Fostered physical, mental, and moral well-being for thousands of adolescent girls Taught girls about responsibilities and duties for their adult lives Helped girls advance culturally and recreationally through swimming, skating, and dancing classes
Mary Bartelme, a Chicago-based lawyer, suffragist, Public Guardian, and assistant to the Judge of the Juvenile Court of Cook County, did not think that girls who had committed only small crimes should have to go back to their broken homes or on to prison. She instead created a third choice, Mary Club, which gave girls a safe environment in which to grow. The first Mary Club was created in Chicago in 1914, then a second in Evanston in 1918, and a third again in Chicago.
When Judge Merritt W. Pinckney of the Cook County Juvenile Court appointed Mary Bartelme to be his assistant in 1913, he knew that she would effect many positive changes in the lives of adolescent girls, and he was right. Bartelme altered the way that adolescent girls’ cases were handled by holding them behind closed doors, and having all participants in these proceedings had to be women. Bartelme also recognized a serious problem that many of these girls in the courtroom faced: most had only committed small crimes, yet there existed no good options for what to do with these girls after court proceedings. They would either have to be sent back to their broken homes, or on to prison, and Bartelme didn’t view either as a good option. She instead formed an alternative in 1914: the Mary Club. She brought about ten girls at a time into her home in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago as an opportunity for girls under 16 to develop and grow in a positive and healthy environment with other adolescents. The girls spent anywhere from a few months to a few years in the Mary Club, all on their own volition. In 1918, Bartelme opened up a second Mary Club in Evanston, and in 1921 she created a third one in Chicago for black girls. The girls who lived in the homes went to public school and, upon entering the house, were given a suitcase filled with clothes. The Chicago Woman’s Club Service Council, comprised of ten Evanston women, met once a week to sew dresses for the girls. Mary Clubs fostered “physical, mental, and moral well-being,” and the girls in the Evanston house, thanks to the YMCA and the Bureau of Recreation, were also able to take swimming, skating, and dancing classes. In order to raise money, auxiliary groups to the Mary Clubs were formed, which held various charity events, such as dances, performances, lectures, fashion shows, and toy demonstration parties. The Ella Eaton Auxiliary held a popular yearly charity flower market in Ackerman Park, with all revenue going to the Mary Clubs for almost a decade. From 1929 to 1950, Mrs. Ella Eaton was the house maker of the Evanston Mary Club. After visiting the home in 1941, Bartelme praised the good work that Eaton and the other women had done. Through its many years of service, the Mary Clubs helped thousands young girls develop and grow into independent women.