The Frances Ingram Papers, 1894-1953
By Jacob F. Lee
A recent addition to The Filson’s growing twentieth-century manuscript collection are the papers of Louisville social worker Frances Ingram (1874-1954). Consisting of correspondence, pamphlets, sociological reports, newspaper clippings, and lectures, Ingram’s papers thoroughly document Louisville’s early-twentieth century reform movements.
A graduate of Louisville Girls’ High School, Louisville Normal School, and the University of Louisville, Frances Ingram became the Head Resident of Neighborhood House, a Louisville settlement home, in 1905. Additionally, Ingram sat on the boards of the Louisville-Jefferson County Children’s Home and the Louisville Industrial School of Reform and was a member of numerous national, state, and local social work organizations. As a result, she corresponded with such notable reformers as Jane Addams, John Dewey, and Mary Anderson, the Director of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.
From 1905 to 1939, Ingram served as Head Resident of Louisville’s Neighborhood House social settlement, now located in Portland. Originally operating in a neighborhood on First Street, the settlement house served several functions. It worked with “local, state and national agencies for reform and protective measures,” managed playgrounds and other facilities, and served “as a non-sectarian meeting place for [the] neighborhood.” The Ingram Papers at The Filson contain a number of documents related to the everyday activities of Neighborhood House. The nature of the community surrounding Neighborhood House and Ingram’s intimate contact with its residents encouraged her to focus on two major issues during her career: Americanization and child welfare. In addition to the day-to-day administration of Neighborhood House, Ingram also worked to acclimate immigrants to Louisville society. Working mainly with Syrian, Italian, and German immigrants, Ingram and Neighborhood House held citizenship classes to teach prospective citizens the history of the United States and the tenets of democracy. Although other citizenship classes existed in the early-1900s, Neighborhood House’s class was the only one like it operating in the state by the 1930s. Financed in part and encouraged by local chapters of the American Legion, Daughters of the American Revolution, and other similar organizations, the citizenship classes enabled foreign-born residents of Louisville to earn their first set of papers and eventually become citizens. The Ingram Papers contain correspondence, speeches, and articles related to this Americanization process in Louisville and across the country.
Although Americanization was an important part of Neighborhood House’s programs, the issue of child welfare was Ingram’s primary concern. Through her social work, Ingram witnessed the underbelly of Louisville society, and she worked to protect Louisville’s youths from the city’s vices. In her continuous efforts to better conditions for the city’s children, Ingram worked to establish a series of parks and playgrounds, which would provide places for youths to spend their recreation time rather than in dance halls or the vice district providing opportunities for Louisville’s youths to be involved in more acceptable activities, including music and drama clubs, Neighborhood House hoped to shelter the city’s children from the “demoralizing influences” of drinking, drug abuse, and prostitution.
In 1933, when the Jefferson County White House Conference prepared a report on “Youth Outside of Home and School,” its members visited thirty pool rooms in Louisville to investigate children’s easy access to such locations. The reporters found swearing, drinking, pool-shooting children in almost all the establishments examined. The Youth Outside of Home and School Committee, chaired by Ingram, deemed only four of the thirty pool rooms “suitable places for men and boys,” and they found three of the pool rooms so despicable as to report them to the Directors of Safety and Health. Although the report contained a summary of findings, the Ingram Papers at The Filson include the complete results of the investigation and descriptions of the halls inspected. The investigators’ reports provide detailed accounts of “prostitutes, drink, and suggestive dancing [that] were the dominating features” of the seedier pool halls.
In addition to pool rooms, Louisville’s dance halls concerned Ingram. During World War I, Ingram served as Chairman of the Welfare Committee of the War Recreation Board and attempted to curtail “improper conduct” at dances held in dance halls, hotels, and other venues across the city. Ingram was troubled by “tight holding” in dances such as the “Turkey Trot” and the “Arizona Anguish” as well as the sale of liquor at dance halls. Hoping to curtail lewd behavior at dancing venues in the city, Ingram proposed a series of regulations, including banning admission of children under sixteen, “dancing in darkness or by lowered lights,” and “side motions of hips and shoulders.” She also suggested providing a member of the War Recreation Board to demonstrate proper dancing. Additionally, the Board founded its own dance hall, Ha-wi-an Gardens, to provide “wholesome recreation” for soldiers at Camp Zachary Taylor and the community at large. Ingram’s attempt to sanitize Louisville’s dance halls is documented in the collection through a variety of correspondence, reports, and investigations. While not as wide spread as billiards and “ugly dancing,” the social ills of alcohol, drugs, and prostitution also troubled Ingram. Although these“ abominations which menace youth” were mostly confined to the red-light district on Green Street (now Liberty), child laborers – particularly night-shift messenger boys – were likely to witness and experience the carnal offerings of the city’s vice district. Night messengers were often sent to deliver messages to Green Street’s brothels when working the 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. shift. The late-shift messenger boys of Louisville and other cities came to the attention of the National Child Labor Committee, which sent investigators to Louisville in the late-1900s and 1910s to examine the problem. Included in the Ingram collection are several of the NCLC’s investigative reports on Louisville’s messengers. These graphic reports describe the conditions in the vice district and the numerous ways that messengers were able to earn large tips and extra income for providing alcohol, drugs, sex, and other “favors” to prostitutes and other denizens of the red-light district.
Because of these “unwholesome influences,” Ingram and others worked to establish supervised recreation areas in Louisville. Most important for this movement was the building of playgrounds. By building supervised playgrounds, Louisville’s activists hoped to help children build “character . . . through the formation of ideals and standards and social adjustments . . . which prepare the individual for later life.” Ingram and her allies intended to provide a wholesome atmosphere for Louisville’s youth and protect them through supervision of their leisure activities. Ingram’s correspondence and the reports and articles she gathered illustrate the goals of the recreation movement in Louisville.
Often, the best way to avoid the lures of urban immorality was to leave the city. In Pewee Valley in the 1910s, Louisvillians established the Louisville Fresh Air Home, which served as a summer camp for Neighborhood House. Described as a “veritable haven of rest to the city’s tired mothers and a source of joy to their children,” the Fresh Air Home offered multiple weeklong programs during the summer that allowed mothers and children to escape the city. Each summer during the 1920s and 1930s, the Fresh Air Home hosted anywhere from five hundred to a thousand campers, who enjoyed opportunities for swimming, hiking, and other activities offered by the camp’s rural location.
While Ingram and Neighborhood House worked to assist immigrants and to protect children, their mission also included helping the community at large. During the Great Depression, The settlement’s actions during the 1937 flood also demonstrated Neighborhood House’s community outreach. While much of the city lay under water, Neighborhood House’s canteen remained open and served meals to flood refugees. Extensive correspondence from early 1937 suggests that Neighborhood House became a center for the flood relief effort, receiving donations from across the country.
The Francis MacGregor Ingram collection provides an in-depth look at social reform movements in early-twentieth century Louisville and the United States. Because of Ingram’s local and national role in social organizations, her papers record the trajectory of many important reform campaigns from the 1900s to the 1950s. With correspondence from other social workers and social organizations, as well as reports, lectures, essays, and other materials, Ingram’s papers give researchers a window into the early social reform movements in Louisville as well as providing information on similar efforts across the United States.
The Filson Historical Society