The Juvenile Protective Association (JPA) was founded by a group of women living in the Hull House Settlement in 1907. There were weekly meetings at Hull House where probation officers discussed what they have found and to discuss city conditions affecting the lives of children and young people.
As Jane Addams pointed out in her book, Twenty Years at Hull House, the members discovered "that there are certain temptations into which children so habitually fall that it is evident that the average child cannot withstand them. An overwhelming mass of data is accumulated showing the need of enforcing existing legislation and of securing new legislation, but it also indicates a hundred other directions in which the young people who so gaily walk our streets, often to their own destruction, need safeguarding and protection."
A leading figure in the Juvenile Protective Association (JPA) was its president Louise Bowen. Her investigation into the African Americans living in Chicago, The Colored People of Chicago was published in 1913. Jessie Binford, a resident at the Hull House Settlement, was director of the JPA between 1916 and 1942.
Certainly the need for civic coöperation was obvious in many directions, and in none more strikingly than in that organized effort which must be carried on unceasingly if young people are to be protected from the darker and coarser dangers of the city. The coöperation between Hull-House and the Juvenile Protective Association came about gradually, and it seems now almost inevitably. From our earliest days we saw many boys constantly arrested, and I had a number of most enlightening experiences in the police station with an Irish lad whose mother upon her deathbed had begged me "to look after him." We were distressed by the gangs of very little boys who would sally forth with an enterprising leader in search of old brass and iron, sometimes breaking into empty houses for the sake of the faucets or lead pipe which they would sell for a good price to a junk dealer. With the money thus obtained they would buy cigarettes and beer or even candy, which could be conspicuously consumed in the alleys where they might enjoy the excitement of being seen and suspected by the "coppers." From the third year of Hull-House, one of the residents held a semiofficial position in the nearest police station; at least, the sergeant agreed to give her provisional charge of every boy and girl under arrest for a trivial offense.
Mrs. Stevens, who performed this work for several years, became the first probation officer of the Juvenile Court when it was established in Cook County in 1899. She was the sole probation officer at first, but at the time of her death, which occurred at Hull-House in 1900, she was the senior officer of a corps of six. Her entire experience had fitted her to deal wisely with wayward children. She had gone into a New England cotton mill at the age of thirteen, where she had promptly lost the index finger of her right hand, through "carelessness" she was told, and no one then seemed to understand that freedom from care was the prerogative of childhood. Later she became a typesetter and was one of the first women in America to become a member of the typographical union, retaining her "card" through all the later years of editorial work. As the Juvenile Court developed, the committee of public-spirited citizens who first supplied only Mrs. Stevens' salary later maintained a corps of twenty-two such officers; several of these were Hull-House residents who brought to the house for many years a sad little procession of children struggling against all sorts of handicaps. When legislation was secured which placed the probation officers upon the payroll of the county, it was a challenge to the efficiency of the civil service method of appointment to obtain by examination men and women fitted for this delicate human task. As one of five people asked by the civil service commission to conduct this first examination for probation officers, I became convinced that we were but at the beginning of the nonpolitical method of selecting public servants, but even stiff and unbending as the examination may be, it is still our hope of political salvation.
In 1907, the Juvenile Court was housed in a model court building of its own, containing a detention home and equipped with a competent staff. The committee of citizens largely responsible for this result thereupon turned their attention to the conditions which the records of the court indicated had led to the alarming amount of juvenile delinquency and crime. They organized the Juvenile Protective Association, whose twenty-two officers meet weekly at Hull-House with their executive committee to report what they have found and to discuss city conditions affecting the lives of children and young people.
The association discovers that there are certain temptations into which children so habitually fall that it is evident that the average child cannot withstand them. An overwhelming mass of data is accumulated showing the need of enforcing existing legislation and of securing new legislation, but it also indicates a hundred other directions in which the young people who so gaily walk our streets, often to their own destruction, need safeguarding and protection.
While the morality of every young person is closely bound up with that of his family and his immediate environment, this is especially true of the sons and daughters of colored families who, because they continually find the door of opportunity shut in their faces, are more easily forced back into their early environment, however vicious it may have been.
The enterprising young people in immigrant families who have passed through the public schools and are earning good wages continually succeed in moving their entire households into more prosperous neighborhoods where they gradually lose all trace of their early tenement house experiences. On the contrary, the colored young people, however ambitious, find it extremely difficult to move their families or even themselves into desirable parts of the city and to make friends in these surroundings.
Many a case on record in the Juvenile Protective Association tells a tale of an educated young Negro who failed to find employment as stenographer, bookkeeper, or clerk. One rather pathetic story is that of a boy graduated from a technical high school last spring. He was sent with other graduates of his class to a big electric company where in the presence of all his classmates he was told that "******s are not wanted here".
The association has on record another instance where a graduate of a business college was refused a position under similar circumstances. This young man, in response to an advertisement, went to a large firm to ask for a position as clerk. "We take colored help only as laborers," he was told by the manager of a firm supposed to be friendly to the Negroes.
I know a Polish boy whose earnings were all given to his father who gruffly refused all requests for pocket money. One Christmas his little sisters, having been told by their mother that they were too poor to have any Christmas presents, appealed to the big brother as to one who was earning money of his own. Flattered by the implication, but at the same time quite impecunious, the night before Christmas he nonchalantly walked through a neighboring department store and stole a manicure set for one little sister and a string of beads for the other. He was caught at the door by the house detective as one of those children whom each local department store arrests in the weeks before Christmas at the daily rate of eight to twenty. The youngest of these offenders are seldom taken into court but are either sent home with a warning or turned over to the officers of the Juvenile Protective Association. Most of these premature law breakers are in search of Americanized clothing and others [Page 251] are only looking for playthings. They are all distracted by the profusion and variety of the display, and their moral sense is confused by the general air of openhandedness.
© John Simkin, April 2013