A History of Family & Children Services
Brief and poorly attended was the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League’s first meeting of 1917. As recorded by Assistant Secretary Lhea C. Shakespeare, twenty-seven members were present - a mere fraction of the 416 found on the membership rolls for the previous year. Members were likely fatigued, if not utterly exhausted, by their ambitious and highly successful holiday campaign, which had ended only a few days earlier.
In their rented room at the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, regular business commenced. Former League President Mrs. Lydia Wood began by reporting good cooperation between the Charities Committee and the Coal Committee, and “also spoke of the wonderful result of the three hours canvass of the city on Dec. 31 under the supervision of the Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of raising the funds necessary for the year’s budgets of the four participating charities, including the Civic League.”1 The $10,000 raised was divided among the cooperating social service organizations with the understanding that they were “not to solicit funds during the year from those who subscribed.”2 This early, semi-formal federation of charity organizations foreshadowed organizational trends that would increase in popularity as the century progressed.
Since the League’s inception, members and subscribers to the League had concerned themselves greatly with the potential duplication of services. Fraud actually seems to have been something of a preoccupation, possibly suggesting that assurances against duplication could have been, at times and for some subscribers, a condition of supporting the League with donations.
Following Mrs. Wood, Miss Cobb, “chairman” of the Thrift Committee, reported that the savings collector - formerly known as “the bank lady” - would begin regular visits to the Corset Factory and Paper Box Factory, where she called upon workers to make small bank deposits. The League - already in its thirteenth year - had long established as one of its core principles the belief that services provided to the community ought to be, whenever possible, brought to the recipient, thus eliminating travel as a potential barrier.
After all of the regular business had been attended to, a letter was read aloud from the “new Charter League requesting that a speaker be allowed to present the principles of the City Manager form of government to the Civic League.”9 (Remember, the year was 1917 and women in the United States had not yet earned the right to vote nationally.) While the League had been opened to full membership by men as well as women since 1912, it maintained for a number of years the distinct feeling of a women’s organization in which men were allowed to participate. (For example, in 1918, the League was addressed by the president of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs.)
Whether the new Charter League requested an opportunity to speak to the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League on the basis of trying to secure votes from male members in favor of their plan, or they were genuinely interested in engaging the women in a political matter on which they surely had opinions if not the right to vote, the request was warmly and enthusiastically received. In fact, Mrs. Mills moved for a speaker to attend not one, but “both the February and March meetings.”10 The motion carried.
Mrs Mills’ successful motion to have a speaker join the League not once, but twice, highlights the value that she and others of like minds placed on this opportunity. As of 1918, Michigan women would have the right to vote in state elections, although it would not be until ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920 that women would earn the right to vote on the national level.11
On this point it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the 19th Amendment, while ensuring that Americans would not be denied the right to vote based on their sex, did not prevent the government from withholding voting rights based on Americans’ ethnic and/or racial backgrounds. It would take many more decades before all women - indigenous women, women of color - would also have their right to vote legally guaranteed. The 19th Amendment, no doubt, was a win - and surely members of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League counted it as such - but we ought to remember that it was only a partial win, or a step in the right direction.
The First World War had been underway for nearly three years when on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress “to request a declaration of war” on Germany.12 By April 6th, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had voted in favor of the United States’ official entry into what was then known as “The Great War.”13
One day after President Wilson’s address, on April 3rd, a regular meeting of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League was held at the Chamber of Commerce. Following the conclusion of routine business, League President Mrs. Kleinstuck (discussed in see Chapter 2) offered the following resolution:
Whereas, a state of war has been declared by our President as existing between our country and Germany which will undoubtedly be speedily ratified by Congress and whereas a large army will probably be called to the front; be it resolved that we the members of the Civic Improvement League of Kalamazoo pledge ourselves to aid our government in all ways possible but particularly do we pledge ourselves to look after the families of the enlisted men, not as charity but as a duty to see that the families of such shall not deteriorate in standard of living.
Minutes show that the resolution was “heartily and unanimously endorsed.”14 The League also cooperated with the Soldiers Relief Commission and the Red Cross Society to carry out investigations and dispense relief to “the families of the men” who were serving in the military. In June, the Civic League emptied its bank account in order to purchase a $10,000 U.S. Liberty bond to support the war effort.
The League’s 1918 annual meeting in May brought about elections for officer positions. Former First Vice-President Mrs. Kleinstuck was elected President. For all of the other new officers, it was their first time holding top leadership positions in the League.
In the office of First Vice-President was Mrs. Edith G. Hodge, wife of longtime Kalamazoo College board member Frederick M. Hodge.15 The Hodges lived on Thompson Street in a house that was acquired by Kalamazoo College in the 1960s; since 1983 the house has been known to students as Hodge House, or simply, the President’s house, serving as it does as the official home for the College President.16 In 1921, F.M. Hodge was a Director and Vice President of the Hawthorne Paper Company. He actually served as a Director alongside Mrs. Caroline Kleinstuck’s son, C. Hubbard Kleinstuck. (If you think Kalamazoo is small today, it was actually a whole lot smaller in the early twentieth century.)
Elected Second Vice-President was Mrs. A. H. Rockwell, whose husband was a doctor. Mr. and Mrs. Rockwell lived on Burdick Street near the intersection with Cedar Street, he practicing medicine out of their home. Next in command was Mrs. Ellis H. Drake - Lena - who was elected Recording Secretary. Lena would serve as League president in 1919 and 1920. Her husband, Ellis, served as Superintendent of the Kalamazoo Public Schools from 1915 through 1933, during which time he was an outspoken advocate for children with learning challenges and special needs.17
And Mrs. William Shakespeare Jr. - Lhea - was elected Assistant Secretary. Lhea was the wife Shakespeare Company founder and future Kalamazoo mayor, William Shakespeare Jr. The Shakespeare Company, established in Kalamazoo in 1897, manufactured with great success fishing reels and related equipment, and would remain an important employer in the city through the 1970s.18 Today, Shakespeare’s Pub is located in an old Shakespeare Company building on Kalamazoo Avenue, it’s very name helping to keep alive an important part of Kalamazoo history.
As was typical for the early twentieth century, the vast majority of the community’s leading businesspeople and elected representatives were men, while their wives - usually known only as the female counterpart to her husband’s identity - took on large-scale and meaningful work of their own, most of them in addition to caring for families young and old. It is certainly meaningful that by the late 1910s, most women League members signed memos and meeting minutes using not their husbands’ names - Mrs. William Shakespeare Jr. - but their own, followed by their husband’s surname à la Mrs. Lhea Shakespeare, - a gesture that seems subtle, possibly even benign by today’s standards, but which signified increasing empowerment in the years leading up to women’s total enfranchisement.
The title of Corresponding Secretary for the year 1917 to 1918 was assigned to Mrs. H.J. Daniels, and the Treasurer was Mrs. J. P. Everett. In addition, two Trustees were named: Dr. W.E. Upjohn and Mrs. A. J. Mills (both Trustees are discussed in Chapter 2) .
Nearly every week, the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League published brief notes in the Kalamazoo Gazette, thereby ensuring wide circulation of ideas and proposals throughout the city. They published extended articles with less frequency. The first commercial radio did not go on the air until November 1920, so newspapers and word of mouth remained the primary means of communication.
Following the 1918 annual meeting of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League, General Secretary Miss Opal Zimmerman submitted to the Gazette the League’s articulation of its foremost recommendations:
Also noted in the article is the need for Fresh Air camps for Tubercular patients, such as the Pretty Lake Fresh Air Vacation Camp, which began in 1916 at the behest and through the generosity of League member Mr. Edward Desenberg (see Chapter 2).
In April 1918, the League submitted a brief news item titled “Boarding Homes For Babies Are Planned,” and explained that the committee of three women would “compile a list of homes where babies may be boarded while their mothers are ill or temporarily forced from home.”19 At other times, the League advertised specific needs with headlines such as “Civic League Wants Home for 14 Year Boy” and “Little White Bed Is Urgent Need at Kazoo Day Nursery.” A January 1920 article in the Kalamazoo Gazette announced that anyone “board[ing] children for a period of more than 30 days must obtain a license from the State Board of Charities and Corrections,” which is indicative of increasing social work oversight at the state level.
The “Corset Factory” referred to in the January meeting minutes is undoubtedly that of the Kalamazoo Corset Company. Employing more than 800 workers in its heyday, the Kalamazoo Corset Company “produced corsets using turkey feathers, or featherbone, for ribbing rather than whalebone.”3 The employees of the Corset Company, the majority of them women, were actually somewhat controversial, not only in Kalamazoo or Michigan, but nationally.4
Several years earlier, in March of 1912, approximately 500 members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local (ILGWU) went on strike, protesting “poor wages, long hours, unsanitary working conditions and sexual harassment” by male foremen.5 After a judge ordered that picket lines be broken up, protestors “complied with the order and held ‘silent picketing’ or prayer meetings instead.”6 The protesters’ “unusual style of picketing” made national news.7 The conflict smoldered for months, eventually concluding in victory for the women and the union; a contract was approved in June of that year.
The other employer mentioned in the minutes, “the Paper Box Factory,” was the Kalamazoo Paper Box Company. The manufacturing of paper and related products was one of Kalamazoo’s chief industries. In 1867, the city’s first paper mill set up shop along the Kalamazoo River, followed by so many others that before long Kalamazoo became known as “The Paper City.”8 Factory work was steady, but the compensation it provided ranged greatly - for workers with large families, sick and/or dependent family members, often it was not enough.
The major event of 1918 proved to be the League’s October purchase of a new headquarters - a house located at the corner of Cedar and Burdick streets. Planning for a new headquarters had begun many years earlier when in December 1913, League member Fannie A. Hull signed a typewritten letter to Dr. Otha Balch, then league president, pledging $5,000 “towards the erection of a building for the purposes of the League in furthering the charitable and humane work and the work for the betterment and welfare of the people of the city, on condition that a like sum of $5,000, be raised in addition to such sum or for that purpose.”20 In modern parlance, Mrs. Hull offered a challenge grant. According to philanthropy professional Dr. Joel Orosz, “While this technique had been used by Andrew Carnegie to help build public libraries, it was still an unusual technique for smaller givers outside of major metropolises.”21
In May 1917, the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League received a $2,000 bequest from the estate of Kate Woodbury (K. W.) Curtenius, which the Executive Committee voted to appropriate toward the House Committee. Mrs. Curtenius had died three months earlier, in February, at which time President Kleinstuck prepared the following resolution, which was read aloud, sent to the family, and printed in the newspapers:
Whereas, by the death of Mrs. K.W. Curtenius, the city has lost a friend to all good works, and Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League a loyal helper and support, and whereas, we each one of us feel the personal loss of a loved companion and sympathetic friend. Be it resolved, That we hereby record our sense of loss of one who has been for so long associated with us, and that we extend our sympathy to her bereaved family.
The Kalamazoo Gazette published a full reporting of Mrs. Curtenius’s will, revealing that in addition to supporting the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League, Mrs. Curtenius also provided substantially for each of the following organizations: Kalamazoo Cribside association, Kalamazoo Lake Farm association (present-day Lakeside for Children), Children’s Home of Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo branch of the Salvation Army, and the St. Joseph Branch of the Michigan Children’s Home Society.24
Mrs. Hull was 70 years old when she committed the funds toward establishing a new League headquarters. Born Fannie Abbott in Pennsylvania in 1843, Fannie moved to Kalamazoo as a young woman with her parents and siblings sometime between 1860 and 1870. At the age of 41 she married Latham Hull, a man twenty years her senior and a former Kalamazoo village president (1861), by whom she was widowed only six years later.
