On December 12, 1917, in Omaha, Nebraska, Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year-old Irish priest, opens the doors to a home for troubled and neglected children, and six boys enter to seek a better life. Flanagan, who previously ran the Workingmen’s Hotel, a haven for down-and-out workers in Omaha, understood that mistreated or orphaned children were at high risk of turning to delinquency and crime in later years.
The location of what would become known as “Boys Town” rapidly filled up with the arrival of additional children. Many were sent by local courts, others were referred to the home by citizens, and some wandered off the streets and through the home’s unlocked doors on their own accord. In the spring of 1918, no space was left in the drafty Victorian mansion at 106 North 25th Street, so Father Flanagan, assisted by sympathetic citizens, moved Boys Town to a building 10 times the size on the other side of town. The vacant building was the German-American Home, which, with the U.S. declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, had become the most despised building in the city.
Within months, enrollment at Boys Town had soared to more than 100 boys, and a school was established that later grew into an institution with a grade school, a high school, and a career vocational center. Before the new building was four years old, more than 1,300 neglected boys from 17 states had passed through Boys Town. In 1921, Boys Town expanded again with the financial assistance of the people of Omaha, this time to a farm 10 miles west of Omaha. The institution remains at this site today and has changed its name to “Girls and Boys Town” to reflect its co-ed enrollment.