Art education, art gallery, youth development, family services, mental health services, satellite locations
“I promise to do all I can to help the needy and suffering by working for them, learning about them, giving for them, and trying to interest others in them.” -Pledge of Mattie Rhodes and the Little Gleaners
From its rich Hispanic culture today, to its vibrant Irish, Swedish, German, and English working-class of its past, the Westside has a place for all of us. Upper-class high-society living just down the street from us common folks. It’s always been like this. More than 115 years ago, a young lady who went by the name of Mattie Rhodes noticed this juxtaposition of Westsiders and decided to try to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Since then, the Mattie Rhodes Neighborhood Center, located at 1740 Jefferson St., has been a staple in the development and support of the Westside—all thanks to her dying wish.
Born in 1871, Mattie Florence Rhodes devoted her life to the care of others. During her short life, having died at the age of 19 from typhoid fever, Rhodes spent a majority of her time with nine other young women who named themselves “The Little Gleaners.” The group was named after the people who are historically known to pick up leftover crops after the farmer had collected them. The Little Gleaners used this name with the idea that they were picking up the people whom society had forgotten. The girls pledged to do all they could to help the needy and suffering. As a part of the Sunday school class at Central Presbyterian Church, The Gleaners started sewing clubs to help provide the children’s hospital with clean linens and clothes for the poverty stricken families. The ladies would sew and sell gingham aprons at a meager 25 cents a piece and potholders for seven cents to help raise money for supplies. They also hosted fashionable lawn socials.
At the time of young Mattie’s death in 1890, she pledged her life savings of $500, which would be more than $13,000 today, to her friends to help keep their efforts rolling. Four years later, the Little Gleaners founded the Mattie Rhodes Memorial Society in honor of their dear friend and leader. The first social issue on their list was to tackle the need of childcare for working mothers who were unwed or whose husbands either left, passed away, or were unable to work. In 1896, the first free daycare in Kansas City opened to cater to single mothers in the workforce. Before anyone knew it, the Mattie Rhodes Memorial Society became a hot topic in Kansas City and the group started hosting an annual charity ball, which became the most “brilliant social event” in the city. The Society even received nation-wide attention throughout the early 1900s when actress Julia Marlowe and world-renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler performed for different fundraising events.
Much like the ever-changing Westside, the Mattie Rhodes Society often changed to accommodate the needs of Westside families. With the coming of World War II, Mattie Rhodes opened the Lighton Social Club, a place for teens to socialize, relax and dance to the jukebox. Originally located at 1734 Jefferson St. in what is a limestone, Victorian-style two-story house, the center is now located right next door in a modern building with clean lines and bold colors. What started out as a society to support children of working mothers, turned into a society that supported families as a whole. During the Great Depression, the center provided food, shelter and overall support to suffering families.
In the 1950s, the center started providing social and mental health services, extending services to African American families. By the 1970s, the center opened its doors to families of all backgrounds and ethnicities. In the 1980s, the Mattie Rhodes Art Center opened to allow children a creative escape after school.
Today, located in a vine-covered, red brick building at 975 W. 17th St., within walking distance from the main center on Jefferson Street, laughing children covered in paint can be found in the patio area that adorns a bright, golden sun at the entrance. The kiddos can exhibit their art at the Art Gallery next door. The center also has multiple satellite locations on both the Kansas and Missouri sides. The Mattie Rhodes Centers are providing more services than ever for Kansas City. From family services dealing with substance abuse or domestic violence to cultural arts including art education and collections, the Mattie Rhodes Center can be a home for all walks to life. The center also provides mental health services, youth development to help children develop into healthy, both mentally and physically, adults.
Little did young Mattie Rhodes know the influence she would make in the Westside after her untimely death. The Mattie Rhodes Neighborhood Center continues to thrive to this day. Cheers to another 115 years!