During the early 1900s, Mrs. Hull lived at 435 West South Street in one of the homes located on the present-day site of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. In 1911, she moved with a woman servant to 2207 Asylum Avenue - the road known today as Oakland Drive - where she lived through her death in 1923. Both Mr. and Mrs. Hull are buried at Mountain Home Cemetery.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Hull did not have children of their own, Mr. Hull had children with his first wife. One of his granddaughters, Blanche Hull, was fundamental in organizing the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.22 In her will, Miss Hull donated her sprawling estate north of Kilgore Road to the city of Kalamazoo; it still exists today as Blanche Hull Park.23
Today we would call the house at the corner of Cedar and Burdick streets a “fixer upper.” Extensive renovations were necessary, as described by Chairman of the League’s House Committee Mrs. Edward Ames in the 1918 and 1919 report:
The electric light system had to be repaired and the condition of the plumbing is beyond description. I will not attempt to describe it, so do not be surprised at the amount of the bill, as no specifications could be given, because the plumber could not tell until he got into the work how much needed to be done, and new developments took place without any warning.
Mrs. Ames’ tone betrays her frustration. The feat was extraordinary. And yet, it was no more extraordinary that the devotion of League members to both the task at hand and to their larger mission: identifying and addressing areas of need in the Kalamazoo community.
An additional complication arose in the fall of 2018 with the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in western Michigan. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Spanish Flu - also known as the 1918 Influenza (Flu) Pandemic - resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 Americans and more than 50 million people worldwide.25 The flu proved to be such a concern in November 1918 that the League cancelled its monthly meeting.
Tuberculosis was also a significant concern at the time. At some point in early 1917 it had been decided that the local Anti-Tuberculosis Society would become a department of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League. By this time the Executive Committee had acquired a rare male member in medical doctor S. R. Light, son-in-law to Trustee Dr. W. E. Upjohn and a Vice-President at The Upjohn Company.
On November 11th, 1918, the Great War concluded with the signing of the armistice in France. In recognition of the impending “peace celebration,” the League cancelled its ear, nose, and throat clinic for the 11th, rescheduling to the following week. According to a news item in The Kalamazoo Gazette in April 1919, the Civic League “issued a manifesto demanding the entire reimbursement by Germany of the damage done and the cost of the war.”26
The first recorded meeting of 1919 was held in mid-January by the League’s Executive Committee at their new home. Determining what to call this new space was actually their second item of business. Mr. Desenberg - who in addition to being a member of the Executive Committee was also on the House Committee - suggested that it be known as the “Civic League House.” And so it was.
On February 1st, 1919, the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League hosted an open house in which they “put the rooms in gala attire for the opening day and evening,” and “many people came and congratulated the League upon having such commodious headquarters.” Mrs. Hull’s challenge grant had been met, its goal beautifully executed.
The League was not in their new building more than a year when a fire broke out, its cause later attributed to a “defective wire between the first and second floors.” Damages were estimated at about $25. As soon as repairs were completed, League members resumed the regular cooking, baking, canning, and sewing classes that were routinely hosted at headquarters.
Fifteen years (and one name change) after Reverend Caroline Bartlett Crane approached the women of the Ladies Library Association and the Twentieth Century Club about her vision for the Women’s Civic Improvement League, League membership numbered more than 400, with volunteers spread among Committees on Thrift, Old Clothes, Civics, Nursing, Tuberculosis, and Publicity, among others; as well as City Ward Delegations; all of the traditional officer positions, including such extensions as First- and Second-Vice Presidents; a substantial Board of Trustees; and a paid staff.
While evidence of need was a-plenty in Kalamazoo, that need was in no small way dampened by the persistent and ongoing efforts of the League, often in partnership with other social service organizations. In fact, it was not unusual for League members to belong to any number of these organizations in addition to the KCIL.
In 1920, KCIL Secretary Miriam Fasold founded in cooperation with A. H. Stonesman, chairman of the Michigan Children’s Home Society, a Kalamazoo branch of the organization. Though new to Kalamazoo, this organization was long in existence, tracing its roots to the American Educational Aid Association, which was founded in Illinois in the early 1880s.27
The first Michigan branch of the American Educational Aid Association was established in St. Joseph in 1891. The branch promptly incorporated, and in 1895 changed its name to the Michigan Children’s Home Society. In 1921, one year after establishing a branch in Kalamazoo, the organization again changed names, this time only slightly, becoming the Michigan Children’s Aid Society (MCAS).
