156 Years of Serving Chicago
Threads of compassion woven into the tapestry of Chicago Since 1867.
Olive Branch Mission
is strategically engaged in creating opportunities for life transformation, growth, development and
restoration of individuals, families and communities,
preserving human dignity, improving quality of life, and achieving
enduring self-sustainability and self-determination.
A Most Valued Partner with
The City of Chicago
Department of Family & Support Services and
US Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Olive Branch Mission is not only the oldest Rescue mission in the City of Chicago, it is also the oldest in the United States. The earliest beginnings of the mission date back to 1867. The Olive Branch newspaper “The Olive Branch” is in its 123rd year of publication making it the second oldest continuously published news publication in Chicago after the Chicago Tribune.
Founder Rachel Bradley began Olive Branch Mission by offering sewing classes to prostitutes, providing them with an alternative source of income. Early on she fought hard against a growing proliferation of prostitute houses which were known to purchase and enslave very young girls (even 8 to 12 years of age) into lives of prostitution. She touched their lives with a very genuine love and true message of hope. She expressed her belief that, given an opportunity, such ‘special women’ could overcome guilt, shame, pain and the most incredible challenges and struggles. Records indicate that the ‘Ladies of Olive Branch Mission’ successfully closed taverns, saloons and prostitute houses through their remarkable community activism. It wasn’t long before the ministry grew to include homeless men, women and children, further expanding to include the dire needs of alcoholic and addicted men and women who existed on the fringes of society.
Olive Branch Mission was founded and led by courageous Free Methodist Women who dared to minister where most would not go. Historical records recount their travels through Chicago’s streets and alleyways at all hours of the day or night, during the worst of weather to care for the hungry, homeless, sick and dying. These dedicated mission women regularly ministered in Cook County Jail and Cook County Hospital. They fought their social battles up on Christian principles and challenged every social ill that raised its ugly head.
The Mission was founded historically at the crossroads of Chicago’s greatest time of need. This was the time not long after the American Civil War, when large numbers of emancipated southern African American individuals and families moved to Chicago seeking employment in hopes of building a new life; a time when waves of European immigrants came to Chicago in search of fulfilling ‘their own American Dreams’; a time when nearly one third of Chicago’s residents were rebuilding their lives after the ‘Great Chicago Fire.’ For so many, it didn’t work out as they had planned. Sadly, many souls found themselves in desperate circumstances on Chicago’s ‘skid row.’
At this very moment in history and for the ensuing generations across Chicago, for anyone who might just find themselves on the front lines of pain, failure, rejection and broken dreams, indeed it was for each hurting person and family that the Olive Branch Mission was founded. Just as it was then, the same policy of Christian hospitality continues today –“no one is turned away.”
In a rapidly re-emerging city, Olive Branch Mission was addressing the spiritual and physical needs of a very poor and homeless population. The mission applied an aggressive outreach emphasis toward developing intentional relationships with those who were broken, cast aside and rejected by society. Olive Branch Mission has consistently resisted an approach of condescending compassion as it has cared for individuals and families in need. Rather, it has always tried to affirm the dignity and value of each and every person, no matter their condition or immediate circumstances.
Wars, economic depression and civil unrest came and went, as did social, political and theological theories about poverty’s causes and cures. Through it all, Olive Branch Mission has endured and to this day remains steadfast, carrying on an unwavering commitment to those who have lost their way. In the streets, in the alleys, under isolated bridges and in abandoned buildings is a wealth of lost human potential and resources. Olive Branch Mission declares that it can be reclaimed and restored. In fact, for the very sake of humanity – it must. In caring for and helping someone who has lost their way, we indeed are caring for a part of ourselves.
Olive Branch Mission is in the business of human development, providing opportunity for recovery, restoration, reinstatement and re-entry unto productive life. Olive Branch Mission remains a place where lost, injured, broken and desperate lives can freely, safely and unconditionally receive help, love and care.