Eva Carroll Monroe was born near Kewanee, Illinois around 1868, several years after the Civil War. Her father was a Civil War veteran who was actively engaged in African American causes that Monroe later embraced. Early in life she married twice and had a child, but after her late 20s, she remained single. A formal record of education, either public or college, has not been found for Monroe, which makes her accomplishments even more remarkable.
In 1898, she founded the Lincoln Colored Home at 427 South 12th Street in Springfield, Illinois, and in 1901, became the first African American probation officer in Sangamon County. At that time, there was a need to care for African American orphans and widows, especially those affected by the Civil War. For the next 35 years, Monroe carried out this mission despite personal, professional, financial, and racial setbacks.
Monroe's home was the first of its kind in Illinois and possibly the United States, according to local and national newspaper articles from that time. Monroe attracted well-known politicians, artists, philanthropists, religious leaders, community leaders, and government officials to her cause. In 1913, Governor Edward Dunne visited the home to celebrate 50 years of Emancipation and commented on how far African Americans had progressed in education, business, the arts, and religion. In 1904, Mary Lawrence, mother of Susan Lawrence, who owned the Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, built a new structure for the Lincoln Colored Home. The three-story, red-brick building with large windows still stands today, although it's closed to visitors.
Widows often helped care for the orphans who were served three meals a day and attended school and church. Monroe was in charge of the home, but there were other staff members to supervise the children, cook, do laundry, and perform repairs. A racially diverse board of prominent members of the community had overarching authority, yet Monroe was able to travel around Illinois and other states to recruit residents, attend conferences, and procure funding. A large portion of funding eventually came from the Sangamon County court system which sent orphans to the home with the goal of placing them in families. This continued until the early 1930s when the county could no longer fund it. The home closed in 1933.
Monroe continued to live at the house and remained active in civic organizations, most importantly, the Woman's Relief Corps and the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, in which she held local, state, and national leadership positions for half a century. In 1943 a car hit Monroe and she was badly injured, dying seven years later in 1950 when she was in her early 80s. Monroe's sister and daughter handled the funeral and burial, which was in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Gracious donors from Springfield recently provided a stone for her grave that was unmarked for 70 years. Monroe left a lasting social service legacy for African Americans in Springfield, the State of Illinois, and the country.
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