Jane Boyd (1869-1932) was an Iowa-native who worked tirelessly to serve people in need, especially those in the Oak Hill-Jackson neighborhood in Cedar Rapids. At a time where federal welfare did not exist, Boyd pioneered forms of aid and worked to connect people with the basic food, medical care, shelter, employment and other care they needed.
Boyd was born on Nov. 2, 1869 in Tipton, Iowa. She was christened as Lydia Jane, but went by Jane all her life. She obtained her teaching certificate and eventually took a position teaching primary school at Tyler School in Cedar Rapids in 1894. Jane's brother William and her parents, Jasper and Elizabeth, had moved to Cedar Rapids a year prior.
At the time, Cedar Rapids was a growing city, spurred by industry and immigration. Many new residents - Bohemians, Moravians, Blacks, Irish, Greeks, Armenians, Norwegians, Swedes, Russian Jews and others - settled in the Oak Hill-Jackson neighborhood. After a short time in her teaching position, Boyd realized the need for social service work in the district.
"They found that she not only had an interest in their lessons, but also an interest in a cut finger, in a stomachache, in a headache, in a worn out pair of shoes, and in an aching heart. She was concerned when they came to school without breakfast. She was concerned when they came to school bearing the obvious marks of parental discipline. She was concerned when they reported to her that their mother was sick, or that their father was out of work and they had no food in their homes."
- excerpt from Jane Boyd and Her Times by Harold F. Ewoldt
Boyd worked tirelessly to set up a school program to ensure children had milk, mended and delivered clothing to families in need, and took children to the doctor at her own expense. By one account in Jane Boyd and Her Times, an average of 67 children came to her each day at Tyler School with their troubles. In 1918, the Board of Education relieved Boyd of her teaching duties, recognizing her desire to pursue full-time social work efforts.
In the early 1920s, Boyd pushed to establish a community house in the Oak Hill-Jackson neighborhood. In June 1921, the Americanization Council agreed to sponsor a five-room social house - officially named the Model House - in the neighborhood, just five blocks south of Tyler School. Monthly rent for the building, which was in poor condition, was $12.50, paid for by the Council. The community volunteered to repair the building and donated funds to support it. The house - known popularly as the Community House - opened to the public on Oct. 30, 1921.
The Community House services quickly outgrew the small home, and in 1926, it moved across the street to one half of a duplex. The original house was later condemned and leveled for a playground.
When programming outgrew the duplex, an effort was made to raise funds to build a new structure on the existing land. Despite a strong effort, they fell short of their $15,000 fundraising goal. Inspired by the work, residents Dr. and Mrs. Wencil Ruml offered their home on 5th Avenue in Cedar Rapids for a new Community House. It was moved to the vacant lot at a cost of $1,200 and the Community House opened to the public in the new facility in December 1928.
At the new home's dedication on April 25, 1929, the center was officially named the Jane Boyd Community Center in honor of Boyd. She "reluctantly accepted the honor, declaring over and over that she was not worthy of it," according to Jane Boyd and Her Times.
There might have been a house here, but there would never have been this house and this spirit if it hadn't been for Jane Boyd, always remember that. Her name is up there so that we shall never forget her years of service, love, citizenship. She gave her life for us, indeed. This house is her memorial.
- Mary Lackerstein, Cedar Rapids Director of City Playgrounds who worked closed with Boyd,
as told in Jane Boyd and Her Times
The new facility included regularly-scheduled boys gym classes, a day nursery and hot lunches for the children at Tyler School. It remained a staple through the Great Depression, offering knowledge about jobs, community resources and a safe haven for those in the surrounding neighborhood.
While mending warm garments for the poor in December 1932, Boyd pricked her finger on a rusty needle that had been left in a garment. From the needle, she contracted blood poisoning and soon developed pneumonia. She died at a Cedar Rapids hospital on Dec. 16, 1932.
According to a 1932 Cedar Rapids Tribune article, her funeral service at First Christian Church was well attended.
“All races, all colors, all creeds. Little children with tear-filled eyes, trembling old people, rich and poor, were represented in the church where 800 mourners gathered ... to join in the last tribute to Miss Boyd."
- Cedar Rapids Tribune article on Boyd's funeral
After her passing, programming continued, led by other community members who shared Boyd's vision and passion. In 1962, the Jane Boyd Community House moved to its fourth location, a new facility, still at the original location of 14th Avenue and 10th Street SE. A Cedar Rapids Gazette article from Dec. 9, 1962 highlighted the new building's open house and programming including adult social group and classes, sewing classes, a game room, and cooking classes for boys and girls.
Later that decade, the community House lead the effort to open Bender Pool, named after Elizabeth Bender, the director of the Jane Boyd Community House from 1927 until 1967. The pool is still open today, under the operation of the Cedar Rapids Parks & Recreation Department.
In 2001, Jane Boyd Community House became an affiliate of the Four Oaks family. The two social services organizations work in tandem to help aid children and families in the greater Cedar Rapids community. Jane Boyd programming now serves more than 4,000 children, adults and families each year through various programs including the Achievement Academy, Cedar Rapids Entrepreneurial Program and PATHS. Locations have expanded from the single Jane Boyd Community House to include a total of five sites, still centered around the original Oak Hill-Jackson neighborhood.
In 2017, Jane Boyd was named to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.
Information and photos from Jane Boyd and Her Times by Harold F. Ewoldt, a project sponsored by the Jane Boyd Community House and made possible through a grant from the Hall Foundation of Cedar Rapids. A copy of the book is available at the Hiawatha Library. Additional information from historical copies of The Cedar Rapids Gazette.
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