Early advocate for the blind lived on this block near Rockhurst


The home of Catherine Hale, known for her work to help the blind in Kansas City, stood at the northeast corner of Forest and Rockhurst.

A recent Google maps view of the block.

A few of the homes the block between 51st and Rockhurst from Forest to Tracy, including one where an early crusader for the blind lived, have been replaced by buildings associated with Rockhurst University. However, most of the bungalows and other single-family residences stand as they have since the early 1920s, a decade after Rockhurst was established and this block just to its south began attracting families.

As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at each block in Midtown, including a set of 1940 tax assessment photos which is available for many blocks. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).  Today, the block between 51st and Rockhurst from Forest to Tracy.

“The Ministering Angel to Kansas City’s Blind”

 In the 1930s and 40s, the James Hale family lived at the corner of Rockhurst and Tracy. Mr. Hale was known as an superintendent of Cudahy packing plant, and son Richard was recognized as a Rockhurst and University of Kansas basketball player. But it was Mrs. Hale, Catherine, who left the greatest mark on the city.

Catherine Hale, the daughter of a Nebraska pioneer, had a brother who was blind. She taught him to play bridge and to dance as well as anyone, but she saw the problems he and others had finding year-round employment.  In 1911, Mrs. Hale helped found the Kansas City Workers for the Blind, which maintained the Catherine Hale Home for Blind Women at 2718 Tracy.

The group also operated a broom factory downtown. A Kansas City Star article on Oct. 4, 1925 sang her praises for dedication to the cause.

A blind man who lived with his family in Kansas City, Kansas, in very humble circumstances, told Mrs. Hale how much he would love to work in the factory and become self-supporting, if there only were some way to get there each day. Mrs. Hale found an empty home next to the factory building, which could be obtained for a pittance. She arranged to have the blind man move his family there, but the place had to be cleaned first.

She called a worker from the Helping Hand. He arrived, took one look around, and walked straight out the front door.

“Where are you going?” Mrs. Hale demanded.

“Back on the streets, he answered. “This place is so dirty I won’t touch it.”

Mrs. Hale’s friends were appealed to, but they likewise refused to try to attempt such a cleaning job.

“Very well,“ Mrs. Hales said at last. “I’ll clean it myself.”

And she did – the blind man moved in the next day, and since has got firmly on his feet and is one of the most outstanding workers for the cause of the blind in Kansas City.

Other residents of this Troostwood neighborhood

On the northwest corner of Tracy and Rockhurst, the Edward D. Hanley family lived in the 1920s and 30s. In 1939, the family deeded its home over to expanding Rockhurst University. For a while, it became a dormitory where the school’s football players lived.

Other residents included The Louis Becker family at 5100 Forest, who lived there for two decades. Mr. Becker was a fish dealer.

The slideshow below shows the rest of the homes on the block as they looked in 1940.

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 Historic photos courtesy Kansas City Public Library/Missouri Valley Special Collections.

 Do you have memories or more details about this area of Midtown? Please share them with our readers. Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.

 Our book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. 

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