Library Opens Archives Of Social Service Agency By Christine Rowett He couldn't find full-time work. A struggling, single Baltimore father of two boys, he was worried, he told a caseworker, because he could not support his family on the $14 a week he received in federal aid. The older son, 12, was having trouble in school and had been caught hanging on the back of city buses. The younger boy, 8, was well adjusted. It was 1939. The father's case was referred to the Family Welfare Association, which provided a housekeeper, health care and a family analysis. Two years later, caseworkers determined the older child was at risk of becoming a runaway. So they recommended that the father (whose name has been withheld) place his son in a boarding home outside the city. Though the father was hesitant to separate his family, the boy was eager to live on a farm. On June 28, 1941, the son left Baltimore to join a family in the country. The single father's case and the story of how social workers dealt with his struggles are among the archives recently donated to the Milton S. Eisenhower Library's Special Collections by Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland. The nonprofit outreach agency has been through numerous name changes and transitions in the past 146 years. But in many ways, it has remained the same; struggling single-parent families, child abuse, unemployment and addictions were real concerns in the 1800s. In 1995, they still are. The history of Family and Children's Services is depicted in distinct detail in the agency's meticulously kept archives, including photographs, documents and records. An exhibited portion of the collection will be unveiled at a fund-raiser for Family and Children's Services Wednesday, April 12, at the George Peabody Library at the Peabody Institute. Hopkins manuscript curator Joan Grattan was given the task of reviewing the massive files, and said what she found was a history lesson on social services in Baltimore. "Early on, there was an association with poverty and immorality," said Grattan, who spent a year cataloging the collection. "We are more open and not quite as judgmental today." The methods and language of helping have changed, Grattan said, in very telling ways. Separating a child from his father and brother, for example, might not be seen as the optimal solution by today's standards. "I don't believe that all of their work was perfect, but they tried to solve the problems of the period," Grattan said. "Our motivations are the same today." Family and Children's Services executive director Stanley A. Levi agreed that the records indicate recurring social problems. "The issues of the early 1900s are still with us," he said. "It's a further endorsement of the fact that we have to stop looking at quick fixes. "We know that things like abuse and violence are generational," he added. "Once they start they are difficult to stop without thorough intervention." Family and Children's Services oversees more than 20 outreach offices in the Baltimore area. A United Way agency, it offers a range of services, including family counseling, adoption services and elder care. The agency is, in fact, the consolidation of several agencies; the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor, one of the first service organizations in the country, was formed in 1849. Others that have merged to form the current agency include the Society for the Protection of Children from Cruelty and Immorality, the Shelter for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons and the Charity Organization Society, which then-Hopkins president Daniel Gilman helped establish in 1881. The Family Welfare Association--another merged organization- -was at one time housed in Hopkins' original McCoy Hall on West Monument Street. When that building was destroyed by a fire in 1919, the agency moved to the Old Fountain Hotel. "I got the sense of how serious these early charity workers were about being able to relieve social problems," Grattan said. "The work the agency has done all these years is impressive." After Wednesday's unveiling, the entire collection will be available for viewing at the MSE Library. The Eisenhower Library's Kurrelmeyer Curator of Special Collections, Cynthia Requardt, said the collection, in its present form, may be useful to researchers, historians and sociologists in a variety of fields. "We're hoping social historians will make use of this," she said. "Historians looking for this kind of collection have noted these records are hard to find. Many records have not survived." Due to confidentiality issues, some restrictions and qualifications for viewing the collection will apply. For more information, contact Special Collections at 516-8348. For information about the Family and Children's Services fund-raiser, call Allison Walker at (410) 669-9000.
Go to Gazette Homepage