Friendly Inn was founded in 1874 by members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to provide a liquor-free gathering place for the residents of poor neighborhoods. Among its founders were Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Horatio Ford, Mrs. Flora Stone Mather, and Mrs. George Worthington. They were members of the WCTU, a movement which was active in the establishment of settlement houses during that era. Originally called the “Temperance Coffee House and Lunchroom,” Friendly Inn was one of the city’s first settlement houses, and today is the longest continuously serving settlement house in the United States.
The charitable work of members of the WCTU resulted in the establishment of multiple locations of the Friendly Inn within Cleveland at 634 St. Clair Street, 34 River (W. 11th) Street, and 71 Central Place. These affluent women reportedly left their coachmen and drivers, setting out on their own to mingle with the poor, pass out food, and read passages from the Bible. Friendly Inn, and other settlement houses, encouraged those who spent time there to read and learn other skills. Groups like the WCTU would eventually become the spokespeople for the Prohibition era, and evolved to become the Women’s Philanthropic Union. Endowment from the WPU has been a continual source of revenue for Friendly Inn, supplemented by program grants and private donations.
In its earliest days, donations from early supporters such as John D. Rockefeller and Stephen V. Harkness, co-founders of The Standard Oil Co., allowed Friendly Inn to move into a three-story building located at Broadway and Ohio Street. By 1880, there were five locations throughout Cleveland. In 1888, managers consolidated services in a new building at the corner of Broadway and Ohio streets (522 Central Ave.) In 1894, the organization faced a financial crisis and administrators engineered a plan to raise the necessary funds to provide its services to the poor: the creation of the Woman’s Edition of the Plain Dealer. Through negotiations with the managing editor, 200 women contributed to the process of writing and distributing the first edition of the fundraising newspaper on January 24, 1895.
In contrast to many other settlement houses in Cleveland and the United States, Friendly Inn refrained from practices of segregation and kept its doors open to African-Americans. Friendly Inn was the first settlement house in Cleveland to operate with an interracial staff, and by 1942 the organization was celebrating “Negro Health Week.”
Between 1950 and 1970, the demographics of the neighborhood in which the Friendly Inn operated switched from a primarily European immigrant to a predominantly African-American population. In response to this change, Friendly Inn created programs that specifically addressed issues faced by African-Americans. It provided employment training, housing assistance, and hosted G.E.D classes to combat the increased rates of high school dropouts.
Over the years, Friendly Inn further consolidated operations into a building on Unwin Road. In the early 2000s, the organization undertook an ambitious fundraising effort and built a new state-of-the-art headquarters next door to its long-time location. This allowed Friendly Inn to enhance its service offerings and build toward the future.
Today, at 145 years young, Friendly Inn serves the people of Central and Fairfax communities with programs that include a 5-Star Early Childhood Enrichment Center; numerous individual and family support programs; after-school youth programs; and a food bank. Committed to helping improve people’s lives one person at a time, Friendly Inn also provides college excursion opportunities to inspire young people to do well in school and have the motivation to attend college.