By The Decades

1905 to 1919

Victor M. Watkins, who was financial secretary and close advisor to the Wilder family, became the first president of what was then called the Amherst H. Wilder Charity in 1905. He served in that role until his death in 1921.
Motivated by the will of Fanny Spencer Wilder, the first childhood daycare program in the country is created in 1911. Also influenced by Mrs. Wilder’s will is the creation of The Wilder Baths and Pool, which opens in 1914. The program is designed to meet the needs of the many Saint Paul residents without adequate bathing facilities. It includes 85 shower baths and a 35- by 70- foot swimming pool. The baths are operated for 60 years.
The first Research project to survey housing conditions in the city is conducted in 1917. Wilder researchers visit more than 5,000 dwellings that are home to approximately 22,000 people. Published results describe housing conditions as a "menace to the health, safety and privacy of thousands of Saint Paul people." The controversial findings contained in the report generate enough support and calls for action from the public to cause the enactment of the first Saint Paul housing ordinance in March 1918.
Among the most interesting of the earlier Wilder programs are the Wilder Health Centers which operate between 1917 and 1924. Neighborhood preventive health centers promote better health by offering services in medical care, corrective gymnastic classes, athletic teams and social clubs.

1920 to 1929

The Wilder Dispensary begins operation in July 1924. The Dispensary offers free medical and dental care to persons without financial resources and is staffed by some of the best doctors in Saint Paul, free of charge. Wilder manages the Dispensary for 35 years, treating tens of thousands of individuals, until 1960 when it is taken over by a hospital association.
The Wilder Child Guidance Clinic, an outpatient psychiatric clinic for children and their families, is one of the first services that operate out of the Wilder Dispensary Building. Not only does the clinic serve children in need, but is also used as a training site for mental health professionals. Today, the Clinic is nationally known as a treatment and training center and is one of the oldest continuously operated children’s clinics in the country serving emotionally disturbed children.

1930 to 1949

The Great Depression thwarts new programming but all key programs continue. One new program is initiated - Leech Day Nursery is built in 1930. Offering a safe place for children of families in financial crisis, the Nursery cares for hundreds of children so working parents can create a better life for their family.
The Research department is formally organized. Wilder Research conducts the Juvenile Delinquency Study in 1946. During that same year, Wilder expands on its existing services, with the opening of the Marshall Day Care Center.

1950 to 1968

In 1953, the Amherst H. Wilder Charity changes its name to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. Due to government contracting with non-profits, Wilder responds by opening a nursing home and elderly housing to take advantage of federal funding. The 508/510 Humboldt Apartments open for housing needs in 1963 and in 1966, the Wilder Senior Citizens Center is built.
The decade is marked by the establishment of the Dale Preschool Center in 1956, programs for transportation services in 1958 and the creation of Camp Wilder, also known as Wilder Forest, in 1958.
Wilder Forest encompasses 900 acres including hardwood forests, 12 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails, picturesque lakes, and a wildlife sanctuary accessible by trail near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. Thousands of children and families visit each year to learn about the environment, build community and develop leadership and team-building skills. The Wilder Foundation ends its programming at Wilder Forest in 2003.

1969 to 2001

The geographic service area of the Wilder Foundation expands to include not only the City of Saint Paul, but also Ramsey, Dakota, Washington and Anoka Counties.
More than 139 programs are initiated to accommodate changing needs. Almost all existing programs are expanded and new programs include community-wide support services through neighborhood outreach, children’s residential services, elderly community services, housing investments, and a number of innovations like the Bremer House Correctional Facility, the Eisenmenger Memorial Learning Center, and the Neighborhood Leadership Program.
Wilder focuses on program partnerships with corporate sponsors, support to non- profits and educational reform with the Child Guidance Clinic, Achievement Plus and Kofi Services.

2002 to 2009

The economic slowdown in 2003, reduction in government spending, and tax payers reluctant to invest in social programs, leads Wilder to make cuts in services. In result, Wilder takes on a major effort to obtain philanthropic gifts from individuals and businesses. With a tight budget, Wilder is still able to create forty-five new programs, including expanded services for the Southeast Asian community, children and family mental health services, multicultural leadership programs, and a mobile resource center for families in housing programs.
The Wilder Center is built in 2007. The vision for the new Wilder Center emerges as a result of intensive planning and analysis of Wilder programs and the community’s changing needs. The Wilder Center provides individuals and organizations a place to come together to work on issues facing the community.

2010 to present

Wilder provides over 40 programs that focus on children and families, older adults, and community, research and leadership. Broad partnerships are developed for school success, and the Wilder Center for Aging opens in 2010 to serve the growing number of aging adults. The newly renovated Center provides expanded support for caregivers and cost-effective services that allow older adults to remain healthy, active and engaged in the community.
The Wilder Center for Communities expands to include Neighborhood Leadership Programs, the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute and the Youth Leadership Initiative. Following the mission of the Wilder Foundation, leadership programs work with individuals and organizations to nurture and build the skills of emerging leaders and to renew the commitment of experienced leaders.

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 Victor M. Watkins Fund


The Victor M. Watkins Fund was organized through the will of Anna Watkins Wilder (no relation to the Amherst H. Wilder family), the daughter of Victor M. Watkins, in memory of her father.

Since 1958, the fund has supported Wilder programs and services that substantially and primarily benefit women and girls over the age of 12 who are in need of services to achieve or maintain self-sufficiency.