Saluting our Founding Women!

art therapy workshop in 1950s or 1960s

Saluting our Founding Women!

Back in the early 1950s, when the suburbs on Long Island were rapidly expanding, very few mental health services were available, especially for children. In many families, issues such as depression and anxiety weren’t spoken about openly. In fact, they were considered shameful.

But not everyone was ignoring the reality that young people needed help. 

The vast majority of the founders of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center were women. In this National Women’s History Month, we’d like to celebrate some of those who were pioneers in recognizing the need for an agency such as ours on Long Island and turning the dream into a reality.

In 1952, Annabelle Bagdon and Beatrice Cohart began a research project looking at other guidance centers around the country and trying to identify possible financial backers for the creation of a guidance center here in Nassau County.

One year later Ruth Blank, who became the first president, attended a meeting that’s come to be known as the historic start of the “North Shore Child Guidance Association.”

With the help of others, these women reached out to the community to teach them about the agency in a report called “A Year of Work is Over.” The report went far in educating the community about the need for mental health services in the new suburban climate, fighting against the stereotype that mental health problems were confined only to the underprivileged or poor.

Fundraising was a difficult task, but this group of (mostly) women were determined. By 1956, they managed to raise $20,000 – worth a lot more in 1956 than today. Mae Addelson, who would later serve as president, led the membership drive.

On March 6, 1956, the Guidance Center opened on a part-time basis as the first independent community-supported mental health clinic in Nassau County, headquartered in Great Neck.

Bea Cohart was instrumental in the launch of the Guidance Center’s newsletter, called Guidelines, which still exists to this day.

Another leader was Doris Salzberg, a board member who served as the chairperson of the Art Festival, which began in 1956. Joan Salzman learned of the Guidance Center through this festival, and later went on to become president of the board.

Ruth Blank and Laura Kaplan are two other early Guidance Center women of distinction, starting the Community Conference, mental health workshops that were popular for more than 25 years.

Another hero: Nancy Marks, a devoted donor who brought famed anthropologist Margaret Mead to speak at an overflow crowd at the Great Neck South Junior High School in 1970.

In 1974, the Guidance Center named Marion S. Levine as its director. She served in this role through 2006, helping the Guidance Center become the preeminent children’s mental health organization on Long Island.