In the Beginning: A Church for Crewmen
Cincinnati Union Bethel – affectionately referred to as CUB – began in 1830 on a riverboat along the Ohio River, with the objective of providing a “means of grace and moral improvement to boatmen and those residing in the river vicinity.” A group of men, mostly clergymen, united to offer religious services and literature to the thousands of crewmen who passed through Cincinnati. That’s why the agency is called Cincinnati (its location) Union (to represent the group) Bethel (which literally means a church for sailors).
The agency soon moved to a location along Front Street, above a saloon and near gambling houses. (A façade of this original location is on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the exhibit recreating Cincinnati’s Public Landing in the 1850’s. The original brass bell that was used to call the men to services is also on display at the museum.)
Recognizing that sailors’ families needed as much care as the sailors themselves, in January 1839, the first Sunday School was organized and the commitment to the education of children was born. The Sunday School grew steadily until, in 1870, it numbered 3,500 pupils and 80 teachers! At one time, it was the largest Sunday School in the world under one roof. The Bethel Ladies Aid Society was formed in 1860 to provide assistance to the hundreds of poverty-stricken children who attended Sunday School at CUB, and it consolidated with CUB soon after its formation.
As the agency grew, it increased its outreach and it became clear that the agency needed more space. By May 1871, a building had been erected on Front Street between Sycamore and Broadway, that was able to host all the activities of CUB (except Sunday School), including a men’s dormitory, sleeping quarters for women, a temporary shelter, dining room, and religious services.
CUB’s success continued, with Sunday School attendance exceeding 70,000 people per year, and with over 2,200 free lodgings and 8,200 free meals given annually in the late 1890s.
First Free Kindergarten
In 1901, a new director, Henry M. Wright, shifted the focus of the organization to social work. CUB established the first free kindergarten, and when his successor took over in 1902, CUB began to offer dental and health services to school children free of charge. Not long after this addition, a day nursery was also opened to care for children of employed mothers.
The Anna Louise Inn and Housing for Women
In the early 1900s, young women from rural areas were coming to Cincinnati to work and could not find suitable housing. Often the cheapest rooms were in undesirable neighborhoods, or landlords would charge more because women required a sitting room for guests in addition to a bedroom, a separate bathroom, and more security. Recognizing a need for affordable and safe housing for women, the agency, then under the direction of James O. White, turned to the Tafts, long-time supporters of CUB. Mr. and Mrs. Charles P. Taft donated the site on the corner of Third and Lytle Streets and helped provide funding to erect a five-story building to accommodate 120 women in single rooms.
The Anna Louise Inn, named after the Taft’s daughter, Anna Louise Taft Semple, opened on Memorial Day, 1909. The Inn was filled to occupancy on its first day. The demand was so great for this kind of housing that the waiting list grew to 100. Mr. and Mrs. Taft helped again, donating property along Pike Street and an addition to the Inn was complete in 1920.
Outreach to Youth and Neighborhood Services
Over the next twenty years, CUB continued to meet the community’s needs. During World War II, they added after-school care for children of parents who were employed in defense work, and in the early 1950s, CUB began to be supported by Community Chest and Council of Social Agencies funds. The agency also made an agreement with Christ Church for it to provide the religious services and Sunday School in CUB’s place.
In the 1960s, the Anna Louise Inn celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the social service component of the organization was now considered separate from the operation of the Inn, under the direction of an executive director. The mission of the agency was still to help people help themselves.
In that vein, CUB’s social services expanded into the Millvale and North Fairmount neighborhoods with the establishment of community and youth councils in 1962. Camp Washington, Fay Apartments, Winton Place, Winton Hills, and South Cumminsville joined the list of communities served by CUB by 1966, and a new emphasis on lowering school drop-outs, unemployment, juvenile delinquency, and parent-child and marital relationships emerged.
In the 1970s, CUB opened a medical center in Winton Hills, started running day camps for youth, and established a relationship with the Terrace Guild. In March 1978, CUB was fully accredited by the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers. By 1979, CUB’s Child Development Center in English Woods was so successful it merited a recommendation for Head Start funding.
From the 1980s through today, CUB’s focus has been on the firm establishment of its Head Start programming. Today the early childhood education program is the agency’s largest program, with four preschools on the west side of Cincinnati that offer a curriculum that prepares children for kindergarten.
Off the Streets
In October 2004, a planning team made up of over 30 people from 20 different agencies began meeting to talk about how to help women with solicitation charges who were cycling through the justice system. The women would serve their time and leave jail with no new skills and no new options, leading them to go back to the only life they knew: on the streets. With CUB as the lead agency, Off the Streets started in 2006, offering support for women trapped in a life of victimization. The program helps the women turn around their lives, and it eases jail overcrowding and saves the community money in jail and prosecution costs.
Since 1830, CUB has been proud to provide social services for the men, women, children, families, and communities of Cincinnati. CUB had the first free kindergarten before there was a public school system. CUB had free legal services before Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio existed. And CUB had free medical services before the Health Department was created. CUB’s rich history demonstrates a commitment to innovation that responds to what is going on in the community to help people reach their greatest potential.