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A History of Family & Children Services

March, 2021

Chapter 06: The Depression Rages On, 1932‑1936

Family & Children Services Timeline

Family & Children Services Timeline

A History of Family & Children Services - Chapter 6 Audio

 

“Unusual Demands” met with Unprecedented Support

Despite the ongoing Depression, the year 1932 started off on a promising note in Kalamazoo. In January, 1932, an article in the Kalamazoo Gazette announced that the “unusual demands” of the previous year had been met in full thanks to the generosity of Kalamazoo residents.1 According to the Gazette, each of the Welfare Federation’s member organizations was funded in full for the previous year despite shortcomings in the initial financial allotment. 1932 marked the fifth consecutive year of increased need for social services in the city and county. Much of this chapter is based on Gazette reporting.

The Welfare Federation had conducted its seventh annual fundraising campaign two months earlier (November, 1931) and its goal of $131,745 was exceeded by nearly $6,000.2 Success was owed not only to the generosity of Kalamazooans, but also to the sophisticated organization of the “1931 solicitation,” in which “a new form of team operation was used, under which certain prescribed [geographical] territory was allotted to each team, with instructions to see every person in it.”3 The thoroughness of this new strategy resulted in an increase of individual donations from 7,000 in 1930 to 10,000 in 1931.4 In subsequent years, fundraising strategies would become increasingly polished, with poster campaigns and the conversion of shop windows into educational dioramas paving the way for the 1936 creation of a fundraising “moving picture” that was shown to more than 11,000 people.5

Another major innovation of 1931 was the establishment of a “relief restaurant” - a clever outgrowth of the soup kitchens and bread lines of the preceding years.6 The restaurant was located on the third floor of the police department building and “serves an average of 450 meals a day,” most of the food and kitchen equipment being donated by local businesses.7

Many of the same individuals seeking meals in the relief restaurant were also aided by the state’s establishment of the Michigan Free Employment Bureau. In its first year of operation, the Bureau registered approximately 2,500 job seekers and provided employment for 1,200 of them.8 Foreshadowing the efforts of the Works Progress Administration (which would be established by presidential executive order in May 19359), many of those who found work with the Michigan Free Employment Bureau “were employed on road work” and other local infrastructure projects during the summer and fall.10

All in all, Kalamazoo was faring better than a lot of other small midwestern cities faced with the continued growth in need for relief, rising to meet the challenge with creativity and flexibility, and in the earliest years of the depression, by meeting and even exceeding fundraising goals. This story would change by the end of the 1930s, when budget constraints forced the reduction in services offered by all Welfare Federation (by then, Community Chest) member agencies. By the late 1930s, it was the Civic League’s position that “the necessity for sound case work has increased since the depression, [but] the increase has been more a problem of bulk than of complexity.”11 The League was well prepared to address the broadly-ranging needs for relief in Kalamazoo if only it could secure the funding necessary to implement the work.

New Agency in Town: The Council of Social Agencies

The ongoing burden posed by the depression led to the continued expansion of the social services infrastructure on both federal and local levels. On the federal level, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “amalgam of dozens of programs and agencies” was known collectively as “The New Deal.”12 On the local level, in Kalamazoo, dramatic changes in the welfare landscape persisted throughout the 1930s and included the creation of new agencies, the coming and going of state and federal aid, and the handing back-and-forth of responsibilities between the city’s welfare department and social services agencies including the Civic League. This collection of changes significantly impacted the way in which relief was both sought and distributed in Kalamazoo.

In 1931, a new agency called The Council of Social Agencies had joined the ranks of the Welfare Federation. The Council was “made up of representatives of all the participating agencies, [and] is responsible for conduct of the central index for research and general investigations work,”13 effectively assuming what had been a core responsibility of the Civic League since its inception in 1903, i.e., keeping track through the Index of everyone who was receiving aid from any of the local social service organizations.14 The purpose of the Central Index was to ensure that there would be no duplication of services to individuals or families across various local agencies. It was essentially designed to root out fraud and maximize the number of individuals and families that could be helped. By maintaining the Central Index, the Civic League, and then the Welfare Federation, was able to ensure that funds were being used carefully, effectively demonstrating that they were indeed a responsible and discerning steward of public funds.

