Finding Home: The Ruth L. Bennett Story
During World War I, southerners poured into Chester seeking good jobs and wages. Among them were young women separated from their families, without work, food, or a place to sleep. To help them the local police turned to Ruth Bennett, who found them the help they needed. A native of Alabama, Bennett came to Chester with her husband, Reverend R. J. Bennett in 1914. Soon afterwards she and other Black women in Chester opened the Ruth L. Bennett Improvement Club “for the purpose of doing uplift work among the colored race—especially of colored women.”
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At the Ruth L. Bennett Improvement Club, members provided clothing to the needy; classes on hygiene, sewing, cooking, dressmaking, and suffrage; and religious instruction. In 1918 the Improvement Club opened the Ruth Bennett Community House for Colored Women and Girls in a house it purchased at 214 Reaney Street to shelter and care for women and girls up from the South. In 1923 it constructed a public playground. Recognizing the needs of working parents who had no one to care for their children, Bennett in 1925 opened the Wilson Nursery in an adjoining building, which became a home for orphans, deserted babies, and children taken from their homes by court order. From 1915 to 1927, Bennett also served as president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, which started clubs in Philadelphia, Coatesville, West Chester, and other towns and cities across the state. By 1940 the Bennett House had sheltered more than 2,000 girls and young women and there taught them the value of self-respect, decency, and independence. When World War II brought a new wave of southerners to Chester, the Bennett House and nursery redoubled their efforts. “Bennett girls,” as they were known, also became welders in the Sun Shipyards. President of the Chester Improvement Club for more than 30 years, Ruth Bennett died in 1947.