The Illinois Industrial School for Girls was founded in 1877 as a school for orphaned and destitute girls. It was located in Evanston for 32 years and then moved to Park Ridge in 1908 where it continued to operate until 2012. In its early years, the school focused on giving the girls a sense of “family life,” and providing basic education and training in domestic skills with the goal “that the girls could become independent and productive members of their community.” Its name and mission changed many times over its long history.
The school was founded in Evanston in 1877, by a group led by Helen Judson Beveridge. Beveridge was the wife of Illinois Gov. John Beveridge who had served as governor from 1873-1876. The initial funding for the school came from what remained of funds set aside for use by the Illinois Women’s Centennial Committee for the 1876 U.S. Centennial. Helen Beveridge had served as president of that committee.
Originally founded as a home/training school for destitute orphan girls, it became a destination for girls from the Chicago courts in the late 19th century (a sort of juvenile detention center). Girls were sent here to learn cooking, cleaning, and sewing so that they would be economically self-sufficient upon release. The school was instrumental in the passage of a law by the state legislature in 1881 which asserted that “for each child committed to industrial schools, the county would pay $10.00 monthly plus a certain amounf of clothing.”
By 1883, the school’s population had increased to 78, and larger quarters were needed. A forty acre site in Park Ridge was purchased and rented out until 1908 when the school relocated. The building the school had been using at Sheridan Road and Main Street in Evanston (which had originally been the”Old Soldier’s Home” for Civil War soldiers) was sold in 1905. The school changed its name to the “Park Ridge School for Girls” in 1913. By the 1930s, the domestic science curriculum had been replaced by bookkeeping and secretarial courses. During that decade, the school became a fully accredited educational facility.
The school established a state-funded welfare agency for girls in Evanston and was instrumental in the passage of the 1881 law mandating state responsibility (housing/education) for destitute girls. The first charitable baseball game to benefit a philanthropic organization (played in 1908, in the Old Comisky Park) was played on behalf of the Illinois Industrial School for Girls.
Sources: Evanston History Center clipping files; Evanston History Center Archival Collection #83.