Our History

CELEBRATING 100 YEARS

 

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The Infant Welfare Society oStoreFront sign 1f Chicago was created by concerned volunteers in response to an alarming infant mortality rate—at the turn of the last century, one out of every ten children died before their first birthday.  The Chicago Milk Commission was established in 1908 to combat the consumption of unpasteurIzed milk, a common cause of infant death.  The Commission set up “milk stations” for dispensing free fresh milk to mothers of infants.  In 1911, some of the volunteer nurses, physicians, and women from throughout the city who worked at these stations formed IWS and expanded their work to include examining vulnerable infants and educating mothers about infant care.  At that time, IWS volunteers made more than 40,000 home visits a year.

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By the end of 1912, IWS’s work contributed to the reduction of the Chicago infant mortality rate from 109 per 1,000 live births.  In 1913, the IWS Auxiliary was formally established to support the work of the organization by volunteering at the stations, making home visits, raising funds, sewing clothes, and even donating iceboxes.  Today, the 750-member Auxiliary continues with a support base that spans the city and many suburbs.  As the century progressed, IWS continued to respond to the escalating demand for health care with innovative and quality services.  In the 1920s, IWS was one of the first public health organizations in Chicago to institute mental health services.  In 1950, it achieved national recognition for instituting a preschool program for emotionally disturbed children.

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Rising costs and administrative difficulties related to operating more than twenty local stations led the IWS Board of Directors to conclude that the agency could expand and deliver more state-of-the-art health care services more efficiently by consolidating its operations in one facility.  Stations in neighborhoods with other service resources were gradually closed, with their patients making the transition to the new facility that opened at 1931 North Halsted Street in 1970.  Dental care was first offered at this location in 1972, modernized in 1985, and expanded to six exam chairs in 1990.  The 1991 renovation of this building doubled IWS’s usable clinic space.

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Since that time, IWS has continued to develop and refine its programming in response to patient needs.  Gynecological, prenatal, and general health services for women were combined into our Whole Women’s Wellness model in 1995.  In 2002, IWS began offering Healthy Steps, an early childhood development program based on a national best practices curriculum.  IWS is a unique urban provider of Healthy Steps services and now enrolls all mothers receiving prenatal care at IWS in the program.  The continuum of care is our ideal, one that we see shaping our philosophy of care and patient treatment plans as we move into the future.   As the demand for services increased and the patient population moved farther west, Infant Welfare Society of Chicago relocated to a new, larger facility.  In April 2005, IWS opened the doors of the Angel Harvey Infant Welfare Society of Chicago Community Health Center in the heart of the west Logan Square community, where patients have easier access to the services provided by IWS.