Little Bits of History

He Ain’t Heavy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 12, 2014
Father Flanagan’s Boys Town

Father Flanagan’s Boys Town

December 12, 1917: Father Flanagan’s Home is founded. Edward Joseph Flanagan was born in Ireland in 1886. His father was a herdsman there. Young Edward came to the US in 1904 and became a US citizen in 1919. He graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1906 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and two years later obtained his Masters of Arts from the same institution. He went to Seminary in New York and continued his studies in both Italy and Austria where he was ordained a priest in 1912. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Church and later at St. Philomena’s Church.

He was discouraged with his ministry to homeless men in Omaha. He borrowed $90 to pay the rent on a boarding house which became Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys. He welcomed all boys regardless of race or religion and by spring there were 100 boys living there. Both the Bishop and the Diocese were not in full support of the experiment. Downtown facilities were inadequate and so in 1921 Flanagan established Boys Town ten miles west of Omaha. It grew to a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gym, and other facilities where boys aged ten through sixteen could get an education and training in a trade.

The town was designed by Leo Daly in the Tudor Revival style as well as other types. The town became a blueprint for changes in juvenile care methods. Also called the “City of Little Men” it emphasized social preparation as part of the basic model for boys’ homes worldwide. In 1943, they adopted their logo – a picture of a boy carrying a younger boy on his back with captioning stating, “He ain’t heavy, mister – he’s my brother.” The logo was said to reflect the ideal of residents caring for each other and having someone to care about them. Today, Boys Town has grown into a nationwide effort with 12 regions serving children and their families.

Father Flanagan received acclaim especially after a movie starring Spencer Tracy introduced Boys Town’s founder to the world. Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of Flanagan and Mickey Rooney also starred as one of the residents. Even before the movie’s release, Flanagan was raised to the rank of Right Revered Monsignor and served on several committees and boards which dealt with the welfare of children. He became internationally known and traveled extensively. In a trip to Ireland, he was appalled by the country’s lack of services to children and was forced to leave the country after becoming vocal in his concerns. He made similar trips to Japan and Korea and met with more success. On a trip to Austria and Germany in 1948, he suffered a heart attack and died in Berlin at the age of 61.

If you have seen him through me, then I thank you. – Spencer Tracy in his Oscar acceptance speech

To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy. – etched on a duplicate Oscar sent to Boys Town

When parents fail to do their job, when they allow their children to run the streets and keep bad company, when they fail to provide them with good examples in the home, then the parents and not the children are delinquent. – Edward Flanagan

I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character. – Edward Flanagan

Also on this day: Katzenjammer Kids – In 1897, the Katzenjammer Kids first saw print.
Dragon Master – In 1408, the Order of the Dragon was established.
Boom! – In 1862, the USS Cairo sunk.
Ice, Ice, Baby – In 1985, Arrow Air flight 1285 crashed shortly after takeoff.


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