|Mary E. McDowell|
|Mary McDowell with two unidentified individuals.|
There Mary became a friend and follower of Frances Willard, founder of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which advocated the right of women to vote. After graduating from the National Kindergarten College, and teaching for a private family in New York, she returned to Evanston in 1890.
Her interest in the social experiment, which Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr were beginning in General Hull’s old mansion in Chicago led her to help found such an experiment in Evanston, the Northwestern University Settlement.
|The University of Chicago - Mary McDowell Settlement House, 4655 Gross Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.|
At the recommendation of Jane Addams, Mary McDowell, then 40 years old, was invited to take charge of the new house. In November 1894, she settled in a building in the heart of a most difficult, transient area, in four small rooms, in a tenement on Gross Avenue (now McDowell Avenue) and she began to live there as a neighbor to the workers of Packingtown.
|From left: Mary K. Simkhovitch, Mary McDowell, Graham Taylor, and Jane Addams.|
In 1900, the city built the William Mavor Bathhouse (named after a Chicago alderman) at 4645 Gross (later McDowell) Avenue, under the prodding of Mary McDowell and the Settlement House Women’s Club. The alderman who finally was moved to facilitate its building was so convinced of the potential political power of Mary McDowell that he had to be dissuaded from naming it the “Mary McDowell Municipal Bathhouse.”
In 1923, reform Mayor William E. Dever appointed Mary McDowell Commissioner of the Department of Public Welfare (a department created in 1914, mainly through the efforts of Charles Merriam, alderman and UC professor), which consisted of a Bureau of Employment and a Bureau of Social Surveys. In 1921, the City Council had been ready to abolish the department saying it was ‘the most useless on the city payroll.’ The Chicago Tribune on June 27th, 1923, quoted an alderman, after some argument, as proposing: “Let’s give Miss McDowell this one opportunity to work out some of her plans, and if she fails, then we’ll repeal the act which created her position.” She was commissioned and the department really began to serve the city and its citizens.
She had moved in prestigious circles too, and sought the help of those in power for her many causes-for those in need whom she considered her friends and neighbors. She had asked the questions and set up the procedures whereby accurate information could be assimilated and used. And she was years ahead of most of her fellow citizens regarding race relations. Her diligent work in the Settlement House, in Packingtown, in the city, and far beyond had bettered the life of countless people.
|Medal Awarded to Mary McDowell by the Government of Lithuania.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.