There have been many Chicagoans who have spent their lives caring for the less fortunate; Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Louise de Koven Bowen are just three of the well-known individuals who worked to make the lives of the poor better. But, a person you may not know is one whose spirit and example is particularly notable this holiday season.
From: History of the Chicago Tribune, 1922
In December, 1909, The Tribune received a letter from one of its readers, who asked that his letter be printed in The Tribune without disclosing his identity. The original Good Fellow is still anonymous, but his letter initiated a movement which makes many thousands of children of the poor happy each Christmas. The famous Good Fellow letter as it appeared in The Tribune of December 10, 1909, follows:
To the Good Fellows of Chicago:
Last Christmas and New Years' eve you and I went out for a good time and spent from $10 to $200. Last Christmas morning over 5,000 children awoke to an empty stocking—the bitter pain of disappointment that Santa Claus had forgotten them. Perhaps it wasn't our fault. We had provided for our own; we had also reflected in a passing way on those less fortunate than our own, but they seemed far off and we didn't know where to find them. Perhaps in the hundred and one things we had to do some of us didn't think of that heart sorrow of the child over the empty stocking.
Now, old man, here's a chance. I have tried it for the last five years and ask you to consider it. Just send your name and address to The Tribune—address Santa Claus—state about how many children you are willing to protect against grief over that empty stocking, enclose a two-cent stamp and you will be furnished with the names, addresses, sex, and age of that many children. It is then up to you, you do the rest. Select your own present, spend 50 cents or $50, and send or take your gifts to those children on Christmas eve. You pay not a cent more than you want to pay—every cent goes just where you want it to go. You gain neither notoriety nor advertising; you deal with no organization; no record will be kept; your letter will be returned to you with its answer. The whole plan is just as anonymous as old Santa Claus himself.
This is not a newspaper scheme. The Tribune was asked to aid in reaching the good fellows by publishing this suggestion and to receive your communication in order that you may be assured of good faith and to preserve the anonymous character of this work. The identity of the writer of this appeal will not be disclosed. He assumes the responsibility of finding the children and sending you their names and guarantees that whatever you bestow will be deserved.
Neither you nor I get anything out of this, except the feeling that you have saved some child from sorrow on Christmas morning. If that is not enough for you then you have wasted time in reading this—it is not intended for you, but for the good fellows of Chicago.
Perhaps a twenty-five cent doll or a ten cent tin toy wouldn't mean much to the children you know, but to the child who would find them in the otherwise empty stocking they mean much—the difference between utter disappointment and the joy that Santa Claus did not forget them. Here is where you and I get in. The charitable organizations attend to the bread and meat; the clothes; the necessaries; you and the rest of the good fellows furnish the toys, the nuts, the candies; the child's real Christmas.
A corps of clerks are kept busy during the six weeks preceding Christmas each year distributing to Chicago Good Fellows the names of poor children whose cases have been checked by Chicago charitable organizations. If any names remain untaken on Christmas Eve, their owners are supplied with toys and Christmas cheer by The Tribune. Newspapers in other cities have taken up the Good Fellow idea until it is quite impossible to estimate the amount of happiness generated as a result of the publication of the above letter in The Tribune.
Good Fellow started a movement that was to endure and spread to many other cities such Cleveland, Fort Worth and New York. But, who was the man who embodied such Christmas spirit?
(From: The New York Times, March 3, 1928)
A short biography from the 1908 Blue Book of the State of Illinois:
FITCH, EDWARD C, (Representative, Republican), of 6328 Monroe avenue. Chicago, lawyer, was born in Vandalia. Il. April 2, 1862 and educated in the public schools of Alton. Il., and graduated from the University of Indiana. He served as county superintendent of schools of Edwards county and as trustee of the Southern Illinois Normal. He was appellate court attorney for the city attorney of Chicago. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Psi College fraternity and a Knight Templar Mason. He is a widower; was elected to the House In 1900.
The Journal remembers Edward C. Fitch this Christmas season; the original Good Fellow.
Recommended reading:Philanthropy (Encyclopedia of Chicago)