The Middle Years 1850-1950

The Shelter employed a Matron who supervised up to twenty-four children.  She was assisted by sixteen volunteer Managers, (all white), and though funds were never plentiful, the Shelter scraped by with the help of donations. In January 1880, for example, they received cake, clothing, sausage meat and a goose, book, barrel of cabbages, a picture, a teapot, apples and oranges, candy, bed ticking, dates, butternuts and cakes.

The Board was closely involved in decisions as to the placement of the children, either in employment or, occasionally, for adoption. They coped with complaints from the neighbors if the children were noisy, and they also put on Christmas parties. The late Addie Mae Meranda, who lived in the Shelter as a child and later served on the Board of Managers, remembered putting on her best dress and having to sing in front of a group of rather grand ladies. The children were then given ice cream.

Changes in child welfare policies in the twentieth century meant a dwindling number of children in the shelter. By the spring of 1940 it was less than half full, with only eleven children housed there. The children were found alternative accommodation and the following year the building was rented to the Children’s Friend Society who used it for office space. It was purchased by a physician in 1952; his widow sold it to Brown University in the early 1970s. It now houses graduate students.

In 1941 the Shelter Board hired a black social worker to investigate the needs of children of color in Rhode Island; she also managed the cases of black children under the care of the Children’s Friend Society. Although the Shelter no longer had any children under its direct care, it provided Christmas gifts for the forty-two black children supervised by this social worker.

Marion Anderson, the famous operatic singer, visited Providence in 1943 and the Shelter Board arranged for fifteen black children from the State Home and School to attend ”they had front row seats.” According to the Shelter minutes, James N. Williams, Executive Director of the Urban League, collected the children in a hearse, and as the war effort meant gas was rationed and vehicles were not supposed to be used for recreational purposes, he drove them to his office and they walked to the concert hall from there.

Black women first started serving on the Shelter Board in the 1940s; people from both the black and the white communities have worked together ever since. There has been an effort, not always successful, to have male Board members.