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Juvenile Welfare Association Records

Identifier: spe-nhrc-jwa

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the Juvenile Welfare Association’s correspondence with several Chicago institutions for orphaned or otherwise needy children and the materials that comprise the Lyon’s educational activities such as lessons, sheet music, recitations, or dramatic exercises. Other materials include several radio scripts produced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the later 1930s.


  • 1898 - 1980
  • Majority of material found within 1924 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.


In 1921, Bertha G. Lyons founded the Juvenile Welfare Association (JWA). She remained its director for over half a century. It was incorporated in 1923 as a non-profit agency through the efforts of Victor Arnold, a judge of Chicago's Juvenile Court. The Association maintained that its mission was educational, not charitable. It sought to provide to orphans, homeless children or wards of the state free classes in self-development: music, dancing, dramatics, deportment, manners, speech, etiquette and social skills important in making a person successful. These classes were generally offered through institutions where the children were gathered, including the Chicago Home for the Friendless, the Morgan Park Home for Dependent Children, Marcy Center, St. Hedwig's Orphanage, Union Avenue Parish House and DePaul Settlement. The Association maintained an independent and non-sectarian status, offering its services to Protestant, Catholic and Jewish organizations. Financial support came from private donations of members.

The Association was investigated and audited by the Public Welfare Department of Illinois in 1922 and 1930, and periodically since then, and was always found to be accomplishing its stated purposes satisfactorily. The Association maintained offices at 77 W. Washington Street, Chicago, for many years and more recently moved to a suite at 220 S. State Street.


Bertha Gloria Lyons (1896-1982) was born February 20, 1896, in New York City. At the age of two and a half, she was taken from the New York Foundling Hospital and placed in the home of William and Alice Lyons McCartney. The McCartneys later had six children of their own; Bertha was their only foster child. During her childhood, the McCartneys moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where William owned a wholesale candy and paper warehouse.

At the age of seventeen, Miss Lyons enrolled in the Waterloo [Iowa] Conservatory of Music, from which she graduated in 1914 with a certificate in Theory in Dramatic Art. She then attended Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she took courses in educational theory and teacher education. After leaving Cedar Falls, she returned to Waterloo where she performed in local theatrical productions, gave private drama lessons, and edited a small entertainment newspaper, Amusement News. She also worked as a sales manager for an advertising firm in Waterloo, but left it to study with actor and director Elias Day. Later, during her study with actor Donald Robertson, she began to compile and develop a repertoire focusing on monologue and stage gesture technique.

In the late 1910s, Miss Lyons traveled with the Western Lyceum Bureau as a performer doing monologues and behind the scenes as a booking agent in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. In 1919, at age 23, Lyons settled in Chicago and opened a studio to teach elocution, drama, and social and business deportment to both adults and children. Two years later, she founded the Juvenile Welfare Association and extended the services of her studio to children in custodial care. To support the work of the Association, she founded a magazine, The Children’s Educator, in 1924. Its lifespan was short (only nine issues were produced in three years), but it earned its publisher a “Citizenship of the Year” award. When the Juvenile Welfare Association was incorporated in 1923, Lyons closed her studio and committed herself full-time to the Association.

Bertha Lyons retired from the Juvenile Welfare Association in the 1970s. She died in 1982.


9.5 Linear Feet (in 19 boxes, including 7 photographs)

Language of Materials



The collection includes the records of the Juvenile Welfare Association and materials on founder Bertha Lyons’ Self-Development Course, including lessons, sheet music, recitations, or dramatic exercises. Documents also include scripts from the Adult Education Program created by Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1938-1939.


This collection is arranged in four series:

Series 1: Juvenile Welfare Association Records, circa 1910-1980, undated

Series 2: Bertha Lyons’ Self-Development Course, 1894-1954

Series 3: Self-Development Course Recitations, undated

Series 4: Bertha Lyons’ Personal Papers and Photographs, 1898-circa 1940, undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Juvenile Welfare Association in 1990.

Related Materials

Gads Hill Collection

Marion C. Young Hull House Collection

Separated Materials

The collection included one title: The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin; [1908?]. This volume was awarded to Bertha G. Lyons for “First Honors in Recitation” at an oral interpretation contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan about 1912. Special Collections call number: PS2251.238 1908

Guide to the Juvenile Welfare Association Records
Galen R. Wilson, February 1993. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875