Isaac Woolf knew how to celebrate Thanksgiving. For twenty-five years Woolf, president of Woolf's Clothing House ("the store with a horseshoe over the door and the Palmer House across the way")hosted a Thanksgiving "Newsboys' Dinner." In 1882, when Woolf began the yearly tradition, 100 "ragged and hungry little guests" were served. By 1905, the year before Woolf unexpectedly died at the age of 54, over 10,000 of Chicago's hungry poor were enjoying the feast.
Like just about everyone else in Chicago, Isaac Woolf came from somewhere else. He was born in London, England on January 3, 1853, but when Isaac was quite young, his father brought the family to America. They first settled in Lafayette, Indiana but it was difficult going and the family struggled. Isaac wanted to help so he landed his first job - as a newsboy. He had other jobs, but never forgot his studies. He was even able to eventually attend business college. There were several years in Cincinatti learning the clothing business before he came to Chicago where in 1880 Isaac, along with his brothers Edward, Benjamin and Harry - opened their own store on Madison Street. Ten years later the store on State Street and Monroe was launched.
But, Isaac Woolf never forgot his roots and the newsboys' dinner became his favorite philanthropic effort. It cost him about $5000 a year for the turkey and all the trimmings that went with it, but Woolf considered it money well spent. The Chicago Tribune described the November 27, 1895 event (click on for readable image):
There is no question that Isaac Woolf was a good man, but he was also a businessman. Every year the newsboys' Thanksgiving dinner was featured in his clothing ads:
On October 22, 1906, Isaac Woolf was found dead in his home at 3431 Michigan Avenue. He was buried in Rosehill Cemetery. Of the funeral service the Chicago Tribune noted that, "It is probable that newsboys will turn out in large numbers."
Newsboys Surviving with photographs from the Chicago Daily News
Street Life (Encyclopedia of Chicago)
For more Thanksgiving reading, check out the following sites:
Article Source: Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1906, "Newsboys' Friend Dead"
Woolf's Clothing House picture (top, left): Library of Congress; c. 1904; 704 N. State Street
"Thanksgiving Gent" cartoon by John T. McCutcheon; Library of Congress. Published December 1, 1916 in Chicago Tribune