John J. Finlay Papers

Dates: 1933-1945
Size: 0.5 linear feet
Repository Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center, Special Collections, 400 S. State St., Chicago, IL 60605
Collection Number: C00101
Provenance: Donated by Barbara Donahue, daughter of John J. Finlay, in 2000.
Access: No restrictions.
Citation: When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is: John J. Finlay Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections, Chicago Public Library
Processed by: Emma Lipkin; supervised by Johanna Russ, July 2018

Historical Note

John J. Finlay was an active board member of several social service organizations in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s. He was deeply involved in a variety of groups all over the city, but much of his work was done on the North Side with civic committees and the North Side Boys Club. He also sat on the board of groups like Big Brothers, the Off the Street Club, and the Serra Club of Chicago. However, it is perhaps most important to note his involvement with the umbrella organization of many of these groups, The Chicago Area Project.

The Chicago Area Project (CAP) was founded in the 1930s by Clifford Robe Shaw, a sociologist from the University of Chicago. He worked with several other University of Chicago sociologists and the Illinois Institute for Juvenile Delinquency to set up the foundation for CAP. It was Shaw’s belief that there were no psychological reasons for delinquency in youths, rather that it stemmed from the environment and the community in which they were raised.

In creating CAP, Shaw hoped he could lower rates of delinquency by cleaning up neighborhoods, increasing community engagement, and working directly with youths labeled “delinquents.” This process began by plotting the home addresses of kids labeled delinquents, and targeting areas with the highest number. Once there, he recruited residents of the community to run the committees in their areas. These leaders organized workshops and programs, and CAP’s three community committees rose in number steadily throughout the decades. By the 1960s CAP was able to expand beyond the city, and moved into the surrounding suburbs, again recruiting leaders native to the areas.

Besides helping the kids stay out of juvenile detention centers, CAP and its affiliated organizations set out to disprove the common idea that children born and raised in low-income areas were not as smart or capable as their high-income counterparts. CAP wanted to show that when presented with the same opportunities as other kids, these children were equally successful.

CAP still exists in 2018 and continues to be an umbrella organization that oversees and aids community-run committees in and around the city. Although it has been updated in ways that account for modern knowledge of child psychology, it still follows Shaw’s original idea that community engagement can keep children out of detention centers.

Scope and Content

This collection chronicles the early work of several social service organizations through the experience and leadership of board member John J. Finlay. It contains documents and letters that catalog the Chicago Area Project’s (CAP) work as well as the work done by other social service organizations in the 1930s and early 1940s. This includes correspondence between Clifford R. Shaw, John J. Finlay and others who contributed to CAP around the city, such as committee and religious leaders. Also appearing in the collection are publications, budget reports, by-laws, annual reports, meeting minutes, pamphlets and research materials used to create the earliest committees of CAP. Also included is information on committees around the North Side, the North Side Boys Club and involved religious groups. The information in these documents chronicles the progress and challenges faced in the early years of these organizations and committees.


Files have been organized alphabetically by name of organization.

Related Materials

Subject Headings

  • Chicago Area Project
  • Community organization
  • Juvenile delinquency

Container List

Box 1 Folder 1 Big Brother Association - John J. Finlay Correspondence, 1933
Box 1 Folder 2 Chicago Area Project - John J. Finlay Correspondence, 1935-1944
Box 1 Folder 3 Chicago Area Project - Publications, Budget Reports, By-Laws, Annual Reports, Minutes, Plans, 1938-1945
Box 1 Folder 4 Chicago Area Project - Research Materials, 1937-1943
Box 1 Folder 5 The Chicago Catholic Charities - Pamphlets, 1942
Box 1 Folder 6 Chicago Federation of Community Committees - Chicago Community fund Allocations to Group Work Agencies, 1944
Box 1 Folder 7 Lower North Community Council, 1936
Box 1 Folder 8 Near West Side Civic Committee - Committee Report, 1944
Box 1 Folder 9 North Side Boys Club - John J. Finlay Correspondence, 1937-1945
Box 1 Folder 10 North Side Boys Club - By-Laws, Research Materials, 1938-1944
Box 1 Folder 11 North Side Civic Committee - Letters and Publications, 1936-1937
Box 1 Folder 12 Off the Street Club, 1938-1945
Box 1 Folder 13 Russell Square Community Comm. - John J. Finlay Correspondence, 1943
Box 1 Folder 14 Serra Club of Chicago - John J. Finlay Correspondence, Newsletter, 1942-1943
Box 1 Folder 15 West Side Community Committee – Pamphlets, 1941
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