Starr Centre Association of Philadelphia records
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Barbara Bates Center for the Study of The History of Nursing [Contact Us]Claire Fagin Hall, 418 Curie Boulevard, Floor 2U, Philadelphia, PA, 19104-4217
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Mr. Theodore Starr (b.1841-1884) established Philadelphia's first Progressive Working Colored Men's Club with the Coal Club from 1878-1893. This began a series of philanthropic establishments that would develop later into a fully-fledged cooperative community service association. Soon afterward, Mr. Starr founded the Starr Bank, the first Penny Bank in Philadelphia, in 1879. The Penny Bank was established to provide local South Philadelphia residents with a place to set aside and save a certain amount of their money and wages for future purposes. As a forerunner of the City Parks Association, Mr. Starr bought two small plots for gardens on St. Mary Street between 1880 and 1882. These plots, named the Starr Garden, were used as a public playground and gardening center for the neighborhood children. Starr also founded the St. Mary Street Day Nursery in 1880, one of the first programs to care for young children while their mothers were at work. The Starr Public Kindergarten was started two years later. The St. Mary Street Free Library also began in 1882. In 1895, the Starr Kitchen was established to serve low-priced, nutritious meals.
With a combination of all these and other efforts, the Philadelphia Starr Centre Association was organized in 1897. Mr. Starr had begun the building operation for the Starr Centre at 700 Lombard Street in 1880, but due to his death in 1884, it was not resumed until 1887 by Miss Hannah Fox. The Octavia Hill Association, based on a London philanthropic organization established in the 19th century by Miss Octavia Hill to improve working class conditions, resumed this building operation for the Philadelphia Starr Centre in 1896. The completed building consisted of a bakery in the cellar, an office and kitchen on the ground floor, the relocated free Library on the second floor, and tenants on the third and fourth floors. The free Library, renamed Starr Library, was the same Saint Mary Street Library. The Octavia Hill Association also influenced the Saint Mary Street Library to begin a Stamp Saving system. Philadelphia was the fourth American city to do so. This Stamp Saving system was incorporated as a Starr Centre committee and encouraged the local neighborhood children and adults to save their money.
On October 31, 1900, members of the reorganized Starr Centre Association met to "provide for and to promote by practical methods, the educational and social improvement of those poor neighborhoods; primarily in the vicinity of the Starr Garden." This reorganization included a more structured system that combined the various clubs and branches which had previously existed under the Starr Centre. Miss Susan P. Wharton was the first chairperson and president of the Starr Centre Association which began with a total of $4,152.18 in membership donations and loans for the first month of operations. The Centre's expenses for rent, food, salaries and supplies were met, and shortly afterward a program of selling penny lunches, milk for babies, coal, and other necessities was spearheaded.
Nine committees were established in 1900: Executive, Finance, Starr Library, Coal Club, Stamp Saving, Starr Office, Starr Work Bureau, Starr Real-Estate, and Auditing. An annual one dollar donation was asked of persons who desired to be contributing members. Several people were in more than one committee at the same time, and though faces changed through the years, the purpose of each committee remained consistent. The Starr Library Committee was a continuation of previous efforts to maintain the Starr Library located on Saint Mary Street. These committee members were responsible for recording resource circulation, attendance, obtaining new resources, and helping local schools when necessary. The Starr Office Committee controlled the main office maintenance, supplies, workers, and committee records. The Starr Work Bureau hired neighborhood residents and distributed the work force among the Starr branches. The Starr Real-Estate Committee headed a search to secure larger, more efficient quarters for their work. The Starr Auditing Committee worked along with the Finance Committee to maintain financial records. The reorganized Starr Centre still retained the Kindergarten and the Kitchen.
Between 1900 and 1905, the Starr Centre succeeded in increasing the amount of coal, food, and milk that they sold to the community. But the costs of keeping the program alive increased to more than double of when they began. With great generosity, Miss Susan P. Wharton loaned the center $1500. Within this five-year period the Starr Centre secured the deeds to 727 and 725 Lombard Street. The 725 Lombard building became known as the Starr Centre Neighborhood House. Though the main office was in 725 Lombard Street, Miss Wharton frequently offered the use of her home at 910 Clinton Street for the Centre's meetings. By the end of 1905 it was clear that the Centre was indispensable to the local neighborhoods, and demands for services increased. The Centre's income was constantly being challenged to meet the ever increasing amount of capital necessary to maintain the Starr Centre.
A medical department was finally added to the Starr Centre because the Centre saw an increasing number of unhealthy visitors to the Neighborhood House. The facilities consisted of one washstand, an examining table, and a number of surgical instruments. Tuberculosis was one of the most commonly reported chronic illnesses. A doctor was first added to the Starr Centre work force in 1905. Miss Mary E. Clarke, furnished by the Philadelphia Visiting Nurse Society, joined the Centre as the first trained nurse to aid the doctor in 1906. Two dispensaries were established, one at 790 S. 7th Street and the other at 729 Lombard. By 1906, the Starr Centre services were grouped into the Health Clinic, the Free Circulating and Reference Library, Penny Lunches, and the Neighborhood House with modified vocational, recreational, and thrift programs.
The next decade saw both success and danger. There was a constant fluctuation of the Centre's debt and credit balances. This was also the period when the nursing staff was increased. In 1907 the number of nurses' calls totaled 339, an increase of 83 percent over the previous year. Milk sales increased by 70 percent. But Penny Lunches' profits decreased by 94 percent. Various safety modifications were made to the Neighborhood House and Library which also set back their budget. By 1908, milk sold for one penny, nurse care was a dime per visit, doctor's advice a dime, and doctor home calls fifty cents per visit. The Milk Station and Health Center revamped their system and focused more on the medical situation of their visitors because it was decided that mothers could be taught how to prepare milk formulas in their own homes.
By 1914 the Starr Centre's revenue base had strengthened, allowing continuation of services. This same year, more than 35,000 books were circulated in the Starr Library, nurses' visits increased by 87 percent, and prenatal care was established. Five years later the Starr Centre established a dental clinic. The Centre also became the first health agency in Philadelphia to adopt Schick testing and immunization against diphtheria.
In 1920, Mr. Henry Collins, as President, led the program into the new decade with enhanced services. A new clinic was established, the number of lunches rose, and there was increased knowledge within the general public concerning cause and prevention of diseases. The Division of Child Hygiene of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health closed its Hygiene Center, making the Starr Centre solely responsible for Philadelphia's child health problems. These programs dove-tailed with other community service establishments such as the National Conference of Social Work, Keystone State Library Association, and the Welfare Federation.
The Depression of the 1930's posed some financial difficulties for the Starr Centre. Staff turnover was high, contributions dwindled, and income from investments dropped. By the late 1930's, the penny lunches were abolished because public school lunch programs made this service unnecessary. There were also several member agencies of the United Charities Campaign serving the same neighborhoods as the Starr Centre, yet many other sectors did not have such services. A 1937-38 reevaluation showed that though the Starr Centre's past activities were worthwhile, the Health and Nursing Service was still far more valuable. This bolstered the decision to eventually relocate the Starr Centre.
The pivotal 1937-38 reevaluation showed that the Starr Centre's focus should be on the Health and Nursing Service. As a result, it was decided that the Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia, the City Department of Public Health, and the Philadelphia Mouth Hygiene Association should be invited to participate in the Starr Centre's new generalized public health nursing service program. As other health services became established in South Philadelphia, the Starr Centre's services were becoming redundant.
Operation of the Library was taken over by the City in 1943 as part of the larger Philadelphia Free Public Library. With the loss of the library and the decreased need for the Centre's health services in South Philadelphia, a decision was made that the Starr Centre would be relocated. The Germantown location was selected from a choice of Frankford, the 34th Ward in West Philadelphia, Manayunk, and Germantown. Germantown was selected because of the area's need for additional child health services, as well as burgeoning health problems related to Philadelphia's growing defense industry. The cooperation of existing agencies was assured, and vital statistics indicated that this particular section was in need of improved health. The property located on 58 East Haines Street, Germantown, which was a Fire House at the time, was secured in 1943.
The role of the nurse was much more vital to the Centre's overall goals in this decade than ever before. The nurse service would be responsible for the family as a whole. Therefore, more than one nurse was required to service an entire family. The increased health services included maternal health supervision, child health supervision, morbidity service, control of tuberculosis, control of venereal disease, crippled children, group education, and dental service.
Under Sydney E. Longmaid's chairmanship, such details as the nurses' hours and wages, service fees, and form of payment were decided. New committees were added to the old, including Executive and Finance, House, Health, Medical Advisory, Membership, and Nomination. The Steering Committee consisted of both Starr Centre members and various local educational and health institutions.
In 1945, after the first full year of the revised program, the agency's income and funds totaled nearly $63,000 as a result of the increased number of visitors and the liquidation of their South Philadelphia property. Expenditures in this same year totaled over $21,000 due to normal expenses and the rehabilitation of the Starr Centre's new headquarters. The Centre also received income from the Philadelphia Community Chest. But World War II made it difficult for the Centre to maintain the full nursing staff required to handle its medical case load. The year 1945 saw over 11,000 home visits, 139 diagnosed tuberculosis cases, and a small but growing number of venereal disease cases.
The focus on children's health was intensified through the development of the Child Health Conference, which began in April of 1944, but did not flourish until after 1945. At the conclusion of 1945, the number of children per session grew from 2 per week to 19 per week. The total number of children attending the first year of these conferences was 1,873. When it was discovered that 82 percent of respiratory infections occurred in children ranging from pre-kindergarten to second grade children, a part-time nurse was assigned to help this age group of children in the local schools.
As the forties drew to a close, the agency's health programs continued to be effective. Pre- and post-natal instruction, infant and child health supervision through the Child Health Conferences, dental care (performed and supervised by the Philadelphia Mouth Hygiene Association), and the control of tuberculosis and venereal disease added to the success of Starr Centre's revised health program.
The first meeting of the Committee for the Planning for Starr Centre Association was held on May 7, 1951. Mr. Longmaid presided the meeting in which various committees were formed to guide the relocation of services. The committees were Executive, House, Membership, Personnel, Volunteer Aid, Publicity, Medical Advisory, Community Relations, Chronically Ill, and the Nominating Committee. With the amalgamation of the Visiting Nurse Society, the Centre had to re-evaluate their fees. Nursing fees were the following for 1950-51: $2.50 regular fee; $3.50 hourly appointment; $4.00 for evening visits. The fees were on a sliding scale, according to one's ability to pay. The development of the Well Baby Clinic at the Germantown Hospital decreased visits to the Starr Child Health Conference.
In response to press coverage of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the general atomic hysteria of the 1950s, Starr Centre joined the rest of the country in taking precautions against potential nuclear strikes. The threat of nuclear war motivated the creation of two defense committees, state and city, to plan First Aid classes for the community. The city commenced the "Philadelphia Plan for Defense" program which divided the city in four sections. Four hundred First Aid Stations were distributed throughout the city to treat possible casualties and provide care for the injured. The Centre offered such facilities as first aid and blood typing stations.
In 1957, the Centre began working with other health programs for the purpose of expanding generalized nursing service in other areas of Philadelphia. When the Philadelphia Mouth Hygiene Association discontinued operation of the Dental Clinic, the Community Nursing Services, Inc. was created from the three parent organizations: the Visiting Nurse Society, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and the Starr Centre. Two years later, the Board of the Community Nursing Services, Inc. held their first meeting and resolved to sell the 58 East Haines Street property at its market value of $22,500. It was also decided that Starr Centre would move from 58 East Haines Street in order to expand it work processes and health services. The Visiting Nurse Society merged with the Starr Centre's Board of Directors. Half of the Starr Board resigned and the Visiting Nurses Society filled these vacancies, fully integrating the two agencies.
Throughout the 1970's much of the Centre's focus was on maintaining financial solvency.
The Starr Centre began in 1900 as a traditional settlement house in the heart of Philadelphia's South Central district, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. From its early years, the Starr Centre initiated many programs to aid black residents of the neighborhood, and later eastern European immigrants, at its health clinic in South Philadelphia. Its programs included a cooperative coal club, a lending library, a penny lunch club, and a stamp savings bureau. In 1905, the Starr Centre began its Medical Department, employing one nurse and sometimes contracting for visiting nurse services through the Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia. The Starr Centre merged with the Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia in the 1950s and relocated to the Germantown section of Philadelphia due to the increasing number of health care facilities in South Philadelphia. The strength of this collection is the detailed information within the Starr Centre's annual reports and meeting minutes, concerning the kinds of service the Starr Centre provided. The collection sheds light on issues of health care in ethnic communities.
Gift of G. Lloyd Kirk, 1987.
- University of Pennsylvania: Barbara Bates Center for the Study of The History of Nursing
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Center staff, updated by Bethany Myers
- This collection was processed with funds provided by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission as part of the Nursing History Processing and Cataloging Project.
- Access Restrictions
Series 9 is restricted.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Center with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
This series includes materials documenting the Association's founding and early architecture. It contains a nearly complete set of annual meeting minutes (1900-1973) and board meeting minutes (1900-1961) which provide a detailed overview of activities. Included in this series are the Association's original constitution and by-laws (1900) and subsequent revisions (1912-1960); President's reports (1945-1958); Executive Director's Reports (1946-1958); individual Presidents' files; and correspondence and pertinent information concerning board members.
This small series consist of a handwritten biographical profile of Theodore Starr (b.1841-d.1884) as well as published and unpublished histories of the social and health programs by and about the association. These files range in date from 1897 to 1943.
This series contains committee minutes, the majority of which are from the period 1937-1959. These committees include advisory, building, executive, finance, membership and nominating, and reorganization. Also included are reports for determining and planning future health care programs.
Found within this series are a variety of material used for public relations purposes such as pamphlets, calendars, and newspaper clippings highlighting services mainly provided for the years 1900-1919. It includes newspaper clipping (1944) of the health association.
This series documents the initiation of generalized public health nursing programs linking the Starr Center Association, Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia, and the City of Philadelphia with headquarters in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. It includes agreements and correspondence concerning the amalgamation.
This series includes reports, booklets, surveys, and various memos concerning the service programs sponsored by the Association or by other agencies. It includes two surveys, one by Philadelphia Health Survey (1949) and the other by Philadelphia Hospital and Health Survey, Public Health Nursing (1928). There is a file for the proposal of a Community Nursing Service, Inc. (1955).
Found in this series are reports of the Association's audits (1958-1962); ledgers of cash disbursements, cash receipts, budgets requirements, and invoices from 1909-1959. Also, there are correspondence files pertaining to bond and insurance; the Community Chest of Philadelphia and Vicinity; tax information; transfer of securities; trust estate; and income and expenses.
This series includes annual reports of other community social and health agencies, such as College Settlement, Kitchen and Coffee 1896 and 1898; St. Mary Street, College Settlement of Philadelphia, 1894-1895; Child Federation Philadelphia, 1914-1916; and Babies Welfare Association, 1916-1917.
Found within this series are files of the Starr Centre Association employees and of nursing personnel assigned to Starr Center Association from the Visiting Nurse Society of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia Public Health Department Administration.
The photographs making up this series are mainly from 1897-1937. The Association used photographic images to communicate their services to the community. The association reproduced some of the photographs found in this series in annual reports and pamphlets. The photographs include nurses working in the home; Association headquarters; other facilities such as the library, clinics, kindergarten, playground, and savings bank; and neighborhood housing.
This small series includes a mimeograph and ledger keys. It also contains several scrapbooks (1902-1922) of the Association's promotional material of its services to the community such as appeals, reports, statistical data and newspaper clippings.