In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous middle class Americans participated in an array of reform movements, often emphasizing social and moral reform. To facilitate those reforms, they founded numerous benevolent organizations. The Filson has a sizable collection of records from those groups, including often used orphanage records. However, many of the collections go unused as few people have studied the Progressive Era in Louisville or in Kentucky. One collection that is rarely accessed is the Society for the Protection of Newsboys and Waifs Minute Book, 1912-1918.
The reform impulse was at its height during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, and the minute book details the society’s operations during this key moment for American reform. The primary function of the society was the operation of a home for newsboys, who at that time often lived on the streets. At the home, the society promoted “in every legitimate way the moral, social, personal, intellectual and religious welfare of the newsboys and waifs.” According to one board member, the society provided a place where the boys “are trained in citizenship, not nourished in ease and idleness.” The boys enjoyed a library, a safe playground, and a clean bathroom, “unfortunately unknown in many of the homes of the not so well-to-do.” Part of the education efforts also included a night school, partially supported by the Louisville Board of Education, which enrolled both boys and girls. In the descriptions of the society’s operations, it is easy to see the nature of social and moral reform in Louisville.
Incorporated in 1895, the Society for the Protection of Newsboys and Waifs operated for twenty-three years and provided assistance and guidance to an unknown number of needy children. In 1918, when the society dissolved and the home closed, its assets were transferred to the Neighborhood House. Conveniently for those interested in Progressive Era Louisville, The Filson’s holdings also include papers of Patty Smith Hill, Archibald Hill, and Frances Ingram – the people who founded and later ran the Neighborhood House.