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Valentines and Voting Booths

February 11th, 2016     By Tom Lynch, Director of Community Programs and Boys Town Hall of History 

Boys Town History, Father Flanagan, Village of Boys Town

Valentine’s Day has always been special at Boys Town, but it was especially true in 1926. It was Election Day at the Home, and the outcome ushered in a new era.

Boys Town founder, Servant of God Father Edward Flanagan, was a big believer in civic responsibility. He wanted the children at the Home to be good citizens and learn about the law and government. He advocated a form of self-government that gave boys a voice in the rules that governed their Home.

On February 14, 1926, the boys had their first chance to participate in the democratic process by voting for commissioners who would help Father Flanagan set rules and make certain decisions for the Home. To prepare for the election, the boys formed two political parties—the Square Six Party and the Wise Six Party.

The Wise Six Party was comprised mostly of older boys, and they used their muscle to sabotage the Square Six Party by preventing them from having musical instruments or posters at their campaign rallies. The older boys were in charge of the Home’s Print Shop and Music Room, making it easy for them to undermine their political rivals.

When Father Flanagan learned about their shenanigans, he gathered all the boys together and explained the importance of having fair and honest elections. Within hours, the Square Six Party had regained access to the musical instruments and everyone agreed to make posters for both political parties.

In the days leading up to the election, candidates gave speeches and held rallies in hopes of being elected a commissioner. On the day of the vote, the Election Commissioner and his assistants managed the voting process in a professional and legal manner. Every boy, along with Father Flanagan, was eligible to vote. When the votes were tallied, two members of the Wise Six Party and four members of the Square Six Party were elected. Father Flanagan attributed the surprising result (no one expected the younger boys to win a majority of the commissioner positions) to better campaign speeches.

The newly elected commissioners’ first official act was renaming Overlook Farm. Father Flanagan wrote this about their decision, “The first change the boys were to make was the name Overlook Farm to Boys Town, and the rest of us who had lived here and battled to preserve that good old name, around which were associated our hopes and sorrows, had to bow our heads in submission to the new order of government, and today we are the citizens of Boys Town.”

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