The Ladies Relief Society was started in Duluth in 1883 to help mothers and children alone in the booming mining and logging town. That society has morphed into what is now Minnesota’s oldest child-care facility, marking its 130th anniversary this year.
This Minnesota milestone got started in the backroom of Fogelson’s Fancy Goods Shop, where some of Duluth’s earliest child benefactors taught young mothers — some unmarried, some with husbands away at work — how to care for their children and how to find jobs to support their families.
This do-it-yourself philanthropy later evolved into a children’s hospital, an orphanage, and some of the first treatment programs for children with mental health problems in the region.
Its name changed throughout. It may be best known as Children’s Home Society of Duluth. Today it is called Northwood Children’s Services and remains a pioneer in supporting at-risk children.
“Over 130 years, we learned a thing or two about working with children and families,” said Richard Wolleat, Northwood’s president. “Our plan is to be a continued resource for kids and families with pretty intense needs.”
Wolleat wasn’t sure how Duluth managed to have the oldest-running child-care facility in Minnesota. Children’s Home Society of St. Paul, for example, started five years after the Ladies Relief Society. Perhaps the need in Duluth was great because of social problems stemming from its huge wave of newcomers. From 1881 to 1886, the population exploded from 3,400 to 26,000.
Northwoods and its predecessors have helped more than 30,000 children since their humble origins, said Wolleat, including nearly 300 children a day today. It now provides residential and day treatment programs, as well as diagnostic services for children with mental health problems on two campuses. It also has treatment programs in three Duluth-area schools.
“Typically we’re a pretty quiet organization,” Wolleat said, “but after 130 years we think it’s a good time to remind people of this great asset in Duluth.”
Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511