“Something for the Whole Family”: The Marillac Social Center, 1946-1954

“Something for the Whole Family:” [1] The Marillac Social Center, 1946-1954

On September 15, 1946, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul took ownership of the building and grounds at 2822 W. Jackson Boulevard.[2] Formerly St. Mary’s Home, an orphanage run by Episcopal nuns, the building provided ample space for the next phase of the settlement house. In the 1940s, the neighborhood was no longer in need of the social center’s lunch program or its home for working girls. Instead, because of yet another World War, the increased industrialization that it created, the jobs it provided, and the effects it had on society as a whole, Americans needed additional childcare. Indeed, the Second World War was a watershed for American society as a whole, and it altered the programs offered at the settlement house forevermore.

Over sixteen million American men served in the armed forces between 1940 and 1945. This translated into “18 percent of America’s families contributing fathers, sons, and brothers to the armed services during World War II.”[3] The rapid increase in size of the armed forces created a labor shortage on the home front. Thus, women were called to fill the holes in production created when men left to fight. In fact, as historian Elaine Tyler May has noted, “between 1940 and 1945, the female labor force grew by over 50 percent.”[4] With fathers fighting abroad and mothers called to work outside of the home, demands for nurseries and daycare centers increased.

Moreover, with both mom and dad spending more time away from home many Americans worried about the effects their absences would have on their children. Juvenile delinquency became, if not a growing problem, than at the very least, an increasing concern. Marillac’s own Sister Beatrice Brown noted that “the daily paper, the news weekly, tabloid[s] and journals, pulpit[s] and podium[s]” spread “facts and fears” about what children and teens were capable of if left unsupervised.[5] According to scholar Andrew Diamond, “The juvenile delinquency problem that some sociologists and criminologists had been forecasting throughout the war years,” the very ones Sister Beatrice spoke of, “finally hit in 1945 and 1946.”[6] By 1947, the community that Marillac serviced saw “13 out of every 100 boys…come to the attention of the police for such offenses as petty larceny and gambling.”[7] Thus, as Sister Beatrice said, “We decided to turn our thoughts from what youngsters do between eight a.m. and three p.m., to their exploits between three p.m. and nine p.m.”[8]

After “extensive alterations and redecoration” of the new facilities at 2822 W. Jackson was complete, the doors to Marillac Social Center (as it was then called in honor of the seventeenth-century teacher, social worker, and eventual saint, Louise de Marillac, a co-founder of the Daughters of Charity) opened in June of 1947.[9] It began by offering three programs, Tiny Tot Town, Kiddieville, and Teen Town, a reflection of their concerns with unattended children, working mothers, and juvenile delinquency. Moreover, these programs clearly catered to the growing baby boom generation, one of the unexpected consequences of war.

Tiny Tot Town was a “Day-Care Center and Pre-School for the 2 to 5 year old, that operate[d] for the benefit of children and families of working people.”[10] As such, it offered a variety of both services and activities to those who came there including “daily health inspections by a registered nurse; occasional check-ups by a doctor; health training and good physical habits; careful meal-planning, supervised exercise, [and] outdoor and indoor play.” [11] Tiny Tot Town gave working mothers and fathers peace of mind that their children would be cared for while they were away from home.

In addition to Tiny Tot Town, Kiddieville was established on July 1, 1947 to cater to children between the ages of six and twelve.[12] According to institutional materials, Kiddieville “afford[ed] the school-age child a place to play, work at a favorite hobby, learn useful crafts, and spend leisure in a worthy manner.”[13] It also helped ease parental anxieties about unsupervised children and/or the threat of their children getting involved in crime or exhibiting bad behavior.

The third program that Marillac offered in 1947 was Teen Town. It was a place where teens came for “recreation, study, counsel, social, spiritual and intellectual activities.”[14] As such, they offered a bevy of classes in “poetry appreciation, the modern drama, current books, lectures, [and] labor forums” as well as religious discussion groups, “cooking, home-making, and business courses” for those “who desire them.”[15] They also sponsored social dance classes and activities. Apparently its cornucopia of programming was inviting enough to keep neighborhood youth off of the streets and out of trouble.

By 1949, Marillac’s efforts to reduce juvenile delinquency through their classes and programming seemed to be working. Warren Avenue Police Capt. Harry Penzin, praised the institute saying that “the center is doing ‘miracles’ in reducing juvenile delinquency in the southwest corner of his sprawling district.”[16] Moreover, John Hartigan, the juvenile officer for the district, estimated that Marillac had reduced juvenile crime by as much as fifty percent.[17] Because the programs attracted so many children and teens, by 1948, fundraising and construction began and new rooms as well as a gym were completed within a few years.

Also in 1948, Marillac was able to offer programs for adults and seniors. The Town Hall provided “social activities, games, a library, a lounge and assembly,” where patrons could “read, relax, chat or listen” in an atmosphere that would “satisfy the wholesome needs of people of this age group.”[18] Additionally, the Chess and Chatter Club catered to adults over age 65. Its members met once a week to participate in “quiet games, square dancing, community singing, ‘teas,’ dramatics, [and] parties.”[19] With its programs for children of all ages, as well as for adults and seniors, Marillac could truly boast that it offered “something for everyone in the family.”[20] Furthermore, with so many people enrolled in each of the clubs, clearly Marillac was getting used to success. That being said, challenging times lie ahead.

