This is such an exciting year to be shared with you all and the community! Civic League Day Nursery opened its doors in August of 1930 to “help meet the needs of working mothers.” Yes, in 2020 we are celebrating 90 years of excellence in educational childcare in the Rochester community. In fact, Civic League is the longest, continuously running non-profit childcare center in Minnesota! The incredible story of how it all started with the “Women’s Civic League” back in the late 1800’s and the women’s grass roots efforts to better the lives of Rochester’s citizens is amazing. I will be sharing details of our story each month this year starting with the formation of the League, acquiring the first home that was used for the Nursery and how we ended up here residing in the gracious Balfour home in 1975. We will be remembering and celebrating the CLDN legacy on Sept. 12, 2020. We know this will be an amazing event that will honor the founding women, countless families, staff and children of Civic League. Of course, all are welcome and invited to share in this great milestone! More to come on the Gala event planned.
PART 1 - THE WOMEN, THE ROOTS.
The Women's Civic League of Rochester, Minnesota was formally organized in 1887 and incorporated in 1923. The original members were primarily churchwomen who joined together to help identify unmet community needs and to initiate programs when none existed. As a result, over the years, a variety of community service projects were initiated. Many led to the establishment of new agencies or the expansion of existing organizations. The women of the Civic League were innovators. Their foresight helped to shape many of the service agencies, which still serve the citizens of Rochester today.
A number of early projects dealt with improving sanitation and resulted in frequent appearances of the members before the City Council and other government boards. The School Board was persuaded to install screens on the windows of the elementary schools, markets were encouraged to properly cover meat to protect against flies, and city alleys were cleaned. In 1910, a delegation of 35 women made headlines when they successfully lobbied the Rochester City Council for the employment of a meat inspector. In 1916 they instigated action for the hiring of a policewoman who, while assisting the police department, was to keep proper order at all public gatherings and act as a social worker advisor in all matters affecting the welfare of the citizens. Thus, a close working relationship between the local Health Office and Civic League evolved.
In 1925, the League was instrumental in arranging for the purchase of new head-
quarters for the Health Department. For several years, until the completion of the City Hall, the two groups shared the same office building, the former Dr. Witherstine home, which today is the site of the Mayo Medical Science Building.
About 1912, the League secured a small frame house on the east side of First Avenue between Southwest Second and Third Streets. For 13 years it was maintained for their office. Because it had restroom facilities, the women shoppers and their children also used it. The city took over the maintenance of the restroom area in 1925 when the Civic League headquarters was moved to the former Witherstine home.
The women of the Civic League first recognized the need for some sort of social work services. From its earliest days, the Civic League sponsored the services of a visiting nurse and a “social worker" to help in its program for community betterment and family support. In 1928, the Civic League acquired a regular source of funding for these employees when it became a member of the newly created Community Chest, later called the United Way of Olmsted County. In 1931, the Public Health Nursing Service was created and assumed responsibility for the visiting nurse program of the Civic League.
During the Depression years of the 1930's, the State Welfare Department expanded its operations and encouraged communities in the state to examine and consolidate their local welfare efforts to help meet the needs of greater numbers of underserved families. In Rochester, this led to the recommendation that the Rochester Board of Public Health become the "parent" organization for the Civic League welfare projects. This unique concept of shared responsibility, begun in 1938, came about because the City Charter would not allow for the expenditure of city funds for direct relief. In 1938, the Department of Public Health became the Public Health and Welfare Department with a Civic League member serving as a director on the governing Board. Under its supervision, the Civic League administered social-service relief projects with Community Chest monies. The Civic League was one of the charter recipients of Community Chest funds.
Under the new cooperative arrangement, the Civic League social worker moved to City Hall where the Health and Welfare Department was housed. Her office became known as the Family Service Office, which provided families or individuals short-term relief. The Civic League Personnel Committee hired the social worker and shared the expense for her salary with the Health and Welfare Department, with offices expenses assumed by the latter. This arrangement continued until 1946 when, by mutual agreement of the two Boards and the approval of the City Council, the total support of the Family Service Office was assigned to the Public Health and Welfare Department.
Among the responsibilities of the Family Service Office were the licensing of private homes for day care and family counseling. Public School nurses often turned to this office for help when they found children whose parents were unable to afford needed health aids. Local service organizations frequently responded to pleas for funds to pay for glasses, hearing aids, or dental work.
For many years, the Civic League was the coordinating body for the distribution of holiday food baskets to low income families in the community. After 20 years, the Board recognized that this need could be better met through the creation of a new independent organization. Using a model from Denver, Colorado the Civic League developed a service in 1956 called Christmas Unlimited, which later became Christmas Anonymous. After it was firmly established, it was turned over to a citizen's group to continue the operation. Another long-term project of the League was the maintenance of the rent for the upkeep of a “clothing room" for needy persons with the Salvation Army.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 SHARED IN MARCH