I wrote about some of the program’s early days back here in a 2013 four-part series, but this new series will cover its history from its inception to the late 1960s, when the program underwent a major change.
Anyway, for the past few years, the Morning Journal has boiled down the history of the program to a single paragraph: “Rhea Soper Eddy was a journalist at the Journal, precursor to the Morning Journal, when she started the program back in 1924.”
But it’s a much richer story than that, to be found only in vintage editions of the Journal itself.
The earliest Journals available on microfilm at the Lorain Public Library reveal that the paper’s Christmas charitable efforts predated the Mary Lee Tucker program.
In December 1922, the paper launched its Good Cheer club. The front page of the paper’s December 11 edition introduced the program, which had the goal of collecting used toys that would be distributed to children who otherwise would not receive any gifts.
Surprisingly, I could not locate any mention of a Journal-sponsored Christmas charity effort for 1923 or 1924 (the year of the tornado) in its pages. Perhaps some behind-the-scenes work was done by its staff, but there was no publicized, front page Christmas charity program during those two years.
Fortunately, the Journal itself shed some light on how the Mary Lee Tucker program got started in an article that appeared in the June 21, 1955 edition. It attributes the program to a Journal staffer whose name has been lost to time.
The article noted, “The Mary Lee Tucker department of The Journal was organized in 1924, the idea of a Chicago woman then a member of the editorial staff of the newspaper.
“Naming the department Sally Joy Brown, she later discovered that name was being used by a western paper, was copyrighted and could not be used by The Journal. Mary Lee Tucker was the second choice.
“Work of the department at the beginning consisted mostly of obtaining clothes for needy persons. Even though this was before the depression of 1929 and the 30s, there was a need for this kind of help.
“When the Chicagoan left The Journal a short time after organizing the department, her work was turned over to Mrs. Katie Hayes. An elderly woman, Mrs. Hayes was a long time Lorain resident well qualified to do the work since church and civic activities had acquainted her with the people she contacted.
“Six families were helped in the first Christmas program conducted by Mrs. Hayes. She gathered clothes from her friends, solicited toys from merchants and asked various groups for baskets of food.
“About a year later Mrs. Hayes moved to Florida, became ill and died. After her death Mrs. Rhea Soper Eddy, then The Journal’s courthouse reporter in Elyria, took charge of the department and remained in the position until her death Jan. 16, 1950.”
Next: Rhea Soper Eddy talks about her early Mary Lee Tucker work.
To donate to the Morning Journal’s Mary Lee Tucker Clothe-A-Child program, click here.
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