The Dallas Morning News

1917 effort aimed to save Fort Worth’s ‘forgotten’ females

5 wealthy women founded Girls’ Protective Bureau to help those in dire need

- By HOLLACE AVA WEINER Hollace Ava Weiner is an author, historian and archivist.

March is Women’s History Month, which began in 1983 after Congress passed a joint resolution designatin­g a span of days to focus on forgotten women and their contributi­ons to the common good.

In Fort Worth, the focus on forgotten females began decades earlier, in 1917, when five well-to-do married women volunteere­d for the Girls’ Protective Bureau, which rescued young women at risk.

They found their clientele among girls stranded at the train station, alone with no ticket, no money and no place to go. They rescued other young women as they were released from jail with no change of clothes and no clue as to what to do.

Throughout World War I and the opening of Camp Bowie, the Army training base in Arlington Heights, swarms of girls arrived in Fort Worth searching for romance, adventure and work. Many were runaways, escaping the farm. Some were single and pregnant. Many could not read much more than their ABCS. They had high hopes in the big city.

The Women’s Protective Bureau, working with the U.S. War Department, met with these desperate girls and helped change the direction of their lives.

Postwar, the bureau evolved into the Girls Protective Associatio­n, which sent caseworker­s and volunteers into poverty-stricken neighborho­ods. With an assist from the courts and the schools, they organized classes and arranged for medical care.

With a $2,000 donation, the protective associatio­n bought a house, called Worth Cottage, at 917 Henderson St. The dwelling became an emergency shelter and a cozy home where a fire blazed on the hearth, a girl with an ear for music played the piano, and everyone pitched in to make meals and focus on a better future. An employment service that started in the cottage grew into an agency with a downtown office. It found positions for 1,500 to 2,000 girls a year as waitresses, clerks, house cleaners, companions for the elderly and babysitter­s. (It continued until 1935, when the Texas Employment Commission replaced it.)

From 1927 to 1930, the Women’s Protective Bureau served as part of the city’s welfare department until it received a new state charter and changed its name to Girls Service League, Inc., the name it retains to this day.

Throughout the Great Depression, safe and affordable housing was problemati­c for single women. A $20,000 gift from the Lassiter family served as down payment on Lassiter Lodge, a $50,000 house at 1008 Penn St. During the 1936 Texas Centennial, the Girls Service League opened a profitable tea room nearby to serve homecooked meals to out-of-town visitors.

By 1939, the need had shifted from housing working women into finding safe havens for teenage girls from broken homes and abusive parents. The Scott Mansion, then a rundown cattle-baron estate at 1509 Pennsylvan­ia Ave., was for sale at the bargain price of $17,500. Today, the 18-room, threestory mansion, also known as Thistle Hill, is a restored treasure.

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