Latinos in Kansas City: A Westside Scrapbook
Kansas City’s thriving Hispanic and Latino community, which today comprises 10% of the city’s population, began taking shape in the late 1800s, when the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads hired Mexican laborers for construction in the Southwest and those workers and other immigrants moved north on the rail lines to KC. A second influx came in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, bringing refugees in search of escape from the upheaval and a better life in the United States. Many found work in the rail yards, stockyards, and in the city’s meatpacking plants, and settled on the west side. But they were met with discrimination, poverty, and a lack of social services.
In response, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City asked the women’s Agnes Ward Amberg Club in 1919 to establish a settlement house primarily for the Mexican immigrants. Named after the patron saint of Mexico, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Center provided health care, schooling, and other services to the community’s impoverished families and initially was located in the rectory of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It moved in 1936 to what is now 1015 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez.
From 1926 to 1944, under the leadership of Dorothy Gallagher, the “Godmother of Guadalupe,” the center expanded its offerings to include English classes, boys’ and girls’ clubs, adult education classes, and home economics. Translators were employed to help residents gain admittance to the city’s General Hospital, apply for jobs, and understand the American legal system. The Guadalupe Center became the neighborhood’s cultural, social, and religious anchor.
Life there from the early to mid-20th century is documented in photographs, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other materials in the extensive Guadalupe Center Collection, donated by longtime Guadalupe Center Director Dorothy Gallagher and the center and housed in the Kansas City Public Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections. A selection of those items makes up the Library’s first online exhibit, Latinos in Kansas City: A Westside Scrapbook, and focuses on the more than two-decade period from the end of World War I to America’s entry into World War II.
All photos in the Guadalupe Center Collection can be viewed at kchistory.org.
Founded by the Agnes Ward Amberg Club in 1919, the Guadalupe Center was housed in the rectory (at right) of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe until 1936. The church is at left.
A newspaper story on the Guadalupe Center described it as "the center of all the joys, sorrows, problems, loves and hates of this mixed Spanish-Indian people … a place of entertainment, of education, of play and sport, of music, of health service, and of every branch of human activity." Dr. Thomas Draney, in the middle photo, worked in the Child Health Center that opened in 1928.
Dorothy Gallagher, center, served as the Guadalupe Center’s resident director from 1926-1944. Born into a wealthy Kansas City family, she worked without pay, donated generously from the family’s fortune, and became known as the Godmother of Guadalupe. Persons to her left and right are identified as John Long and Addie McKliney.
Dancers and musicians in traditional costume at the October 1936 opening of the Guadalupe Center’s new, Spanish Mission-style facility.
Two women in traditional garb inside the Guadalupe Center’s new facility at what is now 1015 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez.