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Eva C. Monroe:

Eva C. Monroe:
Social Welfare Reformer and Advocate for Children

Wanda A. Hendricks
Historical Research and Narrative

Eva C. Monroe dedicated her life to assisting the African American community and orphaned African American children during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like many black women of the period, she became a social welfare reformer to alleviate some of the suffering caused by poverty, racism, and discrimination. To meet her goals she embraced the organized female club movement that by World War I had encouraged more than fifty thousand black women to become involved in providing necessary resources to assist the black masses throughout the country. Through her work, Monroe linked the activities in Springfield to the Progressive Era, which was characterized by the belief that American society needed improvement, order, and stability; by the vast network of female voluntary associations that shaped and promoted reform; and by the expanding public role of African American women in the social, political, and economic arenas.

A native of Illinois, Eva Monroe was born in Kewanee, a small town southeast of Moline, in 1868. The eldest of seven children born to Richard and Mary Glenn Carroll, Monroe understood as well as anyone the problems that young orphaned children faced. When Monroe was twelve her mother died. Information about her father is limited but suggest that he either left the home or died as well. As the eldest daughter, the responsibility of her six siblings fell to her. Challenged by the void in her own life and by her parenting duties at such a young age, she dedicated herself to lessening the burden for others in similar situations.

It is unclear when Monroe first arrived in Springfield, but she seems to have parlayed her parenting and nurturing abilities into an employment opportunity. She worked for a while at Prince Sanitarium in the city and eventually became a probation officer. As a probation officer she cooperated with the juvenile courts and helped rescue children who otherwise were destined for correctional institutions. Believing that the welfare of these children was directly tied to and dependent on the welfare of society as a whole, she looked for a viable method of restoring stability in their lives.

Combining her entrepreneurial, administrative, and nurturing skills Monroe, in 1898,


Eva Carol Monroe, second from right, with three of her sisters.
Courtesy: Lincoln Library, Sangamon Valley Collection


established an orphanage. With the help of her sister Olive Price, Monroe moved four children and one elderly woman into an old dilapidated structure that became known as the Lincoln Colored Home. There were few amenities, but donations of furniture, bedding, carpet, and coal made the home liveable. Despite the discomforts, the home provided food and shelter to the homeless. More importantly, the home later gained the distinction of being the earliest orphanage for African Americans in Sangamon County.

Monroe appointed herself superintendent, but like many black female social reformers of the era she had not earned a degree or had formal training, Amanda Smith, who established an orphan home and industrial school for African American children in Harvey Illinois, also did not attend college or earn a degree in social work. The social agency demonstrated by these women flourished at the juncture of two historical periods—the post-Reconstruction period and the Progressive Era. When Reconstruction ended, black citizenship rights were severely limited. Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks and whites, the elimination of black male voters that disenfranchised thousands, and the economic servitude that produced black sharecroppers and tenant farmers entrapped most African Americans and ensured that race relations had reached their lowest point since the end of the Reconstruction period in 1877. Although Illinois was a midwestern state, Jim Crow policies and the abject poverty that pervaded black life in the South was replicated in the Midwest as well. Racial segregation and discrimination confined African Americans to the poorest neighborhoods, menial jobs, and the lowest wages. Moreover, black children received neither the same treatment nor were provided equal facilities as those offered to white children. Women like Monroe, then, were motivated by the external forces that shaped black life and by the internal need to assist their community.

Progressivism's emphasis from 1890 to 1920 on eradicating social ills, establishing associations to assist the masses, and expanding opportunities for women encouraged greater numbers of black women to create and join a myriad of voluntary organizations and enter professional occupations. While many of the women who entered the professions and held club memberships were college educated, several untrained women managed to carve out rewarding careers in schools, hospitals, libraries, and orphanages, as well as hold prominent positions in various associations.

The organized black female reform movement that peaked in the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century harnessed the energy and race consciousness of black women on the local, state, and national levels. Committed to social welfare and racial uplift, club women like Monroe marshaled their forces to assist the masses. The joint merger of black women across the nation created the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC) in 1896. The national organization generated much interest and facilitated the growth of many state associations. In 1899, three years after the formation of the NACWC, black women in Illinois united their efforts under the auspices of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (IFCWC) to serve the needs of the black


community. Numerous social, political, and cultural clubs throughout Illinois that were committed to advancing and improving the lives of women and children sought affiliation with the IFCWC. Through its membership and under the motto "Loyalty to Women and Justice to Children," the organization shaped social welfare programs in the black community by establishing and maintaining homes for children and the elderly, housing young women, building and staffing medical facilities, and clothing and feeding the poor. The commitment of the IFCWC to women and children attracted Monroe. Her own work at the Lincoln Colored Home symbolized her dedication. She became an active member of the federation and was elected its president in 1909.

