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The Wonderful Women Behind Boys Republic

Generous gifts of a 211-acre farm, schoolhouse, dormitories, and multi-purpose buildings mark women’s visible contributions to early Boys Republic. Notable mother and stepdaughter Mrs. Margaret Fowler and Miss Kate Fowler augmented these gifts with less visible contributions to neglected, at-risk youth. Mrs. Fowler’s rural farm provided students with invaluable lessons in honest labor and responsibility, while Miss Fowler’s founding of the Pasadena Auxiliary raised community support for Boys Republic. Tireless hours, unselfishly dedicated by less recognized women, also served disadvantaged youth. Mrs. Virginia Pease Hunt remains an underrepresented board member and founder in Boys Republic history. Her progressive views of active, student-centered learning influenced Boys Republic’s motto “Nothing Without Labor” and student self-governance. Women’s philanthropy—visible and invisible, recognized or unrecognized— is critical to the existence of Boys Republic.

Given women’s generous investment in the organization, it isn’t surprising that many played a more personal, intimate role with Boys Republic’s youth. While women’s auxiliaries fund raised in the community, they sought to enrich youths’ experiences by creating a wholesome environment on campus. Pasadena Auxiliary members fashioned bedding, curtains, and rugs to decorate dormitories, and served as relief housemothers to mostly orphaned children. Employing their domestic skills to renovate John Brewer dormitory, Ontario Auxiliary volunteers fulfilled its sewing and mending needs. Ontario’s women also provided support and company for the boys by hosting holiday gatherings that included goodies, sweets, and conversations with them.

One of today’s female philanthropists expresses her personal service through a familiar domestic practice—baking cooking—with Boys Republic students. Mrs. Linda Brown visited students with her friends in 2011, marking the first time many of the teenagers baked cookies with an adult. Mrs. Brown and her friends expanded into two groups that bake cookies on campus twice a month. The women from the local Inland Hills Church, often accompanied by friends and husbands, bring Tupperware packed with eggs, sugar, flour, colorful sprinkles and mixing bowls. Dozens of students shuffle into the dining hall to congregate with the Cookie Moms. The Cookie Moms—named for the treats they bring and the parental role they serve— mix ingredients, roll dough, and bake cookies with the boys over conversation. Lively discussion of the students’ days, their past experiences, and life at Boys Republic weaves into measuring flour, pouring chocolate chips into batter, and dusting bright confetti on shortbreads. For Mrs. Brown, “true joy comes from giving away what you have”, and what the Cookie Moms have is a supportive community for the students. The handmade Christmas blankets, the unique quilts for completing program goals, the consistent conversations over cookie dough—all are gifts of encouragement and care for students.

Liz Goldhammer