Smile Politely

A brief history on the amazing work of Frances Nelson

The Museum of the Grand Prairie, which is a facility of the Champaign County Forest Preserves, continues to do such amazing and powerful work, and its post about the history of Frances Nelson, for whom a piece of our public health clinics are named, is no exception. From their Facebook post: 

 Ever heard of the Frances Nelson Health Center, and wonder, “Who is Frances Nelson?” Sometime between 1940 and 1942, Frances Nelson began to open her home at 105 East Church Street in Champaign to African American children in need. First she offered them an evening meal, later she boarded children whose mothers were working, and eventually she fostered children around the clock. In 1955 hers was one of only three licensed homes in the state of Illinois where black children were routinely accepted for care. According to the 1955 Daily Illini, while Cunningham Children’s Home said it was open to all children, it had never provided a home for a black child. In 1948, when Nelson wanted to purchase a home, she asked the Optimist’s Club for a loan. The Optimists went one step better and raised the money to build a new home at 1306 Carver Drive, specifically designed to house children. It opened in August 1952. They continued to support her efforts throughout the 1950s. Ms. Nelson passed away in 1961. After her death several people worked together to create a community health center, which began in her former home and was named for her. It was formally established in 1969. One source said, “Nelson welcomed children with open arms and put a roof over their heads. She encouraged them to become outstanding members of the community.” Nelson fostered hundreds of children and helped thousands more. Thank you, Frances Nelson.

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