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.