Guadalupe Centers, Dorothy Gallagher
In 1919, the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, an organization for affluent, white, Catholic women, founded the Guadalupe Center to help Mexican immigrants in the Kansas City area, especially focusing on women and children. However, while the concept sounds beneficial, the organization focused on the Americanization of Mexican immigrants, and included services that were condescending to the women who immigrated to Kansas City. In other words, cooking and sewing classes were offered, when the Mexican women immigrating to Kansas City were already trained in such matters. In 1926, Dorothy Gallagher, a daughter of a wealthy businessman, became the director of the Center. After visiting the homes of Mexican families, she realized the Mexican American community in Kansas City did not only want English lessons or other classes at the center. Rather, they wanted a community center for their families to gather together and solidify the Mexican American community in the city. Gallagher's family donated land to build a new Center in 1936, and Dorothy served as the director of the Guadalupe Center until 1944, when she left to assist in France during World War II. Over the decades, the Mexican American and Latinx community reclaimed the Guadalupe Center from the city's Catholic diocese, establishing services the Latinx community both needed and wanted for community building and cultural expansion.
Dorothy Gallagher Exhibit Panel located on the Second Floor of the Kansas City Museum
Backstory and Context
Dorothy Gallagher was born into a wealthy Kansas City family on January 8, 1894. From a young age, Dorothy decided she wanted to help others, and she became a teacher at the Notre Dame de Sion School. However, she felt that she could do more for the Kansas City community, leading her to enter into social work. Her move to social work led her to the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, a Catholic women's organization mostly for affluent, white women. The Agnes Ward Amberg Club had founded the Guadalupe Center in 1919, focusing on providing services for the Mexican American community in Kansas City. The original Guadalupe Center was located at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 1015 W. 23rd Street. However, while it did provide services to the Mexican community, it also sought to Americanize Mexican immigrants rather than embrace their unique culture. Overtime, the Guadalupe Center would evolve to better serve the Mexican community in Kansas City, steering away from Americanization and assimilation and towards a more culturally significant community center in later decades.
Initial changes began in 1926, when Dorothy Gallagher became the director of the Guadalupe Center. Gallagher visited the homes of the families who came to the Center, and listened to their suggestions for different classes and services offered at the Center, requesting more than just English classes and courses for Americanizing the community. The first new event was the Gran Fiesta, first held in 1926 becoming an annual event to celebrate and preserve Mexican culture among the community. The fiesta occurred on the Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe, and the funds raised went towards the Center's general operations. Other events included musical groups and folk dancing groups, among other culturally significant activities and events. However, by 1935, an expansion was necessary for the Center, but the Agnes Ward Amberg Club did not have the means to fund such an expansion. So, Dorothy Gallagher used her family's wealth to provide land for a new location, while also paying for an architect and the construction of the new Spanish-style building for the center. The new location, still in use today, opened on the west side of Avenida Cesar Chavez Street in 1936.
The Center then offered classes, clubs, sports teams, vocational training and professional guidance, as well as their annual fiesta and other events. Gallagher did not receive payment for her role as director at the Guadalupe Center, and was often referred to as the "Godmother of Guadalupe." She remained director of the Center until 1944, when she decided to go to war-torn France to provide social work. When she returned to the United States after the end of the war, she returned to teaching, becoming an educator at the University of Kansas and the College of St. Teresa, now known as Avila College. She also contributed to the founding of the local Catholic Charities and served as chair of the Jackson County Welfare Association from 1953 until 1955. She passed in 1982 after dedicating her life to social work. She is still most well-known for her contributions to the Guadalupe Center in the first half of the 20th century.
The Catholic Diocese took over the Guadalupe Center after Gallagher left her position, and the end of World War II paired with the rise of the Civil Rights movement led to changes once again in the latter half of the 20th century. By the 1970s, the diocese and the Mexican American community, and the larger Latinx community, in Kansas City had opposing ideas for the Center as it moved into the future. The Latinx community wanted leadership from its own community members rather than charity from white members of the diocese. Thus, the diocese ceased its leadership of the Center in 1978, and the Latinx community chose Tony Salazar as the new director of the Guadalupe Center. He would go on to appoint Chris Medina as director in 1980, a position Medina would hold for the next four decades.
The Guadalupe Center was thus reclaimed by the Latinx community, and worked to preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage of many Latin nations. The Center is now composed of multiple buildings and hundreds of staff members, providing healthcare services, educational programming, financial services with their on-site credit union, childcare, professional development, and various social and cultural events and clubs for the Latinx community to participate in. The Guadalupe Centers, Inc., serves as an example of an organization that was originally created to Americanize a community of immigrants that was reclaimed by the community and evolved into an organization that celebrates and preserves varying cultural heritages.
- Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., Kansas City, MO, 64123 (accessed March 8, 2022). Wall Plaques: Wall text. The Joseph Charles Cirese, Sr., and Central Bank of Kansas City Gallery, Kansas City Museum, Kansas City, Missouri.
- Kniggendorf, Anne and Lisa Rodriguez. 100 Years Ago, This Group Tried To 'Americanize' Mexicans — Now It Empowers Latinos In Kansas City, KCUR. February 29th 2020. Accessed July 17th 2022. https://www.kcur.org/community/2020-02-29/100-years-ago-this-group-tried-to-americanize-mexicans-now-it-empowers-latinos-in-kansas-city.
- Magerl, Barbara. Dorothy Gallagher, Social Work 1894-1982, KC History. Accessed July 17th 2022. https://kchistory.org/islandora/object/kchistory%3A115264/datastream/OBJ/view.
- Roe, Jason. Dorothy Gallagher, The Pendergast Years. Accessed July 17th 2022. https://pendergastkc.org/article/biography/dorothy-gallagher.
- Roe, Jason. The "Godmother of Guadalupe", KC History. Accessed July 17th 2022. https://kchistory.org/week-kansas-city-history/godmother-guadalupe.