Ten years before the creation of the March of Dimes, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth established the Little Flower Crusade for the Physical Correction and Education of Crippled Children. While those of us familiar with the history of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth will recall the sisters’ work with pediatric orthopedic patients suffering from polio, clubfoot, and spina bifida, fewer of us know about the fundraising behind that work. While the begging days of the pioneer sisters were well behind the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, procuring funds for special ministries remained a formidable challenge in the early 20th century. In this case, the sisters sought money not only for medical treatment, but also for educational and social opportunities for crippled children. They envisioned a future in which these children would be fully integrated into society, and they needed financial resources to make that vision a reality. Little did the sisters know, however, that they began their fundraising campaign on the eve of the Great Depression.
The records of the Little Flower Crusade in the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Archives indicate that the sisters pursued a diversified fundraising strategy, seeking donations from multiple sources to ensure that crippled children’s needs were met. A primary tactic was direct mail, which we know today as “junk mail.” Direct mailings offered lay people membership in the crusade for $0.50 (later $1.00) annually or $25.00 for a lifetime. A radio spot was also recorded and sent to broadcasters with a request for air time.
Of course, print and sound media can only do so much to build philanthropic relationships. The Little Flower Crusade partnered with local circles of the Daughters of Isabella, a Catholic women’s charitable organization, to broaden their base of support. Evidence suggests a number of wealthy Catholic women on Chicago’s North Shore provided patronage and volunteer labor to the Little Flower Crusade. The sisters also received generous backing from the Daughters of Isabella headquarters in Connecticut.
Last but not least, the Little Flower Crusade employed coin boxes in their fundraising. “Penny boxes” were placed at store counters in Chicago and Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, we do not have any record of the relative success of the coin collection boxes or the duration of their use.
The Little Flower Crusade operated for about twenty years. It is unclear why the operation ceased, although the rise of other polio-related charities may have made the crusade redundant. With post-war America’s eyes clearly fixed on the containment and prevention of polio, the time was perhaps right for the sisters to direct their attention to a new critical and unmet need. Nevertheless, the Little Flower Crusade was itself an important ministry, carrying on the Vincentian tradition of engaging the well-resourced and well-enough resourced in the care of the poor.