In May 1932, the Kalamazoo city commission voted to have the city’s welfare department “assume administration of all unemployment relief cases.”15 And while this new division of relief work lightened the load of the Civic Improvement League, it also meant a smaller portion of the city’s allocated funds; the plan actually required that the League refund $4,695 to the city.16The Civic League maintained its “social and welfare cases.”17

***

In December 1933, the Welfare Federation officially filed paperwork to change its name to the Kalamazoo Community Fund, also known as the Community Chest.18 The function of the Chest remained identical to that of the Welfare Federation: raise funds for distribution to the various member agencies across the city. Of these agencies, the Civic League generally received the largest slice of the budget. In fact, when the annual fundraising campaign exceeded its goals in 1936, the board of the Community Chest voted to award the surplus to the Civic League.19 It was reported in the Kalamazoo Gazette on January 1st, 1937 that “in the nation’s [community] chest circles, 1929 was [considered] as the most recent normal year, but in 1936 Kalamazoo raised 107 per cent of its 1929” campaign goal - a unfortunately false indication that the need for relief would soon return to pre-depression levels.20

At this time, the Community Chest classified its member agencies under one, sometimes two, general categories according to the services they provided. The categories were in-home care agencies, character building agencies, relief and family service agencies, and health agencies.21 An anomaly among the rest, the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League either provided or directly facilitated relief in each of the four categories, a testament to its time-proven role as an agency that could and would help cases that otherwise might fall between the cracks.

Dr. Ernest B. Harper, a Federal Relief Administrator as well as a Director of the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League, addressed the League’s January 1934 meeting, speaking to this very point. Dr. Harper said, in part:

“The county organization, good as it is, … has no department which has the time or the necessary flexibility of management or the fluidity of relief funds found in the Civic League to meet the unclassified special needs of the individual family. Neither has it … the means with which to study the family problems unrelated to economic status, or … those which do not arise from economic conditions, which cannot be met by material relief alone.

“The Civic League … aids all welfare agencies in helping persons in its charge to make personal adjustments to changing conditions, and by rehabilitating those who have become demoralized…

“Besides its work of adjusting and rehabilitating families … the Civic League has the function of studying the community and shaping public opinion along lines of safeguarding its citizenship from exploitation through hastily conceived projects by the government or groups of citizens not familiar with scientific social work.”22

Similarly, in February of the following year, a county relief official, William Rhynsburger, praised Kalamazoo generally, but almost certainly with the Civic League in mind, for emerging in the state of Michigan as a pioneer in the field of social work. “Lansing asks Kalamazoo to initiate new policies… and sends new workers here for training,” he said.

In October 1934 the Council of Social Agencies sponsored an essay contest in which students at Kalamazoo Public Schools were challenged to “[present] a clear and concise view of the vital social forces that will be served through the forthcoming drive of the Community Chest, Inc.”23 This clever campaign excited school children about the social agencies in their community, likely spreading interest and enthusiasm to at least a few parents - potential donors - along the way.

Excerpts from the winning essay, submitted by Central High School’s Eleanor Johnson, an advanced journalism student, were reprinted in the Kalamazoo Gazette. In her essay Johnson explained that “Not only financial help is given. The Civic League, for instance, works to better the individual’s outlook on life and helps to solve his domestic and personal problems.”24 The Civic League’s niche role was in meeting community needs that were not provided for by “municipal, state, and federal departments.”25 Johnson states clearly and simply that “If these agencies had the necessary funds, no person in Kalamazoo would be allowed to starve or go homeless,” concluding that “Surely there is enough money and enough public spirit in Kalamazoo to make the Community Chest Fund Drive and the welfare societies of this city successful.”26

