Eva Carroll Monroe (1868-1950) created and operated the Lincoln Colored Home, the first orphanage for African American children in Sangamon County, from 1904 until 1933. As of early 2014, the building, though empty and boarded up, still stood at 427 S. 12th St. in Springfield.
Monroe was part of a black women’s self-help movement that defied poverty and discrimination in the early 20th century. In addition to her orphanage work, she was involved in formation of the Springfield Colored Women’s Club and in 1909 was elected president of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Monroe, a Kankakee native, worked first in Springfield at the Prince Sanitarium and then became a probation officer. She and her sister, Olive Price, created their first orphanage in 1898.
Help from the Springfield Colored Women’s Club and financial support from white philanthropist Mary Agnes Lawrence, the wife of former Springfield mayor Rheuna Lawrence, allowed residents of the Lincoln Colored Home — eight elderly women and 29 children — to move into a new, two-story residence on New Year’s Day 1904.
Unfortunately, Mary Agnes Lawrence’s death the next year left the home in tenuous financial circumstances, a problem that continued for virtually the rest of its existence. Nonetheless, the home clearly filled a need in the Springfield community. As reported in the Cook-Witter Report of March 5, 2003:
The June 3, 1928 edition of the Illinois State Journal described the Lincoln Colored Home as having “none of the characteristic grimness of an institution. It is a Home and no less … the presence or near presence of happy children is conveyed to one irresistibly…girls skipping ropes and boys and girls playing jacks or hopscotch with the quiet manner of a contented family.” … The Lincoln Colored Home is a testament to the spirit of cooperation of one black and one white woman sharing a mission and bringing their communities together to accomplish a common goal – creating a safe environment for black children. That may not seem like such a big deal today, but a hundred years ago, that kind of team effort would have been a rare feat.
In addition to the home’s continuing financial crisis, Monroe did not have the professional credentials that became increasingly necessary for social service providers as the 20th century proceeded. As a result, the Lincoln Colored Home’s license was not renewed in 1932, and it was forced to close the next year.
Monroe continued to live in the former Colored Home until after it was sold by the Lawrence estate in 1944. She died in 1950.
The Lincoln Colored Home has been designated a historic building by the Springfield Historic Sites Commission and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Parts of the interior were transferred from the Lawrence family home when the Dana-Thomas House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was built by Susan Lawrence Dana. It has been through a number of owners, including the late Tuskegee Airman Lyman Hubbard, since the orphanage was closed. Efforts continue to restore the unoccupied structure.
More information: The Cook-Witter Report of March 5, 2003 (link above), has a vivid account of the founding and development of the Lincoln Colored Home. Wanda Hendricks wrote a fuller treatment of the career of Eva Carroll Monroe for the Illinois History Teacher in 2003.
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