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The Civil War, 1860-1865
1865-1920 (excluding World War I)
World War I, 1914-1920
World War II, 1939-1945
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VIEW: Numerous philanthropic (i.e. charitable or benevolent) activities and initiatives were rooted in religious beliefs and values. THEME Numerous philanthropic (i.e. charitable or benevolent) activities and initiatives were rooted in religious beliefs and values.

Religious groups established hospitals, orphan asylums, homes for the aged, and other similar institutions primarily to care for those of their own faith.

Religious organizations were active in founding hospitals in post Civil War Indianapolis. The Sisters of Charity founded ST. VINCENT Infirmary (later HOSPITAL) in 1881. It opened at a site near Vermont and East streets and later moved to South and Delaware streets in 1889; St. Vincent’s relocated to Fall Creek Parkway in 1913. Protestant Deaconess Hospital opened in 1895.

Following a highly successful international convention of the Epworth League in Indianapolis, which left a profit of $4,750, the convention committee donated the money to local Methodists. They began a building campaign in 1905 and opened the 65-bed METHODIST HOSPITAL in 1908 at a cost of $225,000. Almost before completion, the board of trustees voted to expand the hospital at a cost of $250,000.

Orphan Asylums:

The Widows and Orphans Friends Society, established in 1850, organized the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum in 1866. This organization operated until 1941 when it merged with the Evangelical Lutheran Children’s Home and the (German) General Protestant Orphans Home; all the orphans were centralized at a residence located on South State Street.

In 1867, local German Protestant fraternal organizations joined to found the “Deutsche Allgemeinen Protestantischen Waisenvereins” (the German General Protestant Orphans Home). Located on South State Street, the facility housed children orphaned by the Civil War. In 1941, it merged with the Indianapolis Orphans’ and Evangelical Lutheran Orphans homes.

In 1870, the Society of Friends (or Quakers) established the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children, the only orphanage in the state for African-American children. Located at 317 West 21st Street, the asylum housed children until 1922 when the Marion County Board of Commissioners took control.

Members of the Bible society from St. Paul and Trinity Lutheran churches established the “Evangelische Lutherische Waisenhaus Gesselschaft,” (Evangelical Lutheran Children’s Home), an asylum for orphans and aged people (1883). This later became Lutherwood and Lutheran Child and Family Services.
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Poor Relief:

Before 1880, work among the poor was rather diffuse and often handled by individual religious institutions or related groups.

In 1867, local residents CATHARINE MERRILL and Jane Chambers McKinney Graydon founded the Indianapolis Home for Friendless Women. With the assistance of banker Stoughton A. Fletcher, Sr. and other civic-minded individuals, the home initially provided housing and assistance to women and children left homeless by the Civil War. The institution operates today as the INDIANAPOLIS RETIREMENT HOME.

The Ladies Society for the Relief of the Poor was formed in 1869 to provide assistance to the city’s poor. The group operated a soup kitchen to feed the poor during the winter of 1873-74.

The Little Sisters of the Poor began to provide care for the city’s aged population in 1872.

Young women who delivered flowers to patients in City Hospital established the FLOWER MISSION in 1876. Founded by Alice Wright, the mission’s principal activity was visiting the sick poor in their homes and providing necessary assistance.

In 1878, Rev. OSCAR MCCULLOCH, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, called for a reorganization of benevolence services in Indianapolis. He helped to organize the CHARITY ORGANIZATION SOCIETY (COS), a successor to the Indianapolis Benevolent Society founded in 1835. The COS centralized the function of poor relief in the city and developed a variety of relief and work programs.

Archbishop Joseph Chartrand founded the Catholic Community Center in 1919. A forerunner to today’s CATHOLIC SOCIAL SERVICES, the center offered a day nursery, cafeteria, and food and clothing for the poor and destitute.

Several organizations were established to provide assistance specifically for children. In 1890, Oscar McCulloch founded a “fresh-air mission” known as the SUMMER MISSION FOR SICK CHILDREN. Located outside the city on the present-day Butler University campus, the mission was intended to help the plight of urban children, offer assistance to nursing mothers, and provide guidance on proper nutrition and health-care. It operated until 1924.

In 1899, the Kings Daughter Society established the DAY NURSERY ASSOCIATION. It provided food and clothing to the city’s poor children. By 1901, it offered child care services for working mothers.

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The Charity Organization Society established the FLANNER HOUSE in 1898. It provided an assortment of social services for the African-American population, including a day nursery, employment agency, and various classes. In 1911, the Christian Women’s Board of Missions took over the funding and administration of the institution.


In 1890, the Western Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends established the Bertha Ballard Home, a residence for single working women in Indianapolis.

Youth Programs:

One of the most popular local programs for youth was the BOY SCOUTS. Initially founded in England in 1908, the first troop appeared in Indianapolis in 1910, organized under the direction of Reverend U.S. Clutton at Tuxedo Park Baptist Church. By 1914, the Scouts chartered an Indianapolis chapter, which inspired other congregations and schools to form troops. Because of the Scouts’ strong core of Protestant values and emphasis on service to others, numerous congregations believed that local troops could serve both the boys in the church and attract those from the surrounding neighborhood. By the mid-1920s, First Congregational (1910s), Maple Street Methodist (1915), Downey Avenue Christian (1916), Allen Chapel AME (1920), Trinity Episcopal and First Friends (1924) all had organized troops.

Following the nationwide success of the Boy Scouts and the subsequent founding of the GIRL SCOUTS in 1917, Anna Marie Ridge of Irvington established the city’s first Girl Scout troop in July 1917. By the early 1920s, several churches sponsored troops, including Allen Chapel AME, Tuxedo Park Baptist, Third Christian, First Congregational, and Broadway Methodist.

The Catholic Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes organized a Catholic Girl Scout troop in 1921, reputed to the first Catholic group in the nation.

The CAMP FIRE Girls also became closely associated with churches. Indianapolis’ first group began at Downey Avenue Christian Church in 1913.

Churches also reached out to local youth by establishing recreational programs and, in some instances, erecting gymnasiums as part of their church buildings. In 1912, Tuxedo Park Baptist converted its old Sunday school building into a recreational facility for members and neighborhood residents, thus making Tuxedo Park the first Indianapolis congregation to provide such a structure. Over the next several years, other churches like Third Christian, Central Christian, Central Avenue Methodist, Irvington Presbyterian, and Meridian Heights Presbyterian erected gyms or converted existing rooms into recreational space. This was yet another indication of how many religious institutions considered themselves to serve both parishioners and members of their immediate communities.