A Benevolent Community

People moved to Norwood to fill a growing labor need. Norwood soon became a town that was not only culturally diverse, but also economically diverse. The wealth of Norwood’s industrialists grew and could been seen in the size and grandeur of the homes they built. A new middle class emerged; these people earned enough to money to live comfortably and to buy things that might have seemed extravagant to their parent’s generation. Then there was a large working class population, some earned enough to get by and others had a difficult time carving out a living. Several organizations stepped up to help, the Norwood Civic Association provided classes to help Americanize these new citizens and the Norwood Women’s Club had committees that provided services and aid to some of Norwood’s poor.  For those who did not have enough food to feed their families, and needed basic help, many of Norwood’s smaller organizations stepped up to provide food, clothing and money for this group of people. Many private clubs, organizations and churches formed their own benevolent groups, which privately helped their needy members, but because the records of these clubs no longer exist, we do not know the extent these organizations helped their members.

Mrs. May Millett, Friendly Visitor for 25 years. (courtesy of the First Congregational Church of Norwood.)

One of the organizations, that were able to help people in need, and whose records still exist, was the First Congregational Church of Norwood. They have a long history of helping those in need. In the record books kept by the first minister, Rev. Thomas Balch, is a page dedicated to recording the names and amount of money raised for people the congregation helped. In 1910, the church formed a group called the Women’s Union. They supported local, national and international missionaries, but they also asked Mrs. Millett if she would be a “Friendly Visitor” to folks in Norwood who may need a helping hand. They initially decided she should work for 4 weeks, and would be paid five dollars a week.  Mrs. Millett reported about her visits at the Women’s Union meetings, often telling about a family she visited and how she had delivered food baskets and clothing to a few families in need. The Women’s Union continued to extend her time helping in the community. Mrs. Millet was May Gertrude (Colby) Millett, she and her family moved to Norwood from Maine around 1906. In the 1930 census, May lists her occupation as “welfare worker for the church.” May was the friendly visitor for the church for 25 years. Her family was part of Norwood’s middle class, but she came from a humble family, plus she moved to Norwood about the same time that many others did too, these attributes probably made her a relatable soul, someone who was welcome in the homes of many of Norwood’s needy.

The First Church of Norwood continues its mission to help people today. From preparing meals for soup kitchens, collecting for the Norwood Food Pantry and clothing and personal supplies for Generic Ministry, participating in community service days, as well as providing a meeting place for several groups including the boy scouts, they continue to reach out and serve those in need whether it is locally or along the Texas – Mexican border. (Slide show courtesy of the First Congregational Church of Norwood)

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