Superior’s forerunner to child foster care

June 18, 2014


Kathy Laakso

Zenith City Weekly


Before the Children’s Bureau was created by President William Howard Taft in 1912, five people saw the need for a home in Superior to take care of “children not over five and unfortunate women.”  


On December 30, 1903, they formed a board to oversee its general management. Attorney Louis Hanitch filed the articles of incorporation, Mabel Kelly, wife of Superior Parks Commissioner Robert Kelly, and Grace Pattison, wife of former mayor and mining baron Martin Pattison, were elected president and vice president.  


Within a month, they had secured a former steel plant boarding house on Ohio Avenue and 20th Street in Billings Park for the new Children’s Home and Rescue Association and hired Miss Ida Anderson as matron.


A graduate of the Cook County, Chicago school for nurses, Anderson was assisted by two nursery maids, a cook, and a kitchen assistant. Superior doctors gave a month’s free services for the first year.


By June 9, the home was ready for children to move in. A few days before, they held a “pound party.” Everyone was asked to bring a pound of something to be used in the house—half a barrel of sugar, pounds of rice and flour, and many canned goods. A “bank” in one of the rooms accepted monetary contributions.  


The purpose of the Children’s Home and Rescue Association was to care for children whose parents were temporarily unable to do so, but they also placed children up for adoption. At the opening of the home, four families from out of town were on a waiting list to adopt.  


As the home was what might be called a non-profit these days, it was maintained by the goodwill of the community. While the county appropriated some funds, the women who managed it were fireballs at fundraising.  


Kelly submitted a report every October to the Telegram and the Duluth News-Tribune. In 1904 she reported the addition of screens for the windows and doors, gutters, a coal and wood shed, and plumbing repairs. They poured a sidewalk, removed stumps, seeded the lawn, and added a fire escape.  


She described in detail how all of these improvements were paid for. Besides selling $1 yearly memberships, they raised money with a dance, a rummage sale, and other party events. All over the city, they set up little banks that looked like cradles.  


At the annual meeting in October 1907, the executive committee met at the Carnegie Library. During the previous year, the home had taken care of 72 children, 20 of whom had been there continuously.  


The committee had previously toyed with buying the lot south of the home to build an addition. The treasurer had already crunched some numbers and reported it would cost around $3,600. They had raised $5,112.36 that year and, after expenses, had a balance of $2,217.  


The previous year, Mabel Kelly’s brother, William Rogers, donated $1,000, which they matched and were able to put in a foundation and add rooms to the basement. Again, Rogers challenged them to match his $1,000 to put towards the new addition.  


They held a benefit at the Grand Opera House with Adelaide Thurston of Duluth performing The Girl from Out There. Tickets were $1 and the women aimed to get 1,000 people to attend the 1,200-seat theatre.


In 1909, on a Saturday in June, the executive committee had a “tag day” benefit. Anyone the women tagged had to pay up.  


The Duluth News-Tribune reported, “The women folks will take the city by storm...they will invade the trolley cars, business houses and automobile parties will search every corner of the city in quest of the ‘victims’ and persons on the street not wearing a tag will have to explain the reason why.” They collected $1,899.16.


They threw a charity ball every December at the Hotel Superior. Invitations were sent to wealthy and prominent people in Superior, Duluth, and even St. Paul.  


In her October 1910 annual report, Mabel Kelly informed the Superior Telegram that they had raised over $6,000 and were already building an annex to the main facility. Since opening six years before, they had taken in 297 children, having expanded the age limit.  


The community had donated baby carriages, toys, vegetables, fruit and candy, jelly, quilts, and magazines. The Normal School (today, the University of Wisconsin-Superior) donated furniture. Doctors continued to provide free services. Along with the county’s appropriation, annual memberships, and the crib banks, they had enough to cover expenses for the year.


By the following summer, they were planning a new up-to-date building on the site of the old one, alongside the annex. It would be seven or eight years before they could build it because it would cost $15,000.


But they didn’t have to. In October 1920, two years after her husband’s death, Grace Pattison moved to California and wanted to donate her home, Fairlawn.  


Not ones to sit idle, the board of directors accepted and planned to move in by Thanksgiving. Fairlawn housed the Children’s Home and Refuge until 1962.


Kathy Laakso is director of the Douglas County Historical Society. 

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