Flanner House

Flanner House provides services and resources to sustain and empower individuals in order to build a self-sufficient community. Established in 1898, Flanner Guild, as it was then called, began as a settlement house for African Americans in Indianapolis, part of the nationwide social reform movement. White mortician Frank Flanner donated the original building on Rhode Island Street (now Colton) near Indiana Avenue. Although white Hoosiers started and helped fund the organization, middle-class African Americans, particularly women, took on active leadership roles, including a group of female schoolteachers who made educational and cultural improvement pillars of the organization’s mission. In 1912, the settlement’s name changed to Flanner House.

Growing Pains (1900-1930)

The early activities of Flanner House developed in response to the steady growth of an African American population in Indianapolis after the Civil War and during the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, as thousands of African Americans fled the rural South for northern cities. The increasing population magnified the difficulties facing the black community regarding housing, employment, living conditions, and health care. Over time, the organization became one of Indianapolis’ major social service agencies for African Americans, a population largely excluded from using mainstream support structures. In 1918, the organization relocated to buildings on north West Street. Operating within a system of racial segregation and inequality, Flanner House offered employment assistance, such as training women to work as domestics and laundresses.

Self-Help and A Helping Hand (1936-1975)

Self-help formed one of Flanner House’s key principles from the beginning, but it became a cornerstone of the organization’s mission under the leadership of Dr. Cleo Blackburn, who served as director for some forty years between 1936 and 1975. In 1944, Flanner House moved to 16th and Missouri streets. There, the organization’s services consisted of social services, employment help, health, self-help programs, and housing. Sample programs included sewing and woodworking classes, day care, a self-serve cannery, and a co-op store. To provide preventative health care, the Herman G. Morgan Health Center opened just south of the Flanner House building.

In 1950, Flanner House established Flanner House Homes, Inc. a self-help housing project, to provide low-cost family houses to offset the severe housing shortage caused by Indianapolis's de facto segregation practices. While holding full-time, mostly middle-wage jobs, men in the selected families worked together to build their new homes in their free time. Only 181 houses were constructed in a 178-acre redevelopment area between 10th, 16th, West, and Milburn streets, where the city had razed a so-called “slum,” displacing hundreds of people.

A Community Place (1976-present)

In the 1979, Flanner House moved to its current location on Martin Luther King Jr. Street, where it continues to “empower families and individuals to move from instability to self sufficiency.” The humble, seventies-style building houses a child development center, a senior center, and a program for working families as well as the Flanner House Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. You’re more than welcome to stop in at the library to browse the shelves, ask the library staff questions, or take advantage of the free Internet.

Images

Flanner House

Flanner House

Built in 1979, the current Flanner House, located at 2424 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, contains a child development center, a senior center, and a program for working families as well as the Flanner House Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. Photo Credit: Photo by Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Lee Nettleton View File Details Page

1905 Baseball Team

1905 Baseball Team

Flanner Guild baseball team on August 18, 1905. Flanner House offered recreational and community-building activities as well as social services. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society | Creator: Indianapolis Recorder, August 18, 1960 View File Details Page

TB Clinic, 1920

TB Clinic, 1920

African American women, their children, and clinic workers, in front of the Flanner House Clinical Building. At this time, most Indianapolis medical facilities refused to treat African Americans, leading to a higher mortality rate among infected African Americans than whites. Therefore, Flanner House provided medical services, like the free tuberculosis clinic pictured here on December 14, 1920. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

1922 Flanner House

1922 Flanner House

Flanner House building on north West Street, ca. 1922. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Records, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Pat Ward's Bottom

Pat Ward's Bottom

The city government, having allowed the neighborhood of Pat Ward™s Bottoms to reach this dilapidated state through neglect, decided to raze the so-called “blighted” region and redevelop it. Flanner House purchased the land for its self-help housing project, but only a handful of the area™s previous tenants were accepted into the program. The rest of the residents were displaced and Flanner House Homes built fewer than 200 houses, hardly enough to solve the housing crisis. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. View File Details Page

Aerial view, 1953

Aerial view, 1953

In 1944, Flanner House headquarters opened at 333 W. 16th Street. The Herman G. Morgan Health Center, located directly south of Flanner House on Missouri Street, was constructed in 1945 and treated a range of health programs for children and adults. Running east and west at the top of the photo, 16th Street is vertically bisected by Missouri Street. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Records, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

John White, 1950

John White, 1950

John White, the first recipient of a Flanner House Home, and his daughter breaking ground on for the Flanner House self-help housing project on August 24, 1950. Mr. White, a World War II veteran and double amputee, worked 1812 hours to build his family™s home. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Records, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Home Construction

Home Construction

Three men building a Flanner House Home, ca. 1950. A more complete home appears in the background with a sign reading, “This work to be done under a no-lien contract between owner and principal contractor. Owner, Flanner House Homes, Inc.” The homes typically took a year to complete as the prospective homeowners worked their full-time jobs before working on their houses. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Collection, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

New Flanner Homes

New Flanner Homes

Two of the Flanner House Homes with the downtown Indianapolis skyline. Visible in the background are (from left to right), a smokestack, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the Merchants National Bank (with broadcasting tower), a water tower (possibly on the Real Silk building), and the Indiana Statehouse dome. Flanner House Homes Historic District is listed on the National Register and among the current top 10 most endangered Indiana landmarks. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Records, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Flanner House Director Cleo Blackburn and Eleanor Roosevelt during her visit to Flanner House on November 14, 1957. The former First Lady was a fierce political activist for racial and gender equality and devoted much of her life to philanthropy. (Of course, animal rights were not much of a concern in the 1950s, as is obvious from Mrs. Roosevelt™s wardrobe.) Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Flanner House Records, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Cannery, 1956

Cannery, 1956

The Flanner House cannery, at the 16th Street location, provided the facilities for community members to preserve the food they had grown and the opportunity to learn canning. The cannery was just one manifestation of Flanner House™s self-help philosophy. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: O. J Fox Collection, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Brittany D. Kropf, “Flanner House,” Discover Indiana, accessed July 28, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/16.

Share this Story