Sigrid Craig – Mother of Philadelphia Block Captains

Sigrid Craig, the founder of the "Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up" campaign -- initiated an urban environmental partnership between the City of Philadelphia and its residents. (Photographer and date unknown. The photo is part of the PMBC archive)
Sigrid Craig, the founder of the “Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up” campaign — initiated an urban environmental partnership between the City of Philadelphia and its residents. (Photographer and date unknown. The photo is part of the PMBC archive)

In honor of Mother’s Day…

In 1938, Sigrid Craig saw a woman throw garbage out of a third-floor window into the yard below. In an interview years later, Craig recalled her response. “I had heard about big cities being filthy, but I said, ‘This isn’t going on here,’ and I started a committee.”

Craig organized the Better Philadelphia Committee, a group of community activists, to visit as many blocks as they could and designate a single person on each block to coordinate cleanups and beautification projects. Craig would help organize house meetings to publicize their campaign, which evolved into the Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign.

A house meeting in September, 1956 for the "Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up" campaign. The photo is from the PMBC archive. Unfortunately, the name of the block captain, the location and residents are not known.  (Photographer is unknown)

A house meeting in September, 1956 for the “Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up” campaign. The photo is from the PMBC archive. Unfortunately, the name of the block captain, the location and residents are not known. (Photographer is unknown)

Former Mayor Edward Rendell described the official reaction to Craig’s door-to-door crusade in a speech delivered to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Initially, her unstructured and open call for cleanliness was met with disdain. However, Mrs. Craig was able to organize a small group of concerned citizens to champion her cause and join her in urging local government to develop a workable solution.”

Craig, who was also called Mrs. Philadelphia, had a no-nonsense reputation.  “I can get tough when I have to,” her obituary quoted her as saying. “And since I’m not paid, I can be as nasty as I want, but I rarely have to be.”

By the mid-sixties, Philadelphia Streets Department took over Craig’s committee and renamed it the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee. By then, Craig’s committee had registered 3,000 block captains to participate in semi-annual clean-ups.

Street cleaning trucks flush Broad Street with a new type of foaming detergent, as the Department of Streets brought in the City's annual Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign. Shown in photo P701156 are, from left: Leo K. Gallen, Chief of the Department of Street Cleaning; Mayor Bernard Samuel, Mrs. Walter Craig and C.P. Jarden, co-chair of clean-up week. (Photo by Joseph J. Conley, taken May 23, 1950 and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. )

Street cleaning trucks flush Broad Street with a new type of foaming detergent, as the Department of Streets brought in the City’s annual Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign. Shown in photo P701156 are, from left: Leo K. Gallen, Chief of the Department of Street Cleaning; Mayor Bernard Samuel, Mrs. Walter Craig and C.P. Jarden, co-chair of clean-up week. (Photo by Joseph J. Conley, taken May 23, 1950 and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. )

Sigrid Craig died in 1988. She was 97 years old.  Dawn Woods, PMBC Administrator, never met her, but strives to carry on Craig’s legacy. Woods believes that clean streets create a higher quality of life for Philadelphians.  Today there are 6,600 registered block captains. Woods says, “I believe that the crime rate and some of the issues that we have in our neighborhoods would be less if we could get everybody to participate in at least cleaning and loving where they live.”

 

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