Ohio Childhood

oral histories and memoirs

  • Categories

    • No categories
  • Archives

Childrens Homes and Orphanages

Children’s Homes and Orphanagesshelby-home3

The first children’s home in Ohio was established by Mrs. Catherine Faye Ewing. She established a home for children in Washington County near Marietta after visiting an infirmary and seeing children  there in daily contact with sick, injured, and disreputable people. Using personal funds she opened doors in 1857. With the beginning of the Civil War, her children’s home quickly became a home for soldiers’ children. Through Mrs. Ewing’s work on behalf of soldiers’ children she influenced many to aid children (Hughes 1964).

Almost all children in children’s homes and orphanages were there through no fault of their own. Most had parent that for one reason or another were unable to provide adequate care. Not all children were parentless, though that was certainly true of many. The parents of some were to poor to meet the families’ basic needs, while others suffered from debilitating illnesses or injuries. As evidenced by Mrs. Ewing, many children’s homes and orphanages began following the American Civil War. Many of the surviving soldiers returning from the war were severely injured or otherwise impaired and unable to care for their families. Various groups, in Ohio and across the country, established homes for the children of these soldiers to receive care.

Most of the original institutes were begun by military groups such as the GAR founded Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Xenia, Ohio or by religious churches such as the Berea Children’s Home near Cleveland Ohio. Over time many came under the control of the State of Ohio and standard practices were established.ExperiencesWhat factors contribute the success or failure of children’s homes and orphanages? There were many that affect children. First, the management of the homes played a large role in the children. The management affected the administration and staff employed in the homes. Both the management and the staff affected the daily lives of the children including activities and schooling. And finally, all these affected the children and their attitudes. All of these factored into the success and failure of homes and orphanages based on the words of those growing up in the system.

Image of Shelby County Children’s Home with Girls’ and Boys’ Dormitory Wings at http://www.shelbycountyhistory.org/schs/archives/downtownandbuildings/images/dormers.gif



Calhouns were the superintendent and matron at the Shelby County Children's Home

Management was one factor in the success or failure of children’s homes and orphanages. Management brought several points to the running of the homes: planning, policies, funding, and maintaining standards to name a few. There are aspects of the homes and management that must be considered: the level of control managers had over governing the home such as resources, training, procedures, etc. If a home had effective management, it was much more likely to have an effective staff which in turn created a positive environment for its residence. The opposite was also true; if a home was lacking in management, the lack would filter down to the residents. Some features of children’s homes were static and rarely changed such as buildings, faculty ratios, others, such as the management, were more dynamic (Berridge and Brodie 1998).











Berea girls with Female Staff

The staff members at children’s homes and orphanages were typically the most was influential in the residents’ lives. While the management set the policies and guidelines, it is the staff that implemented and worked everyday with the residents (Berridge and Brodie 1998). It was the staff that demonstrated the overall philosophy of the home. Staff morale was important to the overall running of the home. The quality of care that staff members provided was directly related to the morale of the staff. The happier the staff was, the better they worked and the better life became for the residents (Sinclair and Gibbs 1998).

Unfortunately, staff members did not have an easy job in homes. It was often difficult and time consuming. Many studies showed that staff members often feel powerless and ineffective. There was a frequent feeling of elevated expectations from the management and society in general and the staff had difficulties meeting those demands. Violence was sometimes an aspect of the job. These difficulties facilitated a lack of connection that many staff members felt within their departments.


Workshop at Berea Children's Home

 Children’s Daily Life

The daily activities in most homes played an important role on a child’s experience. Most children’s homes and orphanages included a school which all the residents were expected to attend. Most taught standard subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, history. Many organizations also allowed residents to enroll in specialty curriculums that focused on developing skills for future employment. The OSSOH in Xenia offered a diverse educational curriculum that allowed students to become skilled in many vocational fields such as tin smithing, wood carving, knitting, dress making, tailoring, farming, horticulture, butchering and slaughtering, telegraphy, and blacksmithing. The staff members allowed the residents to work in fields where their skills and abilities were best suited. The residents were allowed the freedom to follow the paths that they wanted (Hughes 1964).

Most residents were also granted free time to play and participate in extracurricular activities. Many of the younger children played silly games while the older children participated in more organized activities such as choir groups, bands, athletics, etc. The happiest reports from residents were those who had the freedom to explore activities of their choosing (Berridge and Brodie 1998).


In addition to playtime, many homes regularly assigned chores and work duties to the residents. The older residents were given more responsibility and often looked after the younger children. Girls were generally responsible for washing dishes, making beds, and general cleaning. Boys were responsible for yard care, some cleaning, and simple repairs. The residents had to create a balance between their daily activities. They learned responsibility and management skills. Many homes had privileges that were earned for good behavior such as sleeping late, field trips, and extra playtime (Zmora 1994).

Church services were also an important aspect of the residents’ daily lives. Many of the homes and orphanages were founded through church and religious organizations and those practices were incorporated into daily activities. Church services and Sunday school were seen as integral to their development. Homes and orphanages that were dependent on religious groups for funding were more stringent on the religious requirements of their daily lives (Zmora 1994).


Berea Children's Home Group photo with Rev. E. L. Meisenbach


 Classroom Image at http://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/berea&CISOPTR=13


Despite some of the views presented throughout this research most children’s homes and orphanages worked to make the best possible life for the children in its care. There were many reports of close friendships formed and many organizations held reunions for its former occupants to meet old friends. So much that had been recorded though oral histories and fictionalized in novels and films is the most negative and dark chapters in children’s homes and orphanages. Effort should be made to erase the perpetually negative image that these homes have. Great improvements have been occurring for many years now through government regulations as well as individual institutions. The focus should be on the children. Reform and change was a constant aspect of children’s homes and orphanages. Governments created laws and bills to protect the children and made their lives better. They regulated the qualifications and training of staff members. Change was and continues to be a necessary force in children’s homes and orphanages. There have long been those that were seen as good as well as those that were bad. Many factors play into the quality of the homes: management, staff, daily activities, as well as the attitudes of the children themselves. Each one of these acted together to create an environment that should have been safe and happy, but unfortunately not all homes succeeded. Change was a constant in children’s homes. New challenges were solved and new ones replaced them. Everyday the staff and residents faced new issues and revisited the old ones. Children’s homes were always diverse demanding, and complex institutions with positive and negative aspects. Staff members had to constantly be up to date on the current situations and able to handle them to suit each situation. No two children were alike; each had different circumstances and required a different approach. One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of children’s homes was making a positive difference in the life of a child.


  1. Berridge, David and Isabella Brodie. Children’s Homes Revisited. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 1998.
  2. Hughes, Edward Wakefield and William Clyde McCracken. The History of the Ohio Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home at Xenia, Ohio 1868-1963. Xenia, OH: Association of Ex-Pupils. 1964.
  3. Sinclair, Ian and Ian Gibbs. Children’s Homes: A Study in Diversity (Living Away From Home Studies in Residential Care). London: WileyBlackwell. 1998.
  4. Polster, Gary. A Member of the Herd: Growing up in Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum, 1868-1919. Ann Arbor, MI; University Microfilms International. 1985.
  5. Zmora, Nurith. Orphanages Reconsidered: Child Care Institutions in Progressive Era Baltimore. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 1994.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: