Sunday, March 9, 2014

“The Door of Blessing” and a Bit of NIMBY

            It was almost Christmas, 1915 and “[r]esidents in the neighborhood of 36th and Baring streets have risen in protest against the proposed location of a home for fallen women, known as ‘The Door of Blessing,’ in the now vacant property at 3611 Baring St. in the midst of one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished residential sections.”  The protest started with a petition begun by Raymond G. Fuller (3402Baring St.) and Miss Mary Klemm (3619 Baring St.) that included nearly a hundred names.  One argument used by those opposed to placing the home at 3611 was that the deeds required that the neighborhood be free from ‘stores, saloons or any other nuisance.’” (Ev Pub Ledger, Dec. 21, 1915)
            The article noted that “the institution is run and backed by a large committee of society women.”  Mrs. William C. Bullitt, president of the association, was firmly in charge.  Her father-in-law founded the law firm now known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.  Her husband was a member of the firm and had died recently. George Wharton Pepper, the treasurer, had founded the law firm of Pepper Hamilton and later served in the U. S. Senate.
            Mrs. Bullitt explained that “It is ridiculous all this tempest in a teapot about the home.  It will be entirely inoffensive, the girls will not be allowed to be on the porch or in sight and it will be like an ordinary house….  It could not depreciate their properties any more than they are depreciated, for it is a very poor neighborhood.  The Pennsylvania Railroad ruined it years ago with the smoke and all the decent people moved out.  I don’t understand where they see it as a good neighborhood.  They threaten they would sell their properties, but they could not, because they are worth nothing.”
            The article noted that on this block of Baring all but two houses were owner-occupied.   “Mrs. Edward Wilson, who lives at 3609 Baring street… said she did not know whether they would move or not as they had just made extensive repairs and alterations.  Mrs. Harry Palmer, at 3613, the other side of the proposed home, said... ’I have small girls,’ she said, ‘and while the home will undoubtedly be orderly and quiet, it is hardly the situation that I would select in which to raise two children.  We would most probably move in time.’”  The Palmers were renters.

Leaded Window in door of Door of Blessing
             The Door of Blessing opened at 3611 in May, 1916 as a home for women recently released from prison.  Miss A. M. Dupree explained “[a]ny woman who wants to try again is welcome.  Every inmate comes of her own free will….  Our doors are open to women of any creed or faith…  There are so many women who have no place to go but back to the conditions that brought them to the prison.”  The women shared the housework and mending and making carpet rugs.  Each was taught a trade and usually a position was found for her.  The home continued at this location for about 20 years.
            Who were the protestors?  Where they conservative anti-progressives?  Did the block crumble in the next 20 years?  In the blog, I’ll review the evidence.

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