Michelle Ann Kratts

February has been strenuous…we have accomplished much…

In Niagara Falls on June 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm

photo (11)

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Elizabeth Howe, Social Settlement Worker with the International Institute in Niagara Falls, writes of the following incident in her notes, February 1921:

One snowy morning, early in February, a fine type of Polish woman came to the Institute.  Her sister was utterly destitute.  With tears in her eyes, she told the whole tragic story.  We promised to make an immediate investigation.  The sister in question does not live in Niagara Falls.  She lives in one of three shacks on the road to Lewiston.  We knew at once, that Lewiston should take care of the case, but the need was immediate.  At half-past eight on Friday morning our plucky little Polish Worker left her home and started on her errand of mercy.  After leaving the car line, she was obliged to trudge two and a half miles through the snow which was still falling, to her her people.  Finally she saw three shacks, on a lonely road with no other habitation in sight.  In one of these shacks she found the W***s.  There was no fire in the house nor was there any fuel with which to make one.  The mother of four small children, the eldest seven years of age, had been ill a year. the father would not leave his sick wife and small children in that desert, as he had not been working for a year.  The sister who drew my attention to the case had paid the hospital bill and had helped (and helped) them until she could do so no longer.  The W***s needed everything.  The children were in rags.  There was neither water nor gas nor electric lights on the premises.  Our Polish Worker returned at 1:30 after having trudged five miles in the snow.  She was tired and hungry.  Her report made us all suddenly very, very serious.  Something must be done, and at once.  It was useless to appeal to our Poor Master, a man utterly without sentiment or vision and bound by State Laws.  Days would pass before inadequate relief could be obtained.  At this juncture the telephone rang.  Miss Howe was wanted “on the phone.”  A voice at the other end announced herself as a member of the College Club and then went on to say my name had been given to her, as that of a person likely to know of mothers who would be glad to put their babies in a (nursery?) the College Club is thinking of founding.  My first thought was a bitter one.  I feel no sympathy with the new project.  People were cold and hungry and naked,and yet –I told the good woman I was not interested in new projects for the moment.  I was intensely pre-occupied about existing unemployment conditions and I related briefly the story of the W***s.  My listener was most sympathetic and offered at once to call up the President of the College Club.  “I wish you would,” I answered.  Shortly after the President of the Club wished to communicate with me telephonically.  She had called up her Emergency Committee and each and every member got on the job.  At half after five that same evening, supplies, food, clothing, fuel were taken in Mrs. F’s automobile to the destitute family. Two of our Workers accompanied Mrs. F and her husband.  The girls came back radiant.  They were gloriously happy.  Our “Ill Mary” as we call her had promised to return with help.  The kitchen which was extremely dirty in the morning was swept and garnished.  The one table was laden with edibles of every description.  Mrs. F got half a ton of coal for the family. The husband, a splendid fellow, pleaded for work and that same evening Mr. F did the impossible.  He found the man a job and the next morning he got up early, had a lunch packed at his home and before daylight reached the lonely shack on Military Road.  The man was summoned, the lunch thrust into his hand and he was whisked into Mr. F’s car to the factory.  The family is now being well looked after.

For the next few days, various members of the College Club brought supplies of all kinds to the International Institute.  The work had been done without ostentation, quietly and most efficiently.  

“To us, our poor people are friends who are passing through deep waters.  Not one of them wants charity but work, and there is no work to be had.  Fortunate are they who find our “Open Door” and pass through!”

Elizabeth Howe and the International Institute did amazing work for the poor and desperate immigrants who made Niagara their home.  Most of their work has been forgotten until now.

Please sign our petition to have Elizabeth Howe’s name added to the monument in front of Niagara Falls City Hall:



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