Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Homes for Unwed and Troubled Women 1869 – 1950

Where Are the Records?

 Seattle Advertisement for Florence Crittenton Home

Usually we find out by accident that Grandma was born in a home for unwed mothers. Sometimes, we figure it out, by the surname throughout her historical records, where a father is not listed, or the maternal family surname is the only one used. Sometime, we just deduce it correctly, when the family lived in rural America, yet, Grandma was born in a woman friendly town like Kansas City. Who was Grandma’s father will always be a family secret, or, the gossip of the hometown, but perhaps more information can be found in the records of the place of birth, especially if it was a home for unwed mothers.

History of Homes for Unwed Mothers
Florence Crittenton Home, Kansas City
Homes for unwed mothers and “troubled” women were becoming a common place by the early 1890’s. As early as 1869 the sisters of St. Vincent opened The House of Providence, a program for unwed mothers and their children, as did many other cities.

Charles Nelson Crittenton
By 1893 Charles Nelson Crittenton, grieving the death of his four year old daughter Florence who suffered from scarlet fever in 1882, founded Florence Night Mission. This Mission was designed to assist the prostitutes, troubled “lost and fallen women and wayward girls” of New York City.

By 1895 Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, an Episcopalian minister’s wife and mother of six, joined forces with Dr. Crittenton. Dr. Barrett’s primary interest was to assist unwed mothers. After completing her nursing course in 1894 at the Florence Nightingale Training School in London and her medical degree at the Women’s College of Georgia, in Atlanta, she and Crittenton partnered to establish up to 73 homes for unwed expectant mothers across America.[1] The National Florence Crittenton Mission became a well known safe-haven for unwed, troubled girls. Most of the homes served between 8-15 girls, but then there were the larger Florence Crittenton homes, like that in Kansas City.

Willows Maternity Home, KCMO
Other private homes for unwed mothers, or troubled women like “The House of Another Chance in Seattle which opened in 1926, assisted up to 150 women. And the The Willows Maternity Home, founded in 1905, in Kansas City was noted for its significant influence in adoptions. 

Homes for Colored Girls
Based on the times, the colored girls had their own homes for unwed mothers. In 1925 in Kansas City, there was the Florence Home for Colored Girls. Although named after the Critenton’s daughter, it was funded by the philanthropist William Volker. 

Kansas City – The Baby Hub of the US
According to statistics, Kansas City was the baby hub and a safe-place for unwed mothers. It was located in the middle of the US with convenient access to the railroad. A railroad map into Kansas City was featured on the Interesting Willows’ Statistics pamphlet printed in 1921 by Willows Maternity Home.

At that time, Kansas City also was the home of the Florence Crittenton Home, The St. Vincent’s Hospital, Eastside Maternity Hospital (aka Kansas City Cradle) and the Florence Home for Colored Girls.

Where are the Records?
Some of the workers kept diaries that have been preserved for these homes as the chronicles of the Florence Crittenton Home in Montana. The records for the Florence Crittenton Mission in Kansas City are held at the Missorui Valley Special Collections. The Florence Crittenton Home of Norfolk records are held in the Old Dominion University Libraries, Special Collections: Maunuscripts. However, some records were destroyed, as those at the Willows Maternity Home, in Kansas City. These records were supposedly “piled in the backyard and burned.” 

Be sure to check with State Historical Societies and manuscripts for these records. 

Note on Adoptions: Although the homes mentioned in this post historically encouraged the women to keep their child, the same homes were used as adoption agencies.

[1] The New York Times, 17 Nov. 1909, Page 9;, online access 19 May 2010

Kathleen Brandt


  1. Some homes for unwed mothers will respond to a request for information. I recently asked the St. Andre Home in Biddeford, Maine for information regarding my birth in 1955. They were able to give me all the information they had including my father's name and statis. They shared letters between the home and my mother with me. A huge potential resource.

  2. The story goes Mom was adopted from a girls home 1925 as an infant by Clarence W Mendenhall. I always heard the home was in Kansas City MO. She was told the building was burned down and all the records with it. Her parents did have adoption papers for her but when she went to work at Boeing during the war she needed a birth certificate. She said the people at Boeing took her papers and made her a birth certificate, saying Clarence and Goldie were her birth parents. There is no record of a birth Certificate for her. Her name was Juanita Arlene but that was what Mendenhall's named her. She was also named Freda Brown prior to being adopted by them. Her parents told her another couple had taken her home and brought back because she had exema. Just don't know where to even start to look. Mom died 2001 and we would just love to know some history Starla Babasin -

    1. You can write to the court the did the adoption and ask for all non- identifying information. You can learn alot and locate someone from this info alone. I was able to locate my husbands birth mother 63 years later.

  3. Interesting story. I have really gotten into internet genealogy lately. It is fascinating to learn more about the people who lived before us. My mom mentioned that we had a long lost relative who stayed at this home. I would love to find records or talk to someone from this generation.

  4. My father was adopted from one of these homes, back in 1954. I have aided him in trying to find his biological parents if for nothing else but give him closure and more importantly to me know some medical background. Any help out there would be much appreciated.

  5. My mother placed a baby I think it was a girl for adoption prior to marrying my father I think she may have given birth in Kansas City only because I remembered a comment she made when I was little that "that was a city where "bad" girls went did any of the homes keep records?

    1. There are records for some KC homes. But we usually have to search for them. We have also found announcements in the papers. You may also wish to review the article written 27 Sept 2014 : Researching Orphanages and Children's Homes.

    2. There are records for some KC homes. But we usually have to search for them. We have also found announcements in the papers. You may also wish to review the article written 27 Sept 2014 : Researching Orphanages and Children's Homes.

  6. Not sure where to start but I am thinking I was born in Kansas and to an unwed mother and not sure if any of the information but I do have her name but I don't have the father's name and she is not Williams to give me any information or speak to me so I was really trying to find my father and I am sure that in 1966 she was a resident of the colored girl home

  7. Since you have little information and documentation, I suggest you begin with a DNA test. Send an email or contact me at; tele:816-729-5995 Kathleen Brandt

    1. I am having trouble tracing my grandmother's history. She was raised on an English settlement on the Isle of Pines Cuba. She said she was sent to a girls home. She was born in 1914 and left around 1932. I think her "problem" would have occurred before 1925. Any chance you would know the name of the local girls home? I know her father was run off the island for being a bad man. His name was Edwin Gray Ashworth.