When Marillac opened in 1947, approximately 67% of its patrons identified as ethnically northern European; African American and Hispanic/Latino patronage was negligible.[21] By the early 1950s, however, the ethnic and racial make-up of the community was vastly different. In 1953, for example, less than 22% of Marillac patrons identified as northern European. Meanwhile, the African American population jumped to over 25% and the Hispanic/Latino population grew to over 12%.[22] The Marillac staff did their best to respond to the changing needs of its changing neighbors. This was evident in a variety of programming as well as in the hiring of additional staff. For example, during the early 1950s, nearly 300 Spanish-speaking persons attended Noche Social, a weekly social night held on Thursday evenings.[23] Marillac also catered to its new immigrant community by offering different types of dance classes. According to Marillac scholar, Sister Winifred Kilday, for example, “the ethnic groups using the agency in its earlier years…enjoyed social dance patterns of the ‘traditional ballroom’ as well as the ‘modern jitterbug’ variety.”[24] The “influx of Puerto Rican and Mexicans” in the 1950s, however, “necessitate[d] the change to dance styles of Spanish influence, such as the ‘Cha-Cha’ and ‘Mambo.’”[25] Meanwhile, Marillac hired two “detached workers” to work exclusively with this new Spanish-speaking population who came to the community en masse in the mid-1950s.

Although Marillac attempted to adjust to its new community members, their old neighbors were oftentimes, not quite as welcoming. In fact, in 1953 and 1954, many of Marillac’s programs, including the most populated ones of Kiddieville and Teen Town, dramatically decreased in enrollment. This was “suggestive, if not conclusive evidence, of the psychosocial response” to the influx of nonwhite residents.[26] The “1956 Annual Report of the Marillac Social Center” simply stated, “White girls were afraid to come in the evening and the colored girls did not recognize that they might.”[27] Racial tension did not remain contained within the confines of the settlement house, however. Indeed, white discontent would be evident throughout the community; sometimes, it would even turn violent.

By 1953, for example, “black residents in the West Chicago neighborhoods of East Garfield Park, North Lawndale, and South Lawndale were reporting numerous racial incidents,” such as “broken windows, amateurish arson strikes, and physical attacks in streets, parks and schools.”[28] This kind of racially-provoked violence was not isolated in the Westside communities. Indeed, full-scale riots broke out in a variety of racially diverse communities across Chicago. Clearly, in order to help their community survive during this turbulent time, Marillac Social Center was going to have to help ease racial tensions and aid in transitions.

Works Cited
[1] “Marillac House: The Decade, 1946-1956,” n.p.; box 1, binder 1946-1956, MSCA.
[2] Letter from Sister Superior, C.S.M. to Otis Elevator Company, 26 August 1946; box 1, folder 2; MSCA..
[3] Judy Barrett Litoff, ed., Dear Poppa: The World War II Berman Family Letters (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society, 1997), ix.
[4] Elaine Tyler May, “Rosie the Riveter Gets Married,” in Lewis Erenberg and Susan Hirsch’s edited work, The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness During World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 130.
[5] Recollections from Sister Beatrice Brown to Kay Hallagan; box 9, folder 2, MSCA.
[6] Andrew J. Diamond, Hoodlums, Rebels, and Vice Lords: Street Gangs, Youth, Subcultures, and Race in Chicago, 1919-1968 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 263.
[7] “Marillac House,” Catholic Charities.
[8] Kay Hallagan, “A West Side Story: Marillac House, 1947-1992;” box 6, folder 11, MSCA.
[9] “New Social Center to be Dedicated by Stritch Tomorrow,” Chicago Tribune 20 October 1947.
[10] Daughters of Charity, Marillac Social Center Brochure, n.p.; box 1, folder 3, MSCA.
[11] The Daughters of Charity “Tiny Tot Town Brochure,” n.p., c. 1940s; box 1, folder 5, MSCA.
[12] Though Kiddieville was established in July of 1947, they were not able to move into the new building at 2822 W. Jackson until September of 1947.
[13] Marillac Social Center Brochure, 1949, n.p.
[14] Marillac Social Center Brochure, 1949, n.p.
[15] All from: Marillac Social Center Brochure, 1949, n.p.
[16] “Juvenile Crime Cut by Center,” 20 January 1949, p. 1; box 1, folder 6, MSCA.
[17] Ibid
[18] Marillac Social Center Brochure, 1949, n.p.,
[19] Kilday, 25.
[20] “Marillac House: The Decade, 1946-1956,” n.p.; box 1, binder 1946-1956, MSCA.
[21] Winifred Kilday D.C., “A Sociological Study of the Reciprocal Relations between the Clientele and the Program of Services of Marillac House, Chicago, 1947-1961,” Masters Thesis (Chicago: Loyola University Chicago, 1978, 58.
[22] Kilday, 59.
[23] Letter from Sister Mary William to Richard, 11 October 1965, p. 2; box 3, folder 9, MSCA.
[24] Kilday, 49-50.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Kilday, 58.
[27] Daughters of Charity, “Annual Report of the Marillac Social Center,” Unpublished Agency Report (Chicago 1956), p. 3a; box 2, folder 4, MSCA.
[27] Diamond, “Hoodlums,” 303.

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