Flanagan, Edward Joseph

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Founder of Boys Town; b. Roscommon, Ireland, July 13, 1886; d. Berlin, Germany, May 15, 1948. He came to the U.S. in 1904 and received his B.A. degree at Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, MD, in 1906. After a year at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, NY, he attended the Gregorian University in Rome, but lung trouble obliged him to return to the U.S. He later studied theology at Innsbruck, Austria, where he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Omaha, NE, July 26, 1912. Although he had no formal training in social work, his solicitude for derelict men prompted him to open his Workingmen's Hotel in Omaha in 1914. He became convinced that rehabilitation must begin during the impressionable years of youth and that environment was more vital than heredity, and he discarded the hotel in 1917 in favor of a protectory for unfortunate boys. In 1922, after establishing two temporary homes, he purchased Overlook Farm, ten miles west of Omaha, where he founded the present Boys Town.

Boys Town incorporated many of Flanagan's ideas for the rehabilitation of youth. His familiar adage, "there is no such thing as a bad boy," expressed his conviction that except for organic disorders, man is not born with maladjustments, but sometimes develops them because of extrinsic factors. The varied academic, vocational, and recreational facilities that he established were designed as a corrective for deficient environment. Although he made no attempt to proselytize among inmates accepted from all religious, national, and racial groups, religion played a significant part in his program of self-government under mature tutelage. Flanagan possessed a rare talent for capturing the public imagination, and was universally recognized as an authority on juvenile delinquency. In 1947, at the invitation of the supreme commander of the Pacific theater, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he visited Japan and Korea to assist their governments in meeting complex youth problems. He was in the process of conducting a similar mission to central Europe when harassments by communists in Austria hastened his untimely death from a heart ailment.

[h. w. casper]