The reality of the situation was more grim. Between 1929 and 1934 “52 industries employing 2,200 men” in Kalamazoo County either closed or relocated; these ventures were “replaced by 30 new industries” most of which are “‘depression’ ventures, and employ but 300 men.”27 Of Kalamazoo County’s approximately 23,000 families, 3,400 were receiving some sort of relief, most of the recipients’ lives upended by the decline in local industries and their inability to find adequate work.28

CIVIC LEAGUE HOUSE

The Civic League opened a home for women and girls on Lovell Street in 1926, the need for which proved itself over and over again throughout the depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. The home was a frequent topic of coverage in the Kalamazoo Gazette, and also was highlighted in the League’s 1938/39 pamphlet “The Civic League Presents.” Described as “A real haven for women in trouble, girls without homes, or in difficulties, and girls who wish to work their way through school,”29the house also provided both “temporary and semi-permanent” refuge for more severe cases, such as those in which women were facing “domestic difficulties,” or needed a place to recover one’s health following a hospital stay.30 For many years, the Civic League home was located on 229 E Lovell Street, moving in 1935 to 301 W Cedar (into a building that is now occupied by the YWCA’s Counseling and Legal Services).31

In addition to being provided with food and lodging, residents of the Civic League house benefited from the “wise counsel and friendly helpfulness” of the house’s one full-time employee, Mrs. Adelaide Flaharty, who worked hard to find employment for anyone staying in the home.32 In this role Mrs. Flaharty was remarkably successful. By January of 1934, it was reported in the Kalamazoo Gazette that the house was “becoming well known as a source of house workers. Four or five visits a day, and as many phone calls from persons seeking household help are not uncommon.”33

As matron of the home, Mrs. Flaharty “cheered the way of hundreds of needy and discouraged women, young and old,” while also setting an example of resilience and purpose, herself having lost two children in infancy and been widowed twice, once as a young mother.34 Mrs. Flaharty served as matron of the house from its inception in 1926 through her death in 1936. Upon Mrs. Flaharty’s death from a heart attack, the Civic League’s executive board passed a resolution that read, in part, “Quietly and humbly this good woman has administered one of the most praiseworthy philanthropies of the community.”35 Though the Civic League Home would never be the same without her, it continued on as a key feature of the League’s social work and relief efforts. A Mrs. Elizabeth Wilbur continued the work of Mrs. Flaharty, serving as “acting matron” in the months after Mrs. Flaharty’s death.36

 

LOOKING AHEAD

In the next chapter you will read about how the extended crisis of the depression ran right into the beginning of World War II, challenging the Kalamazoo Civic Improvement League to withstand a second storm before the first had fully passed.

 

 

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 Becktell at mb@marybecktell.com or 917-617-2422.

 

 

1 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
2 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
3 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
4 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
5 “Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top”
6 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
7 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
8 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
9 “Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935)”
10 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
11 Marianne L. Moore, The Civic League Presents, 10.
12 “New Deal Programs”
13 “Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency”
14 Marianne L. Moore, The Civic League Presents, 7.
15 “George L. Martin Heads New City Welfare Office”
16 “George L. Martin Heads New City Welfare Office”
17 “George L. Martin Heads New City Welfare Office”
18 Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, “Summary for United Way of The Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region”
19 “Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top”
20 “Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top”
21 “Charges Public Lacks Interest in Relief Work; Yet It Costs More Than All Government Here, Avers Rhynesburger”
22 “Walter M. Blinks Re-Elected Head of Civic League”
23 “Prize Essay Lauds Aims of Community Chest, Inc.: Eleanor Johnson Awarded First Honors for Students in Advanced Journalism at C. H. S.”
24 “Prize Essay Lauds Aims of Community Chest, Inc.: Eleanor Johnson Awarded First Honors for Students in Advanced Journalism at C. H. S.”
25 “Walter M. Blinks Re-Elected Head of Civic League”
26 “Prize Essay Lauds Aims of Community Chest, Inc.: Eleanor Johnson Awarded First Honors for Students in Advanced Journalism at C. H. S.”
27 “Charges Public Lacks Interest in Relief Work; Yet It Costs More Than All Government Here, Avers Rhynesburger”
28 “Charges Public Lacks Interest in Relief Work; Yet It Costs More Than All Government Here, Avers Rhynesburger”
29 “Women, Girls Find Home Their Haven; Civic League Shelters Those Who Find Themselves in Difficulty”
30 “Women, Girls Find Home Their Haven; Civic League Shelters Those Who Find Themselves in Difficulty”
31 “Kalamazoo City Directory, 1934”; “Kalamazoo City Directory, 1935”
32 “Former Local Resident Is Buried Today”
33 “Walter M. Blinks Re-Elected Head of Civic League”
34 “Former Local Resident Is Buried Today”
35 “Former Local Resident Is Buried Today”
36 “Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top”

