CMSS was founded in 1898 by Alice Hartwell, who sought to provide a home and care to older adults in need. Over the past 125 years, CMSS has provided care, programming, and services to tens of thousands of older adults and their families.
Explore our history in the timeline below.
CMSS was founded in 1898 by Alice Hartwell. Alice noticed that elderly members of her congregation needed care and a place to live. In the late 1800s, no systems were in place to care for older adults – no Social Security or Medicaid support existed at the time, and families were required to take care of their aging loved ones. If seniors did not have children or a spouse who could care for them, they often needed to resort to living in the “poorhouses” of the time, which were known for their inhumane conditions.
The lack of housing and care options for older adults led many religious, professional, and social groups to create some of the earliest old-age assistance programs in the United States. At the time, it was very common for religious communities to take part in providing homes and care for older members of their faith. Alice Hartwell founded The Methodist Episcopal Old People’s Home (which later became CMSS) as part of this response to the gap in care and housing options for seniors. While we were founded by a Methodist, CMSS is a non-sectarian organization that serves individuals of all beliefs and backgrounds.
In 1898, when CMSS was officially incorporated, the organization purchased a home in Evanston (pictured above), where a group of eight women came to live. After just a year, the demand for senior housing and care increased, and the organization needed more space. The Methodist Home then moved to Chicago after William H. Bush, president of the Bush & Gerts Piano Company, gave $20,000 to construct a new building in Andersonville.
1900 – This letter was written by a reverend informing the Methodist Episcopal Old People’s Home that a woman from the congregation was seeking a place to live. Historically, it was common for houses of worship to establish ways to care for their elders.
In 1910, the Methodist Episcopal Home needed more space to address growing needs. With a generous gift from Virginia J. Kent, construction started on a new hall to create more room for residents.
1913 – This letter, stapled with a nail, was written by Mrs. R.H. Stroede to CMSS Supt. Isabelle Reeves. Mrs. Stroede had a system of donating canned fruit to the residents of the home. Once the fruit was eaten, Supt. Reeves, would send back the empty cans to be refilled. Other letters from the time reveal donors providing dozens of eggs, gifts for the holidays, and cash.
Just a decade after the construction of Kent Hall, inquiries about space in the buildings became so numerous and urgent that the Home began construction of another building – Swift Hall, with a generous gift from Mrs. G.F. Swift.
1940 – This photo of residents playing checkers and other board games was likely taken in the 1940s. The residents are seated in Kent Hall, replaced by a redevelopment in the 1970s.
In the late 1940s, Margaret W. Miller left $175,000 to the Methodist Home in her will. She stipulated that the money had to be used to construct a new building.