One of the most important aspects of the social reform movement was the creation of the black women's club in Springfield. The Springfield Colored Women's Club grew out of Monroe's own vision of expanding the Lincoln Colored Home and of several women's own race consciousness and their desire to provide assistance to the home. Organized in 1899, club members elected officers and selected a board of directors to set policies and act as liaisons between the community and the home. Members paid ten-cent dues and solicited resources from the African American community Over a decade, the monies generated by the women equaled more than $3,000 and contributions of medicine, food, and bed linen provided for the well being of the children. Monroe welcomed the support of the women and was actively involved in this club.

Monroe's tenacity and perseverance encouraged support from members of the white community as well. Philanthropist Mary Agnes Lawrence, the wife of former mayor Rheuna Drake Lawrence, donated more than $800 during the early years of the home's existence. Perhaps her most important contribution was rescuing the home from foreclosure, paying the mortgage of $1,400 and purchasing the property so that the home could remain open. Under an agreement between the two women, Monroe could remain on the property as long as the home continued to be a shelter for dependent African American children. Lawrence's support of the home and her influence in the community also enabled the eight elderly women and twenty-nine children to take residence in a modern, three-story brick building on New Year's Day 1904. Unfortunately, Lawrence suddenly died on March 11, 1905, leaving Monroe without a consistent base of financial support and a liaison to bridge the racial divide between the black and white community. Lawrence's death also left Monroe dependent on the Lawrence heir because the property remained part of the family estate. Despite the precarious position, Monroe recognized Mary Lawrence's generosity by chartering the Mary A. Lawrence Industrial School for Colored Girls in 1913.

Over the years the number of children housed in the home consistently increased even as funds diminished. Thus, Monroe stepped up her canvassing campaigns,


Lincoln Colored Home, built 1904, on South 12th Street, Springfield, Illinois. Pictured about 1910. Courtesy: Lincoln Library, Sangamon Valley Collection

searching for new financial resources. Finding only limited financial relief in her travels both locally and statewide and with monies she received as a probation officer, she sought membership in the Springfield Council of Social Agencies, organized in 1925. Association with the agency provided a much needed subsidy yet still did not alleviate the long-term problems that plagued the home. Monroe's compassion for orphaned children and their escalating numbers exacerbated Monroe's concerns. As more children sought solace in the home, the debt mounted. Simultaneously, there was also a growing thirst for college-trained professional social workers and a preference for a shift from community-based to state-governed programs.

The establishment of professional social work organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America and the American Association of Social Workers in the early 1920s and the enhancement of social work curricula at colleges and universities created a major challenge for Monroe. Those who received formal degrees or credentials from accredited programs began to replace the social welfare reformer who lacked college training. Also, as a result of the move toward professionalization, state governments embarked on a mission to standardize the facilities that housed children and the qualifications of the personnel who cared from them.

Heavy reliance on sporadic inconsistent public donations eventually illuminated the home's many flaws. The building needed extensive repairs, equipment was antiquated, and overcrowding was a major problem. Besides the building's structural problems and the overcrowding, the home's operating license had lapsed by 1932 and was up for renewal. To obtain a new license Monroe and all the personnel were investigated, the children were scrutinized and interviewed, and the building was inspected. The inspection revealed several problems. While Monroe did enroll in a few courses on child care, she had neither formal training nor received a degree. Although there was a board of directors, it relinquished the daily operation of the home to Monroe. By all accounts, she was an autonomous superintendent, developing rules and supervising an assistant superintendent, a girls' matron, a cook, and a laundress. And while the outreach programs such as the Phyllis Wheatley Club, the Camp Crispus Attucks for black youth, and the Lincoln Industrial School for Colored Boys provided enormous support and had become integral parts of the black community, the home remained burdened by its precarious financial and structural problems.

In 1932 the home's license was not renewed. This meant that the home was no longer a recognized orphanage, could not aboard juvenile wards of the, court, and could not receive monies from the Council of Social Agencies. Forced to close the following year, all of the children were removed. But many black children still remained homeless. The need for an organization to direct the care of black orphaned children prompted local officials to appoint seven prominent African Americans in the city to The Negro Children's Service Bureau of Sangamon County in 1933. Funded by public monies, the bureau held membership in the Council of Social Agencies and was authorized to place all children removed from the home.


The creation of the bureau ended the thirty-four year career of Eva Monroe. She was sixty-five years of age without college training in a field that demanded a degree and certification. A victim of Progressivism's success in protecting the professions from the untrained and incompetent and the shift from voluntary welfare to government regulated care, Monroe lost her professional identity. Moreover, she resided in a structure that did not belong to her. With few employment options and very limited financial resources, she somehow managed to persuade the Lawrence heir, Susan Lawrence Dana, to allow her to remain on the property for more than a decade. On April 17, 1944, however, the home was sold at public auction. Eventually, declining health forced her to be hospitalized for several months at St. John's Hospital. She never recovered and was sent to a home for the elderly in Quincy, Illinois. Monroe died on January 31, 1950.

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