Cogswell Hall, Cleveland
Tucked in the residential area of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood is an organization with over a century of history of assisting economically challenged Cleveland women and more recently, men. With its roots as an offshoot of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the organization today known as Cogswell Hall began as the Training Home for Friendless Girls. The organization was founded to meet the vision of Mrs. Helen Marion Cogswell, who saw a need to do something for the ‘friendless’ women of Cleveland.
Backstory and Context
Mrs. Helen Marion Cogswell (1832-1918) was an active member of the Cleveland Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the wife of one-time. Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, Benjamin S. Cogswell. The couple had moved from their home in Geauga County around 1860. Benjamin worked as a deputy clerk at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and they raised their two children. Both children lived into adulthood but were survived by both their parents. In 1875, Benjamin was elected as the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, but his political career was short lived, he retired from politics at the end of his term. This brief career in politics may have had some connection to what the Cleveland Plain Dealer would describe in his obituary as “one of the most vigorous liquor campaigns ever seen in this country”. They report that over 1,000 saloon keepers were indicted during his term. This vigor for indicting saloon keepers was certainly tied to his wife’s early involvement in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU was founded in Ohio and officially declared at a convention in Cleveland in 1874. Their platform included temperance but was also concentrated on reform strategies typical of the Progressive Era, supporting missionary work and women’s suffrage. The organization was instrumental in pushing for policies related to temperance, broadly understood as the social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
After her husbands retirement from the political arena, Helen Cogswell’s activism shifted from strictly focusing on temperance to direct action to assist local women. She joined the Committee on Prison and Jail Visitation and traveled across the county speaking to incarcerated women. She saw a need to assist these “friendless” women upon their release from jail and to help them in becoming ‘useful members of society’. She lobbied the WTCU to assist in this effort and in 1878 they began to assist “women living on the street and offered food, clothing, support and spiritual guidance at the ‘Open Door’” What or where the ‘Open Door’ was is unclear, but presumably it was a location connected with the WCTU, perhaps used for other purposes.
In 1892 the organization rented the first structure solely for use by the organization then known as the Training Home for Friendless Girls, which was located on the corner of what was then called Forest Ave and Scovill Ave (today this intersection is at E. 37th Street and Community College Drive) on Cleveland’s East Side. The organizations purpose and mission has evolved over time to meet the needs of the community, beginning in 1892 when they shifted to engage in more preventive measures. Seeking to create a training home that would endeavor to keep these ‘friendless’ women out of jail in the first place. The term ‘friendless’ was something of a misnomer, as these women clearly had a friend in Helen Marion Cogswell and the women of the WCTU, but was understood to mean that they were without outside support from friends or family. During the years 1892-1899 they primarily assisted women recently released from the Cleveland Workhouse, “the residence provided a complete home with oversight by a matron, training in domestic work, spiritual guidance and anti-alcohol encouragement”
The organization crossed the river in 1898, establishing a more permanent address when the WCTU obtained a large home at was then the corner of Duane Avenue (now W. 32nd Street) and Franklin Blvd. The purchase was made possible by a purchase by an anonymous donor “who knows the joy of unostentatious giving” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. then donated the house to the WCTU for this purpose. The February 2, 1899 article that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer announcing the move listed Marion as Mrs. B. S. Cogswell and named her as the current chairman of the board of the organization. They report “that a donation of $5 per year makes one a patroness and $10 a patron” although there is no explanation given for the different levels of donation, it is perhaps worth noting that the feminine form of the word was used for the smaller amount. For comparison in today’s money as of 2020, the patroness level would cost $156.10 and the patron level would cost $312.20. The Duane Avenue home marked another shift in their mission and focus, with the organization switching to “preventative rather than reformatory work, housing girls from 10-18 years of age”.
Outgrowing their location in the following years, the current main structure was built in 1913 at the 7200 Franklin Blvd. address on Cleveland’s West Side in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Purpose built for the organization in the English Gothic style by prolific local architect Charles Hopkinson, the three story structure with a brick facade was outfitted with 27-single rooms. It was dedicated in March 1914 and later formally incorporated as the Cleveland Training Home for Girls in 1937. Helen Marion Cogswell died in January of 1918. Shortly after an article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in March of 1918, describing the Training Home for Friendless Girls as a monument to her life that was superior to any “Tall marble shaft or weeping angel” that could be placed in a cemetery.
The Cleveland Training Home for Girls was renamed Cogswell Hall in 1952 to honor their founder and the age bracket shifted to assisting women 18-35. This focus was driven by the lack of housing options for young single women, since landlords often would not rent to them. By the 1970’s this was becoming more and more rare, and another pivot for Cogswell Hall took place. The focus became to make Cogswell Hall housing for women ages 60 and older who were in need of low cost and secure homes. This age restriction was later removed, meeting again the changing landscape of more access to senior living and low cost housing. In 2009 an expansion and renovation project was undertaken and men were admitted as residents to the hall for the first time.
Their website lists their current mission; “Today Cogswell Hall offers a family-like home for low-income adults with disabling conditions. Our goal is to provide a permanent solution to homelessness that offers quality low-income housing with social services, builds community, and advocates for disabled and economically disadvantaged individuals” .The organization celebrated 100 years at its current location in 2013, and its 125th anniversary in 2017.The original vision of Helen Marion Cogswell is realized in their current role as housing and serving “low income men and women, struggling with mental illness, development and physical disabilities, substance abuse, and the effects of homelessness and trauma”. The evolution over time of Cogswell Hall mirrors the changing understanding and needs of the community it serves.
Cogswell Hall Our History. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://cogswellhall.org/who-we-are/our-history.html.
Cogswell Hall Mission and Values . Accessed September 12th 2020. https://cogswellhall.org/who-we-are/mission-values.html.
Dubelko, Jim. Cleveland Historical: Cogswell Hall . June 14th 2017. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/803.
Embrescia, Kendall. Cogswell Hall Celebrates 100 Years of Helping Local Women, Cool Cleveland . Accessed September 12th 2020. https://coolcleveland.com/2014/03/cogswell-hall-celebrates-100-years-of-helping-local-women/.
Holznagel, Hans. EXPANSION WORKING OUT WELL 10 YEARS LATER -- EVEN WITH MEN, cogswellhall.org. April 17th 2019. Accessed September 12th 2020. https://cogswellhall.org/news-media/blog.html/article/2019/04/17/expansion-working-out-well-10-years-later-even-with-men.
Western Reserve Historical Society
Emerging Ambassadors of Cogswell Hall Facebook Page