Skip to main content

John J. Finlay Papers

Identifier: spe-c00101

Scope and Contents

This collection chronicles the early work of several social service organizations through the experience and leadership of board member John J. Finlay. It contains documents and letters that catalog the Chicago Area Project’s (CAP) work as well as the work done by other social service organizations in the 1930s and early 1940s. This includes correspondence between Clifford R. Shaw, John J. Finlay and others who contributed to CAP around the city, such as committee and religious leaders. Also appearing in the collection are publications, budget reports, by-laws, annual reports, meeting minutes, pamphlets and research materials used to create the earliest committees of CAP. Additionally included is information on committees around the North Side, the North Side Boys Club and involved religious groups. The documents chronicle the progress and challenges faced in the early years of these organizations and committees.


  • 1933 - 1945


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biographical / Historical

John J. Finlay was an active board member of several social service organizations in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s. He was deeply involved in a variety of groups all over the city, but much of his work was done on the North Side with civic committees and the North Side Boys Club. He also sat on the board of groups like Big Brothers, the Off the Street Club and the Serra Club of Chicago. However, it is perhaps most important to note his involvement with the umbrella organization of many of these groups, the Chicago Area Project (CAP).

The Chicago Area Project was founded in the 1930s by Clifford Robe Shaw, a sociologist from the University of Chicago. He worked with several other University of Chicago sociologists and the Illinois Institute for Juvenile Delinquency to set up the foundation for CAP. It was Shaw’s belief that there were no psychological reasons for delinquency in youths, rather that it stemmed from the environment and the community in which they were raised.

In creating CAP, Shaw hoped he could lower rates of delinquency by cleaning up neighborhoods, increasing community engagement, and working directly with youths labeled “delinquents.” This process began by plotting the home addresses of kids labeled delinquents, and targeting areas with the highest number. Once there, he recruited residents of the community to run the committees in their areas. These leaders organized workshops and programs, and CAP’s three community committees rose in number steadily throughout the decades. By the 1960s CAP was able to expand beyond the city, and moved into the surrounding suburbs, again recruiting leaders native to the areas.

Besides helping the kids stay out of juvenile detention centers, CAP and its affiliated organizations set out to disprove the common idea that children born and raised in low-income areas were not as smart or capable as their high-income counterparts. CAP wanted to show that when presented with the same opportunities as other kids, these children were equally successful. CAP still exists in 2021 and continues to be an umbrella organization that oversees and aids community-run committees in and around the city. Although it has been updated in ways that account for modern knowledge of child psychology, it still follows Shaw’s original idea that community engagement can keep children out of detention centers.


.5 Linear Feet (in one box)

Language of Materials



This collection chronicles the work of several Chicago-based social service organizations in the 1930s and early 1940s through the experience and leadership of board member John J. Finlay. The Chicago Area Project (CAP) is especially well documented.


Files have been organized alphabetically by name of organization.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Barbara Donahue, daughter of John J. Finlay, in 2000.

Related Materials

  • Chicago City-Wide Collection: Box 100, Folder 19, World War II: Ration Books (2 copies), Book Three, issued to John Finlay and Stella Finlay, Evanston, also Mileage Ration Coupons, circa 1943
  • Juvenile Welfare Association Records
  • Marion C. Young Hull House Collection
  • Neighborhood History Research Collection
  • Northside Neighborhood History Collection

Guide to the John J. Finlay Papers
Emma Lipkin; supervised by Johanna Russ. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Johanna Russ, 2021.
July 2018
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