Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ladies Relief Society Plot

Ladies Relief Society of Oakland
This cross marks the burial ground for the Ladies Relief Society and it lies just east of the elk in Plot 32.

The Ladies Relief Society was formed out of the embers of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when a group of Oakland women formed a sewing club to aid the victims of the catastrophe some 2,100 miles away. During their work, they discovered that had hundreds of poor and needy amongst their midst and they formed the Ladies Relief Society.

The original Children's Home of the Ladies Relief Society (Oakland Tribune)
They incorporated in 1872 set up on fourteen acres of land on 42nd Street just west of Broadway. They dedicated themselves to providing housing and other services for the city’s indigent women, children and elderly. The Society was unique in that it was one of the few organizations run and managed by women.  

Early gatherings of the Society took place at the home of Mrs. R.E. Cole on 10th and Adeline. The meetings included some of the best known names in Oakland high society, including Mrs. Ralph Kirkham, Mrs. Samuel Alden, Mrs. James DeFremery, Mrs. Charles Theodore Hart Palmer and Mrs. Edwin G. Mathews, all of whom are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. Another cemetery denizen, William Boardman, donated his surveying services to assist in laying out the land.

View of site around 1925. Lower left is Home for Aged Women, Courtyard building is Children's Home
A building at the current site was constructed in 1894, but was destroyed by a fire in 1906 and rebuilt using the same footprint and foundation.  The year 1906 also saw the facility's demand increase dramatically, as thousands of refugees fled to the East Bay after the devastating earthquake and fire.

The facility did not discriminate on the basis of religion, but they did only admit white children, with the rare exception of brief stays by an Asian child. Chinese-American girls had to stay at the Ming Quong Home in downtown Oakland and African-American children had to stay at the Fannie Wall Children’s Home and Day Nursery in West Oakland. During World War I, the Society amended the governing rules at the Children’s Home to state explicitly their policy of racial exclusion.

In 1920, the Society came close to shutting down, but avoided the closure through the sale of property and other fund-raising efforts. They ended up raising enough money to renovate the Children’s Home, modernize the playgrounds and replace the old wood Home for Aged Women and the De Fremery Nursery with modern, reinforced concrete buildings. The new building were fitted with modern plumbing and complied with updated building codes.

The building as it looks today

The Society operated until the beginning of World War II when the Army leased the facility. In 1947, the building and adjoining boys playground was purchased and donated to Oakland for use as a recreation center. It is currently the Studio One Arts Center.
The building is significant in terms of architecture because its main shingle style building is Oakland’s oldest surviving children’s home of the congregate type.

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