Edith Baillie was born in Saginaw on May 18, 1884 to John and Roberta Baillie. She graduated from the East Saginaw High School and moved to Detroit to live with her aunt who ran the Franklin Settlement house. Edith became interested in social work through her aunt. Joe Louis was one of the boys residing there.
In 1931, the Service Club in Saginaw (later the Junior League), became involved with starting a community center in the First Ward for workers immigrating to Saginaw. The Service Club helped finance the center and volunteers helped with what the center needed.
Edith returned to Saginaw at the suggestion of Dr. Martha Longstreet and took over the responsibility as director of the First Ward Community Center in 1936. The First Ward Community Center was located at the Cotton Club building at 1340 N. Washington Avenue later moving to the present location on 12thStreet. The center became a second home for thousands of youngsters and adults. Edith was an advocate of good behavior from everyone. One of the fixtures in the center was the green bench where one had to go for “rule breaking.”
Edith was instrumental in helping place Saginaw minorities in their first jobs. She worked to abolish discrimination at all levels with support from the community. She led the fight for better housing and helped bring running water to that part of town. One of her residents was Edward Hodges, who she encouraged to take the Civil Service exam. Edward got a job with the federal government and went on to become vice president of Michigan Bell Telephone. He was also the first African American to win Saginaw High School’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Edith believed “Everybody should have a chance to get to the top of the ladder…to get what he is capable of getting…to own a home where he can afford to live.” The First Ward Community Center held numerous classes to teach the residents what life skills they needed such as cooking, conduct in various social occasions, nutrition and child care classes and metal working. In 1949 a grant from the C.K. Eddy Fund enabled the center to construct the Eddy Field House for the residents to play sports like boxing, tumbling and wrestling. Today the classes include theatre, life skills, science technology and new math.
Among her many awards was a plaque from the American Legion Post 312 for her contribution to the good life, the Civitan Club Award and the Dale Carnegie Club Award. In 1957, an elementary school on North 23rd Street was named the Edith Baillie Elementary School after being unanimously voted on by the Saginaw Board of Education.
Dr. Archer Claytor who she had recruited to come to Saginaw was one of the people congratulating her. When the Claytors arrived in Saginaw they were welcomed with a banquet which Edith remembered for the rest of her life.
Edith never married, the children at the center were her family and she was known in Saginaw as the “spirit of First Ward Community Center.” She structured her life to teach others how to be loved and respected and one of her most important achievements was her lifelong work for human rights and equal opportunity. Her real reward though was knowing that she had helped her residents secure their places in government, business and industry by improving their lives. She was a lifelong member of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.
In 1965, Edith retired after 29 years of service in the First Ward Community Center. She had planned to stay for one year. Succeeding her as director was Ruben Daniels who had been a resident of the center. Her accomplishments were summarized by John Currie when he announced her retirement. “She has been mother, tyrant, leader, inspiration and irritant to hundreds and hundreds. Her name is secure. Her contributions to people, character and a city are beyond enumeration.”
Edith Baillie died December 30, 1975 and was inducted into the Saginaw Hall of Fame in 2016.
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