More than a century ago Charles Crittenton, a self made millionaire invested his life in the rescue of “unfortunate lost girls.” A pioneer and social entrepreneur well ahead of his time, he dedicated his energy and his finances toward the “betterment of this needy class.” This “needy class” consisted of girls and women being exploited for sex, escaping violent relationships, single mothers, homeless/abandoned girls, immigrant women who came to this country with no one there to meet them and all girls and women forced into “unsavory” circumstances. As a result of his dedication and that of co-founder Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, the Crittenton social welfare movement was born and founded on a social justice foundation grounded in the belief that women deserved the same opportunities men enjoyed to change their lives. In the late 1800’s upon returning from a trip around the world, Mr. Crittenton noted:
“During my tour around the world I had been deeply impressed with the fact that in every civilized country the cause of the unfortunate girl was a ‘lost cause.’ While I had occasionally found…men and women whose hearts had been touched by the call to this needy class, I found that no well-planned movement had ever been put on foot to reach them. Why this should have been so, I have never been able to find…It had been accepted as a necessary evil…The immensity of the problem staggered me…”
One hundred and thirty years later the model envisioned by Mr. Crittenton remains largely unchanged. While Mr. Crittenton and Dr. Barrett were successful in building the Crittenton social welfare movement it did not spur a lasting change in the way society views and values girls and women who find their way to Crittenton agencies. Today, while they are not referred to as “lost, wayward or depraved” they are still viewed as “bad girls” who live on the margin of the American dream, invisible even to the modern day systems charged with their care. We can no longer accept the exploitation, marginalization and objectification of girls who find themselves in destructive circumstances not of their making as a “necessary evil” of our society.
2013 marks TNCF’s 130th anniversary. No doubt an anniversary is a time to celebrate a legacy, but more importantly it presents an opportunity to look forward grounded in the lessons of a rich history. As a national institution that has been “doing the work” for 130 years we have a responsibility to answer the questions presented by the fact that we are still supporting the same population. We are challenged to be introspective, to work in partnership with young women and each other and to break down system silos across the country to “get it right” this time. The cost to girls, young women, their families, communities and our country is too great to ignore.