Board of Pardons and Parole
Board of Pardons and Parole, Kansas City, Missouri (1908-09)
By: John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
(Note: Participants in this local organization were instrumental in the creation of the nation’s first Department of Public Welfare in Kansas City, MO.)Billikopf As A Young Man [View Image]
Billikopf As A Young Man
In 1908, shortly after Jacob Billikopf moved to Kansas City to head up the Federation of Jewish Charities, he became involved in a variety of non-sectarian civic projects and philanthropies. Due to the deplorable conditions in penal institutions, the Mayor of Kansas City, Thomas Crittenden, asked Billikopf to serve as Chairman of a Commission and undertake a study of the area’s correctional institutions and submit to him a list of recommendations on ways to improve conditions.
The Mayor also asked Billikopf to recommend two additional members to serve on this Commission. It is significant that one of the persons Billikopf strongly recommended was William Volker, a successful entrepreneur in the shade and linoleum business. As a result of the thorough inquiry into the conditions of the area’s penal institutions, the Commission recommended that the large workhouse where “…prisoners were kept in a state of idleness and demoralization” be demolished. In its stead, the Commission recommended: 1) establishment of a Municipal Farm; and, 2) the creation of a Board of Pardons and Paroles to oversee the Farm. The recommendations were accepted by the Mayor; and, at Billikopf’s urging, William Volker was appointed Chairman of the newly created Kansas City Board of Pardons and Paroles. Billikopf was appointed Vice-Chairman and Frank P. Walsh was appointed General Counsel.Billikopf's Certificate of Appointment to Board of Pardons and Parole [View Image]
Billikopf’s Certificate of Appointment to Board of Pardons and Parole
In September 1909, the Kansas City Board of Pardons and Paroles appointed Leroy Allen Halbert as the Commission’s paid Secretary. Later that same year, during a severe economic depression, it was announced that a parade of unemployed men were planning to go to city hall and demand some sort of help or relief from the Mayor. Halbert, William Volker and Billikopf learned of the proposed parade and they arranged to meet with Mr. E. T. Brigham, Superintendent of the Helping Hand Institute, to discuss a plan to help the unemployed. The Helping Hand Institute, established in 1894, was originally a rescue mission for homeless men and runaway boys. During the winter months, it also served as a refuse for the temporarily unemployed. In the winter of 1909, the Institute was managing a stone quarry in the city’s Penn Valley Park under the auspices of a committee representing a variety of local charitable and civic groups. The Institute used homeless and unemployed men currently living in their sleeping quarters to quarry and break rock. The Park Board bought the rock from the Institute at a dollar a yard and used it for making streets and boulevards. The men who worked in the rock quarry were paid in script redeemable at the Institute for meals, groceries, lodging and clothing. With a days work a man could earn enough for a few days room and board. A city official at the time characterized this arrangement as the “best investment” of its kind Kansas City ever made.
William Volker was also a member of the board of the Helping Hand Institute and he was helping to finance the rock quarry operation. With Volker’s and Billikopf’s support, E. T. Brigham and Leroy Halbert went together to meet Mayor T. T. Crittenden and suggested to him that the city meet the demands of the unemployed by expanding the rock quarrying operations, thereby allowing some of the unemployed to have paid work. The Mayor accepted the suggestion and announced the plan to the unemployed who were pressing for help. Volker and a Mr. Pearson were appointed to be a committee overseeing the new operation; shortly thereafter, they met and recommended to the Mayor that he enlarge the committee into a commission charged with considering the duty of the city toward helping the poor and the unemployed and to design measures to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of more poverty and unemployment.
The Mayor then appointed a body of prominent and representative community leaders with experience in dealing with social problems in the city and they set to work on this assignment. Volker stepped up and offered to finance a study tour to be undertaken by Halbert and Charles A. Sumner, the secretary of the City Club. Their charge was to visit large cities all over the country and learn what was being done in those cities to deal with poverty and the unemployed. From the findings of their reports and their own ideas about what to do, the commission then set out to devise a plan to create a new agency: The Department of Public Welfare of Kansas City, Missouri.
Sources: Documents and photo of Jacob Billikopf are from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Photo of Leroy Halbert was contributed by Mary Mall, one of his granddaughters.