There was a need and she filled it.
In 1926, Harriett Blanche Jones, a Kindergarten teacher, founded Friendship Children’s Center, originally named Friendship Nursery. Harriett’s teaching career began in 1903 when she started her first kindergarten in Toledo, Ohio. In the early 1920’s, Harriett traveled to England to study and learn about nurseries at Mather College in the slums of London. Upon returning to the states, she took a job teaching in the Rochester City School District. In 1926, Harriett resigned from the RCSD, along with fellow teacher Edna Edson, to start Friendship Nursery.
When Friendship Nursery was founded, they did not have a permanent home. One of Harriett’s responsibilities was to find locations to operate the nursery. From 1926 to 1940 Friendship relied upon the generosity of the Rochester community. The outreach during this time was amazing. Friendship’s first home was in the basement of a church on the corner of Hudson Avenue and Winslow Street, which is no longer standing. During the fall and spring months, the nursery would lease space from the Sunshine Rotary Camp and Three Lakes Camp in Durand Eastman Park. Winter months were spent in portable classrooms at the Nathaniel Hawthorne School and Susan B. Anthony School, church basements and storefronts; and summer months were spent at school playgrounds.
Harriett knew a permanent home was needed for Friendship Nursery and raising money for a building became the mission. Donations came from members of the community, businesses and organizations. Ms. Jones was very creative and raised funds by placing small cardboard banks in businesses and through the Democrat and Chronicle’s Uncle Dan’s Birthday Club. A significant donation was sent by Miss Grace Owen of Manchester England; who was the former president of Mather College. Many elaborate and special benefit events were held in the Nursery’s honor.
When Friendship Nursery opened in 1926, tuition was about $.10 per day, or what the parent could afford to pay. Harriett felt that parents needed to contribute any way they could to establish a sense of pride; if parents could not afford to pay the full tuition, they paid what they could and would volunteer their services to the Nursery. Harriett would meet with the parents on a semi-annual basis to reevaluate their income and budget to make sure what they paid for tuition was fair to the family and the Nursery.
Children were admitted to Friendship Nursery based on their needs; if both parents worked, the mother was ill, there appeared to be unwise training in the home or incompatibility of parents the child was admitted. The child was also admitted if he/she was an “only child” or to provide socialization skills. The Department of Welfare was helping to fund children at this time.
When the doors of 310 Fernwood Avenue opened in 1940, enrollment was about 50 children. Children were arranged into three groups based on their ages. Group A was children ages 4 ½ to 5, Group B was ages 3 to 4 and Group C was for children ages 18 months to 2 ½ years. Half of the basement was used as a dining room and the other half was used as a play area for the older children. The director’s office was located in the basement with plans to move it to the main floor. On the eastside of the main floor was the kitchen and a nap and play area for the younger children. The Westside of the main floor was used for storage with plans to turn it into another play, nap and dining room.
Children were met with a nurse or doctor upon arrival to Friendship Nursery to ensure they were in good health. If the children were unhealthy they were sent home. The Nursery had an isolation room for children who became sick during the day, to help control the spread of germs. Daily doses of Cod Liver Oil were given to the children, except during the summer months.
The children were served a hot meal, family style every day. Sample lunches served to the children were:
- Mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, apple and raisin sandwiches, peaches and cookies
- Macaroni with tomato and corn, celery sticks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit cup and cookies
- Spanish rice with hamburger, creamed carrots, cabbage and raisin sandwiches, applesauce and cookies
Play equipment at Friendship Nursery consisted of peg boards, paint boxes, paper, color cubes, pencils, a small slide, some blocks, picture books, scooters, doll carriages, a teeterboard and small tables and chairs. The Nursery also had a piano where the children would gather to sing during music time and when the teachers were getting ready for lunch.
Over the years Friendship received donations from many clubs and organizations, which allowed them to remain open. When the Nursery first opened, volunteers were sent to cook meals and teach the children. Food contributions were sent from local dairies and bakeries and food points were used at The Genesee Valley Trust Co.
Some of the income for the Nursery came through contracts with the Lady Home Journal and other magazines. Telephone workers would use Friendship Nursery as their project and sell magazine subscriptions in Friendship’s name. The Nursery received $.25 for every subscription sold and made an average of $100.00 a month.
During WWII, Friendship Nursery received funds from the Federal Works Agency through the Lanham Act Grant, which allowed for funds to provide care for the children of working mothers. In 1946, the Nursery was approved for membership in the Council of Social Agencies and began receiving funds from the Community Chest, which is now known as the United Way.
Once Friendship Nursery became part of the Community Chest, they were named as one of the 5 Red Feather Childcare Centers, along with Rochester Childfirst Network and Hillside Children’s Center. The symbol of a red feather been a foundational part of the United Way history, representing virtue and good deeds since the days of ancient Egypt.
Harriett founded Friendship Nursery for the purpose of providing an enriching, educational experience, adequate preparation for school and a safe and healthy physical environment. Her other mission was to strengthen the home by eliminating friction and strain produced by inadequate incomes, to prevent the separation of mothers and children by enabling one parent families to work and support their family and to provide a group experience for children who particularly need it. Her vision is still being honored today.