History of the Kalamazoo branch of the Michigan Children’s Aid Society (MCAS) is relevant to the history of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League not only because the organizations had overlapping missions and memberships, but because the two organizations were destined to merge in 1971 (by which time the Kalamazoo Civic League had come to be known as Family Service Center).
As Nancy Frost so aptly puts it in the 1996 “Scrapbook History” of Family & Children Services, “If the Women’s Civic Improvement League was the maternal rootstock of Family & Children Services, then the MCAS gave it paternity.”28 Establishment of the Kalamazoo branch of the Michigan Children’s Aid Society (MCAS) and its practices between 1920 and 1971 will be explored more thoroughly in future installments.
You are invited 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-617-2422.
1 KCIL Meeting Minutes, pp.181-183
2 KCIL Meeting Minutes, pp.181-183
3 Scott, Beth
4 Scott, Beth
5 Scott, Beth
6 Scott, Beth
7 Scott, Beth
8 Forist, Alex
9 KCIL Meeting Minutes, pp.181-183
10 KCIL Meeting Minutes, pp.181-183
11 “Amendment XIX: Women’s Right to Vote”
12 “U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917”
13 “U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917”
14 KCIL Meeting Minutes, pp.201-206
15 “Hodge House”
16 “Hodge House”
17 Rzepczynski, Kris
18 Santamaria, Karen
19 “Boarding Homes for Babies are Planned”
20 KCIL Meeting Minutes (loose)
21 Orosz, Joel
22 “Blanche Hull”
23 “Blanche Hull”
24 “$250,000 to her Children”
25 “1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus)”
26 “Paris Business Men Ask Full Indemnity”
27 “Our History”
28 Frost, Nancy
“1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus).” Pandemic Influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Undated. Accessed 29 Aug 2019.
“$250,000 to her Children, Bulk of Late Mrs. Kate Woodbury Curtenius’ Estate to Sons and Daughter, Institutions Remembered, Charities and Associations to Which She Gave During Lifetime are Not Forgotten,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 Feb 1917. Accessed 03 Sep 2019 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.
“Boarding Homes for Babies are Planned,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 03 Apr 1918. Accessed 03 Sep 2019 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.
Forist, Alex. “The Paper Industry.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 1997, 2017. Accessed 30 Aug 2019.
Frost, Nancy. “A Scrapbook History of an Enduring Source of Hope for the Greater Kalamazoo Community.” 1996.
Gertner, Nancy and Gail Heriot. “Amendment XIX: Women’s Right to Vote.” Interactive Constitution. National Constitution Center. Accessed 29 Aug 2019.
“Hodge House.” Cache, Kalamazoo College Digital Archive. Undated (accessed Aug 2019). <https://cache.kzoo.edu/handle/10920/21364>
Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League Meeting Minutes, 1913-1917. Family & Children Services Archives. Kalamazoo, MI.
Larson, Catherine. “Blanche Hull: Local Civic and Cultural Leader.” 2010, 2012. Kalamazoo Public Library. Accessed 04 Sep 2019.
Orosz, Joel Jay. Email Correspondence. 04 Sep 2019.
“Our History.” Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc. Undated. Accessed 28 Aug 2019. <https://www.cfsm.org/about-us/our-history>
“Paris Business Men Demand Full Indemnity,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 Apr 1919. Access 03 Sep 2019 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.
Rzepczynski, Kris. “Superintendents, Kalamazoo Public Schools (1851 to current). 1998, 2007. Accessed 30 Aug 2019.
Santamaria, Karen. “The Shakespeare Company.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 2002, 2005. Accessed 30 Aug 2019. <https://www.kpl.gov/local-history/kalamazoo-history/business/shakespeare-company/>
Scott, Beth. “Kalamazoo Corset Company.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 1997, 2017. Accessed 30 Aug 2019.
“U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917.” Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations. Office of the Historian, Department of State, United States of America. Undated. Access 28 Aug 2019.