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Boys Town: It May Never Be the Same

August 19, 2000|From Associated Press

BOYS TOWN, Neb. — Boys Town, the home for troubled youth immortalized in a Hollywood movie, wants to change its name to Girls and Boys Town.

The school announced Friday that the 83-year-old campus west of Omaha will ask its residents to vote next week on the proposed name change--just as its then-all-male student body in 1926 voted to rename the home Boys Town.

"It's not a change in the name, it's an extension of the name," said the Rev. Val Peter, executive director. "We don't much believe in political correctness. We simply want to extend our welcome to girls across America."

He said girls were first in the proposed new name because officials didn't want to divide the words "boys" and "town."

When Father Edward Flanagan started the home for wayward boys in 1917, girls were not included in the charter, because of the common belief at the time that girls could be adopted more quickly than troublesome boys.

The first girls were admitted to Boys Town in 1979; today, girls make up nearly half of the 550 residents at the Boys Town campus and the 33,000 children served by Boys Town sites in 18 states and its national hotline.

"Father Flanagan started his family with only boys," Peter said. "His family has grown and grown. And now half of his children are girls. Shouldn't we extend our name to girls just as we extended our welcome to girls?"

Boys Town, made famous in the 1938 Spencer Tracy-Mickey Rooney film of the same name, hopes its new name will bolster the institution's efforts to reach more troubled girls and should not hinder its aggressive marketing and fund-raising efforts.

"The marketers have told us whatever you do, don't touch the name. It's an icon," Peter said. "I say poop on the marketers' thinking. If the kids want to change it, we are going to change it."

The new name likely will be approved by the student body when they vote Wednesday and Thursday, said Sarah Williamson-Cambridge, who was Boys Town's first female "mayor" in 1991 at age 16 and is now an assistant family teacher on the campus.

"Even people in our own backyard, in Omaha, don't realize that there are girls at Boys Town," Williamson-Cambridge said.

Originally called Father Flanagan's Home for Boys, the home's founder decided to let residents decide a new name on Valentine's Day 1926. They overwhelming approved the name of Boys Town.

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