SOURCES

“Charges Public Lacks Interest in Relief Work; Yet It Costs More Than All Government Here, Avers Rhynesburger.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. February 19, 1935. America’s Historical Newspapers.

Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “Summary for United Way of The Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.” Accessed January 16, 2021.
<https://www.michigan.gov/lara/.>

“Former Local Resident Is Buried Today.” The News-Palladium. Benton Harbor, Michigan. September 19, 1936. Newspapers via Ancestry.Com.

"Generous Giving Helps City Meet Relief Emergency.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. January 1, 1932, America’s Historical Newspapers.

“George L. Martin Heads New City Welfare Office.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. May 24, 1932. America’s Historical Newspapers.

“Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. January 1, 1937. America’s Historical Newspapers.

Marianne L. Moore. The Civic League Presents. Kalamazoo, MI; N.P., 1938.

“New Deal Programs.” The Living New Deal. Accessed January 16, 2021.
<https://livingnewdeal.org/what-was-the-new-deal/programs/.>

“Kalamazoo City Directory, 1934.” U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT. USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

“Kalamazoo City Directory, 1935.” U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT. USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

“Last 12 Months Notable Period for Two Reasons; All Allotments Paid 100 per Cent, and Campaign Goes Over Top.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. January 1, 1937. America’s Historical Newspapers.

“Prize Essay Lauds Aims of Community Chest, Inc.: Eleanor Johnson Awarded First Honors for Students in Advanced Journalism at C. H. S..” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. October 16, 1934. America’s Historical Newspapers.

“Walter M. Blinks Re-Elected Head of Civic League.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. January 23, 1934. America’s Historical Newspapers.

“Women, Girls Find Home Their Haven; Civic League Shelters Those Who Find Themselves in Difficulty.” Kalamazoo Gazette. Kalamazoo, MI. January 1, 1936. America’s Historical Newspapers.

“Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935).” The Living New Deal. Accessed January 16, 2021.
<https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/works-progress-administration-wpa-1935/.>

“It’s Our Job,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 18 Nov 1926. Accessed 12 Aug 2020 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.

Kohrman, David. “Douglass Community Association.” Kalamazoo Public Library. 2011 (accessed 30 Aug 2020).
<https://www.kpl.gov/local-history/kalamazoo-history/black-history/douglass-community-association/>

Matheny, Dolores. “History of The Women’s Civic Improvement League, 1903-1912.” 1951 (accessed Aug 2020). 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>

“Master Barbers Offering Free Haircuts in Look-Well Drive,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 June 1928. Accessed 13 Aug 2020 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.

“New Visiting Housekeeper Aid to Many,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 07 Oct 1924. Family & Children Services Archives. Kalamazoo, MI.

“New Civic League Official to Advise Young Married Couples,” The Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 Jan 1924. Accessed 18 Aug 2020 via America’s Historical Newspapers database, Newsbank, 2004.

“United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. State of Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Accessed 03 Sep 2020.
<https://cofs.lara.state.mi.us/CorpWeb/CorpSearch/CorpSummary.aspx?ID=800878754>

 

 

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