Washburn Center for Children
Establishing a culture of concern that has grown with the city
On the morning of May 2, 1878, a huge explosion at Minneapolis's Washburn A Mill killed eighteen workers, injured many more, and flattened buildings in a large area radiating from the riverfront. Mill owner Cadwallader Washburn immediately set to work rebuilding his nearly ruined business by hiring scientists to determine the cause of the explosion and by building a state-of-the-art replacement for the old mill that incorporated the latest safety features.
But something more than business was on Washburn's mind after the explosion. He became increasingly concerned about the families of workers injured or killed in industrial accidents. He died four years later, and he designated $375,000 in his will for the founding and endowment of Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. From 1886 through 1924, 942 children lived at the orphanage, located at Fiftieth Street and Nicollet Avenue, then on the outskirts of Minneapolis. The children were also given an education, both on-site and at public schools. In 1927, due to increasing costs for child care and changing community needs, the orphanage and grounds were sold to the Minneapolis Board of Education, which soon built Washburn High School on the site.
But Washburn's dream didn't end there. In response to unmet needs in Minneapolis, the organization's trustees founded the Washburn Foster Home to coordinate the placement in foster homes of "children who, because of temperament, environment, unfortunate experiences or health problems[,] required a more careful and thoughtful handling than the average agency could give." In 1951, the board of trustees again changed the home's name and mission; as Washburn Memorial Clinic, it responded to a growing need for mental health services for at-risk children.
Since 1975, as the Washburn Child Guidance Center, and through its 2007 change to Washburn Center for Children, the organization has maintained Cadwallader Washburn's original focus on children who are at the highest risk within the community.
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