The Pittsburgh Foundation

1950s: Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice AssociationNurturing the Future

In the 1950s, as now, the Children’s Home focused on infant adoption. Mark Place, now 65, was one of those infants. He was adopted in 1954 by Ruth Place, who died last year. Mark remains deeply involved with the Children’s Home, volunteering his time and providing strategic guidance. Photo from Children’s Home archives.

Deanna Garcia

By Deanna Garcia
Deanna Garcia is a communications officer at The Pittsburgh Foundation.

As seen through mainstream popular culture images, this decade was depicted as a time of prosperity, with an emphasis on family values and community harmony. 

Reality, however, was not so upbeat. Discrimination against minorities and women was endemic in American life; millions of Americans struggled in poverty, and there were few safety net programs for individuals and families in need. Since its inception in 1945, Foundation head Belfour continued to lead the community philanthropy in confronting these and other intractable problems as they manifested themselves in the city. The Foundation’s donors and program staff began applying resources to organizations assisting those who were affected.


Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice Association Fund

IN 1954, the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice Association Fund, a longstanding charitable fund dedicated to ensuring the health of babies, came to the Foundation.

The organization it supported was founded in 1901 to supply struggling families with milk and ice, so that infants might thrive. A 1907 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story cited the “local bureau of health,” which reported that nearly 50% of babies born the previous year died before reaching their first birthday. Often, the cause of those deaths was recorded as “impure and improper diet.” The Milk and Ice Association stepped in to supply milk and educate families on proper preparation. “Mechanical ice boxes” didn’t appear in the American market until 1915, and home refrigerators remained a luxury item until the 1940s.

In 1923, 417 local families were benefitting directly from the Milk and Ice Fund, and thousands more attended “mothers’ meetings” held in public locations. These meetings educated new and prospective mothers on care of their babies.

By 1954, infant mortality from malnutrition had dropped significantly, and the Milk and Ice Association turned to The Pittsburgh Foundation to direct its assets of $13,000 to Allegheny County charitable agencies dedicated to the care of babies and children, and to children’s physical health and welfare.

The most recent grants from the now$1.7 million fund still honor that intent. In 2015, a $45,433 grant went to establish the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, serving the neonatal intensive care units in southwestern Pennsylvania. The MAYA Organization, which offers prenatal education and support, trauma-informed counseling for women in the Allegheny County Jail, and adoption services, received a $50,000 grant in 2018 to expand the prenatal parent program. That same year, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC received $24,098 to train lay health educators to deliver its “Baby Basics” curriculum.

1954

  • The Pittsburgh Foundation helps establish WQED, the nation’s first public television station, which went on to produce award-winning local programs, including Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

1955

  • The Foundation celebrates its 10th anniversary with an announcement that it wants to double assets over the next decade, a goal it surpassed.

1957-1958

  • The Pittsburgh Foundation dramatically increases its grantmaking by 131%, from about $188,000 to about $435,000. This is due, in part, to $161,000 collected and distributed to the School District of Pittsburgh for the School for Handicapped Children and to $804,000 in new gifts along with $576,000 in new funds.

1959

  • The Fort Pitt Museum Fund is established with a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The fund’s purpose is the promotion, study and  acquisition of items of historical interest for public display at the site of Fort Pitt. The most recent grant, in 2019, was used for the purchase of an 18th-century British trade gun.

Original story appeared in the Forum Quarterly Winter 2020.