michigan and “to urge the passage of a rigid meat inspection bill.”9 The bill - Caroline’s bill - passed two months later and had an almost immediate impact. Within a year, other states across the nation would begin adopting similar legislation based directly on the Michigan bill.

Caroline’s investigations and knack for achieving results convinced her of the need for a unified effort to tackle the full range of sanitation issues facing Kalamazoo.


Caroline Julia Bartlett Crane


The Women’s Civic Improvement League

In November 1903, Caroline made two addresses, one to the Ladies Library Association and the other to the Twentieth Century Club, “inviting them to cooperate with me in organizing a Women’s Civic Improvement League, to see what we could do for the greater order, cleanliness, and sanitation of our city.”10 Her proposal was met with great enthusiasm, and quickly a committee on organization was established, its membership drawn from the two clubs.

According to a 1951 history of the Women’s Civic Improvement League written by Kalamazoo College history student Dolores Matheny, “These women met and decided upon a federated organization, whereby women’s organizations were members and would send two delegate representatives to the governing body of the League.” From the outset, men were permitted membership as associate members and children’s groups were welcomed at reduced rates.

In January 1904, two months after Caroline’s initial proposal to the two clubs, the Women’s Civic Improvement League was formally organized. Among the League’s founding member-organizations in Kalamazoo were the Ladies Library Association, the Twentieth Century Club, People’s Church, St. Luke’s Guild, Daughters of the American Revolution, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Celery City Club, Hebrew Ladies, the Benevolent Society, and the Methodist Episcopal Pastors Union.11

The League’s first initiative began in February with the hiring of a visiting nurse on a trial-basis. When an overwhelming need for her services quickly became evident, the nurse was hired on a more permanent basis. In March, the First Congregational Church hosted the League’s first public meeting, and the first four standing committees were established: Outdoor Art, Public Health, General Welfare, and, as a matter of function, Membership Committee.12

The Outdoor Art Committee organized a citywide beautification campaign for spring and summer 1904, making a special effort to interest children as well as adults in the effort.

The Public Health Committee, led by Caroline, took on the unsanitary conditions plaguing city streets. According to For the Benefit of All: A History of Philanthropy in Michigan, “Her efforts to clean up the streets of downtown Kalamazoo gained national attention: by day, sanitation workers in white suits and brooms patrolled the byways; at night, the city’s firemen hosed down the streets.”

The General Welfare Committee took up an effort begun in 1894 to organize all of the local charities, and effectively established a sort of “clearing house for all charity offered in the city.”13 A secretary was hired, and requests for support began pouring in. From the very beginning, League policies were flexible and responsive to community needs.

In 1905, the Women’s Civic Improvement League, having garnered the support of the city council and a number of private businesses, began leasing rooms in a house at 320 Kalamazoo Avenue. By the end of 1906, the League boasted “thirteen affiliated societies, nearly 300 individual members, and twenty associate members.”14

Soon the League developed a voice in local and national politics, endorsing the anti-cigarette bill petition, and promoting civil service and child labor reform, as well as training for physically disabled children. The Kalamazoo community was kept informed of the League’s stances and undertakings through a bi-weekly newspaper column in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Within four years, the League operated every day, all year, with exception of Sundays and holidays. In 1912, despite protests by some of the founding women, the Women’s Civic Improvement League changed its name to the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League, and men were allowed to join as full members.15


Our Kalamazoo Women

Caroline Julia Bartlett Crane


Later Years

In February 1914, when Caroline was 55, and her husband, Augustus, was 45, they adopted a baby boy whom they named Warren Bartlett “Bart” Crane. About a year and a half later, they adopted a second child, a little girl, whom they named Juliana “Judy” Bartlett Crane. Bart and Judy were approximately the same age, but with unknown birthdates. Their adoptive parents assigned them the same shared birthday of May 25th, 1913. To casual observers, this “made” the children twins.16

Caroline and Augustus raised their children in a home on South Rose street in downtown Kalamazoo, and enjoyed seasonal interludes to the home they built on Gull Lake Island.

In 1924, Caroline made not only national, but international news after her entry in the “Better Homes in America” contest took first prize, earning her commendations from Herbert Hoover and sitting President Calvin Coolidge. Caroline’s entry was hardly a simple sketch on paper - it was, in fact, a house. She designed and facilitated the erection of the “Everyman’s House” in Kalamazoo’s Westnedge Hill neighborhood, where it still stands today. Her concept was novel, dictating that home design should be based around the needs of the mother, specifically the mother caring for small children while also tending to her housekeeping.

Family memories of Caroline suggest that she could be somewhat demanding and set in her ways - qualities integral to her success in public leadership, but not always compatible with a conflict-free family life. Caroline likely held her children and grandchildren and their spouses to the same exceptionally high standards that guided her own life course. Perhaps it is telling that to Caroline’s in-laws and grandchildren, she was always “Mrs. Crane.”17

After Caroline

Caroline died at age 76 on March 24th, 1935, in Kalamazoo - her home of more than four decades. Her husband, Augustus, died two years later, also in Kalamazoo. Caroline and Augustus were survived by their children, Bart and Judy. Both children married, and Bart and his wife, Mary Alice, had two children: Julia “Julie” Bartlett Crane (later Durham) and William Augustus “Gus” Crane.

Before Bart’s death in 1960, he was known as an exceptional surgeon as well as the first medical doctor in Kalamazoo to sign up to go to war on December 8th, 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.18

After the war, Bart resumed his work as a surgeon and experimented at home with an x-ray machine. Unbeknownst to Bart, his experiments would have lethal long term consequences; while tinkering, he inadvertently exposed both of his children (and likely himself) to harmful x-rays. As a result, both Gus and Julie would die of brain tumors before their 65th birthdays - a cruel and often overlooked inheritance of their grandfather’s pioneering medical research and their father’s extension of it.19 Descendants of Caroline and Augustus remain in the Kalamazoo area to this day.

Caroline’s vision for the Women’s Civic Improvement League and the work she put into establishing it are both honored - consciously or not - each and every day that the 116-year-old organization, now Family & Children Services, operates, making a positive difference in the lives of those it serves.


We invite you to share your own F&CS stories and experiences, and we welcome your ideas about which aspects of our history warrant special attention. Please contact F&CS volunteer and project lead Mary Brigid Corcoran at mbcorcoran@gmail.com or 917-617-2422.



1 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
2 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
3 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
4 Ruchotzke, Renee Zimelis
5 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
6 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
7 Ruchotzke, Renee Zimelis
8 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
9 “Germs in Meat.” Detroit Free Press. 20 Mar 1903.
10 Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
11 Matheny, Dolores
12 Matheny, Dolores
13 Matheny, Dolores
14 Matheny, Dolores
15 Matheny, Dolores
16 Durham, Sidney
17 Durham, Sidney
18 Durham, Sidney
19 Durham, Sidney


Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections, Zhang Legacy Collections Center. Kalamazoo, MI.

Durham, Sidney. Family Interview for Family & Children Services history (phone). 25 Jan 2019.

Fugate, Sandy. Edited by Joel J. Orosz. For the Benefit of All: A History of Philanthropy in Michigan. Published by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in cooperation with the Council of Michigan Foundations, 1997.

“History of People’s Church (1855-current).” People’s Church of Kalamazoo. Undated (accessed Jan 2019). http://peopleschurch.net/who-we-are/about-peoples/peoples-church-history/

Lohrstorfer, Martha. “Everyman’s House.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 1998, 2012 (accessed Jan 2019). http://www.kpl.gov/local-history/houses-buildings/2026-s-westnedge.aspx

Lohrstorfer, Martha. “Caroline Bartlett Crane.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 1998, 2012 (accessed Jan 2019). http://www.kpl.gov/local-history/biographies/caroline-crane.aspx

Matheny, Dolores. “History of The Women’s Civic Improvement League, 1903-1912.” 1951 (accessed Dec 2018). History Department Local History Seminar Papers, 1947-1991. RG 29/6.3.1 #36. Cache, Kalamazoo College Digital Archive. https://cache.kzoo.edu/handle/10920/18251

Ruchotzke, Renee Zimelis. Caroline Bartlett Crane (entry) in Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography. 2007 (accessed Jan 2019). http://uudb.org/articles/carolinebartlettcrane.html


  1. Portrait of Caroline J. Bartlett (before her marriage). Undated (pre-1898). Courtesy of the Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.
  2. Portrait of Caroline J. Bartlett (before her marriage). Undated (pre-1898). Courtesy of the Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.
  3. “Our Kalamazoo Women Before the Woman’s National Council and the Impression They Made at the Washington Sessions - Compliments for Their Ability and Work” newspaper clipping. 1891. Courtesy of the Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.
  4. Portrait of Caroline J. Bartlett (before her marriage). Undated (pre-1898). Courtesy of the Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.
  5. “Better Homes in America Guidebook for Better Homes Campaigns.” 1925. Courtesy of the Caroline Bartlett Crane Collection, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.


Everyman's House