• IdentificationMSCDCC71
  • TitleClarence Darrow Community Center records MSCDCC71
  • PublisherSpecial Collections
  • LanguageEnglish
  • RepositorySpecial Collections
  • Physical Description8.0 Linear feet
  • Date1954-1970
  • AbstractThe collection contains records dating from 1954 to 1970 including committee reports, correspondence, budgets, programs, photographs, newspaper clippings, annual reports and a scrapbook. The materials pertain to the administration of the community center and its programs.
  • OriginationClarence Darrow Community Center (Chicago, Ill.).

Old Resource ID was CDCC

The Clarence Darrow Community Center (originally the Ryder Community Center) was established to serve the Garfield Ridge community in the city of Chicago. The center began in 1953 as a response to perceived needs of the residents of the Leclaire Courts public housing development. Leclaire Courts, low-rise housing for 616 primarily white families, was opened in 1950 in a relatively undeveloped area on the western edge of the city. The area had no established recreational and social service facilities but a Community Council coordinated the activities of several volunteer organizations, which sponsored clubs and activities for residents of Leclaire Courts. The experiences of the teen Swing-In Club, organized to hold weekly socials, convinced Community Council members of the need for a group work agency with trained social workers.

At the suggestion of Dr. Curtis Reese, Dean Emeritus of the Abraham Lincoln Center, the Community Council appealed to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee to establish a permanent community center. At their August 1953 meeting in Andover, Massachusetts, the Service Committee agreed to sponsor the project. Space was leased from the Chicago Housing Authority at 4410 S. LaPorte and the new center was incorporated in January 1954, and dedicated June 20, 1954. It included a kitchen, library and several multi-purpose rooms. The center was named for Dr. William H. Ryder, a well-respected Universalist minister who worked in Chicago prior to 1900. To ensure community involvement an autonomous, bi-racial, local Board of Directors was created. Board members served one-year terms and were responsible for policy, budget, personnel, and fundraising. Rev. David Cole, minister of the First Universalist Church was the first board president. The initial staff consisted of Rev. Donald Thompson, acting Executive Secretary, a Program Director, and several volunteers. Irene Smith, a trained social worker, became the first Director. Volunteers supplemented the center's small paid staff.

The Ryder Community Center was committed to providing meaningful social and educational activities for the neighborhood, fostering independence and self-reliance, strengthening family life and promoting physical and mental health. The center was non-sectarian and its services were rooted in the belief that social group-work enriched the life of the individual and created harmonious relations with others. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee saw the Center as a "pilot project" to prove the possibility of amicable relations among diverse national and racial groups.

In its first year, several existing community programs were co-sponsored and many new activities begun. The primary focus was on involving young people from the community in clubs and classes. The center was also the site of several community festivals and parties. Legal aid, physician referrals, and employment assistance were available. Later, a summer day camp for younger children was begun and the center held dances, parties, movies, and athletic activities.

In 1960, a second building at 4340 S. Lamon, about a block away from the original center, was leased from the CHA. The organization changed its name to the Clarence Darrow Community Center and the original building became known as the Ryder Building while the new building was called the Darrow Building. The new building housed administrative offices, a large canteen, a craft shop, a Thrift Shop, a small meeting room, and a kitchen. In the 1960s, the Center offered club groups, game rooms, movies, a glee club, arts and crafts activities, and field trips. The day camp continued to be a popular summer activity. The center also offered referral services for children with special needs, family referrals to casework agencies, a birth control clinic in cooperation with Planned Parenthood Association, legal advice, and counseling for teens on jobs, unwed parenthood, and delinquent behavior. The center advocated for the community on public school issues and efforts to get a public library and swimming pool. After passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (War on Poverty), the center participated in VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), the Job Corp, and the Neighborhood Youth Corp.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Community Fund of Chicago provided funding. The center was also affiliated with the Chicago Federation of Settlements and Community Centers and the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago. Benefits were held to supplement funding. In 1962, the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee began organizing an annual Clarence Darrow Commemorative Evening, which included entertainment and the presentation of humanitarian awards for civic and social endeavors. Recipients included Studs Terkel, Charles Percy, and Representative Abner Mikva. Proceeds went to the center.

The focus of activities increasingly pointed towards fostering better relations among neighborhood residents. In the 1950s, the population of Leclaire Courts became primarily African American while white residents bought new single-family homes surrounding the housing development. Of the 224 families served by the Clarence Darrow Community Center in 1961, only 14 were from outside the housing development. Among the efforts to involve residents from the surrounding community was the creation of home groups that met in basements, garages, and kitchens. In cooperation with the CHA and the Illinois Youth Commission, tenants were organized into the Citizen's Improvement Committee to upgrade neighborhood safety and maintenance.

In 1966, to augment their services, the Clarence Darrow Center signed an affiliation agreement with Hull House Association, the social service agency that carried on the work of the original settlement house on Halsted Street. The agreement, which took effect January 1, 1967 allowed the Clarence Darrow Community Center to keep its corporate identity, its funding sources, and it relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee but merge its staff and budget. The records in this collection end soon after this affiliation.

This collection documents the administration of the Clarence Darrow Community Center from its establishment in 1953 until approximately 1969, with a concentration on the mid-1960s. The collection includes correspondence, meeting minutes, annual reports, newspapers and clippings, photographs, programs, tickets, scrapbooks, and receipts. Materials are in reverse chronological order. The materials were arranged in series by the cataloger:

Series 1: Administrative records

Series II: Affiliations

Series III: Board of Directors

Series IV: Correspondence

Series V: Executive Director

Series VI: Financial records

Series VII: Newspapers and newsletters

Series VIII: Photographs

Series IX: Programs

Series X: Publicity

Series XI: Staff

Series XII: Subject files

Series XIII: Scrapbooks

Materials in this collection were donated to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Main Library, Special Collections, on July 8, 1971.

Case files and personnel records are restricted.

Clarence Darrow Community Center records, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

  • Names
    • Clarence Darrow Community Center (Chicago, Ill.). -- Archives
    • Hull-House (Chicago, Ill.).
    • LeClaire Courts (Chicago, Ill. : Housing project).
  • SubjectCommunity centers.
  • Geographic CoverageIllinois--Chicago.