Monday, July 28, 2008

The Amory Street Bums

The former Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House - 2008.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House was a social services organization serving the lower income families of Jamaica Plain through much of the twentieth century. It began as the Helen Weld house, on Lamartine street, and moved to Carolina avenue and the old Goodwin estate. When the city accepted the Goodwin land as a playground, the Neighborhood house moved to Boylston Hall on Amory street. There, it served as a children's club house, dispensary, adult education center and general neighborhood resource. At the time of this article, they would be in their first year at the Amory street site.

The article tells an interesting story of the girls from Cornwall and Amory streets. The writing isn't explicit, but "soldiers and sailors" made the point. I wonder where the games were played - perhaps at Cornwall street and Brookside avenue. It wasn't officially a playground yet, but it may have been an open field at the time. The girls are probably all gone now - they would be in at least their late nineties today - but their children and grandchildren certainly are out there somewhere. Did the grown girls ever talk about their squash games in the old days? When we read history, it's like we only see the chapter headings of a great book - most of what actually happened in the past is lost.

Bellingham Herald September 17, 1918

Local Woman Doing Settlement Work In Boston

An article in a Boston Paper tells of the interesting work done by Mrs Tom Deering,formerly a Bellingham girl, daughter of J.H. Everett, of Lake street, who is doing settlement work in the Neighborhood House at Jamaica Plain. Mrs. Deering is well known in Bellingham and after her several months' absence she will return with her husband soon to the West and make her home in Tacoma, where Mr. Deering has accepted a government position. The article follows:

"Mrs. Tom Deering, of Jamaica Plain, has solved the adolescent girl problem. Her solution is simple and unique -- keep them busy. One hundred girls, all between the ages of 12 and 16 years, were kept off the streets this summer through the medium of "squash baseball."

"There was a group of girls living in the armory(sic) and Cornwall street section, that the neighborhood workers seemed unable to reach, said Mrs Deering. Of course, they came to the clubs and classes at the Neighborhood House, but no one was able to get beneath the surface of their problems.

"And it was a problem, aggravated by the influx of soldiers and sailors. One group of girls, known as the "Armory(sic) street bums," were the greatest offenders. The moment they saw a settlement worker approaching, they would scurry out of sight like a bevy of furtive little animals.

Amusements Lacking.

"I made a survey of the neighborhood and found there was no moving picture house, no park, no dance hall, no opportunity whatever for wholesale amusement. I had no tools of that type to work with. It was then I conceived the idea of interesting them in outdoor sports -- and squash ball was my choice.

"I found the prejudice against allowing girls to indulge in baseball very strong among the mothers in that neighborhood. It was all right for the boys, but for girls -- never. When I explained their girls were in very real danger and some preventative step must be taken, they finally admitted the problem was worrying them and promised to co-operate with me.

"I was surprised at the eagerness with which the girls themselves entered into the spirit of the thing. While it was all pioneer work the whole plan was in working order in short time and teams had been picked, captains chosen, everything made ready for the games. These we had in the afternoon and the evenings were spent in practicing.

Get "Group Spirit."

"I didn't pick and choose my girls. I grouped them together at random. What we were working for was group spirit, which is rarely found among girls. They don't understand team work. But before the summer was over they grasped the idea and the result was splendid.

"They were a self-governing body -- they made their own rules and stuck to them. They played the game squarely and didn't lose their tempers even at times when bitterly defeated by opposing teams. I've seen the captain take her girls off to one corner of the field "If you girls can't play without fighting like cats" she would say, "we'll call the game off now." And they went back and played like good sports.

"Armory(sic) Bums Win.

"We played seventy games during the summer and the team which won the cup for good sportsmanship was comprised of the former "Armory Bums."

"Since working with the girls' league this summer, Mrs.Deering's opinion of girls has gone up 90 per cent. Those who have never seen the result of her pioneer effort feel sure she has started something which will become a permanent part of Boston's playground system."

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