The Changing Care of Orphans – With Guest Anne Mateer

AuthorImage-36When I think of orphans, I most often think of children who have lost both of their parents. But when I ran across a Home for Orphan and Friendless Children in my research, I discovered that orphanages and orphan care has historically involved more than that one situation.


After the Civil War, many states set up orphanages to accommodate children of veterans left without familial support. Very often, the children living in these orphanages had a living parent. Perhaps a widowed mother with little income. Or perhaps a disabled father, wounded in battle. These “orphans” were also called dependent children or “friendless” children. They needed someone to care for and champion them.


That latter years of the century saw a period of economic downturn. This crisis caused  orphanages to expand their scope to include more children. By the end of the 19th century, the majority of children residing in orphanages had at least one parent living. These children had been taken in to save them from poverty or neglect.



But as the turn of a new century neared, society turned reform-minded, and the Progressive Era’s social reforms extended to the care of dependent children. Children’s Aid Societies and Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children were formed to address the issue. These societies took as their mission to place dependent children in alternative families rather than keep them in large, impersonal institutions. They advocated “placing out” children to local (unpaid) families willing to take them in or sending the children west on orphan trains to relocate with families willing to board, feed, and educate another child.orphan_train.jpg


 Of course, both orphanages and “placing out” societies had flaws in their systems. Large institutions were often void of emotional or personal contact as a result of overcrowding, though they did emphasize medical care and education. Children placed in foster care received care in a family setting, but often lost all contact with their remaining parent or relatives and sometimes were taken in simply as free labor and not as a member of the household. Neither method being perfect, the plight of dependent children finally rose to center stage.


In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. The delegates proposed that children be kept in the home when at all possible, placed in foster care families when available, and kept in “cottage  plan” institutions which more resembled a family-like setting until foster situations could be located. They advocated inspection of the facilities, educational work, and physical care of the children in institutions, even when on the cottage system. Finally, they supported legislation creating a Federal Children’s Bureau “to collect and disseminate information affecting the welfare of children.”


 The late 19th and early 20th century saw many more children being given over into the care of others (not relatives) as a result of war, poverty or disease. But as the question of caring orphans grew loud, Progressive Era reformers and their predecessors considered how best to serve the child’s needs, how to propel the child into a better, more stable life. The changes they advocated in orphan care then still benefit dependent children today.1903LillianWald.jpg







AHomeforMyHeartcovermockIf you’d like to read a novel based around an orphan home that placed out children in the early 1900s, comment to be entered in a drawing to win a print copy of A Home for My Heart. Here’s a little the book:

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children, pouring all her energy into caring for the boys and girls who live there and dreaming of the day she’ll marry her beau, Blaine, and have children of her own. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the esteemed job of running the orphanage.

 There’s one glitch. The matron cannot be married. She must focus her attention on the financial, legal, and logistical matters of the Home. Sadie’s heart is torn. Should she give up her plans for a life with Blaine in order to continue serving these children who have no one else? Does she, a young woman who was once an orphan herself, have what it takes to succeed in such a challenging career? And when the future of the Home begins to look bleak, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?


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21 thoughts on “The Changing Care of Orphans – With Guest Anne Mateer”

  1. I’m hoping that Sadie will force the orphanage to change it’s no marriage rule. Two hearts are better than one when it comes to love deprived children.

    This book, A HOME FOR MY HEART, touches my heart as two of my cousins, Ann and Peter, were both adopted from orphanages in the late 1950s.

    I’d love to be introduced to your work via Blaine and Sadie’s love story.

    johns lake at usa dot com

  2. Hi Anne! Thank you so much for sharing this history of the care of orphans. I have always thought of orphans as children who had lost both parents. I was not aware of the other situations you detailed. I look forward to reading A HOME FOR MY HEART!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  3. Thank you for your post Anne. I’ve always thought an orphanage was for children with no parents or family so I learned something new today and that is always a good thing. 🙂

    I love the cover of A HOME FOR MY HEART and would love to be in the drawing to win a copy. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Have a blessed day.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  4. Hey y’all! Thanks for showing up bright and early on a Saturday morning! 🙂 I love seeing some familiar names, too!

    I’m so glad you learned some things you didn’t know from this post. I think that’s my favorite part of researching and my favorite part of reading historical fiction–learning new things.

  5. Hi Anne, so glad you could guest today. Your book sounds delightful. There’s been much talk recently in my area about possibly doing away with foster homes and going back to orphanages. Some children have disappeared from the system and no one seems to know where they are. There have also been abuses and other problems. Apparently not everyone is as sweet and loving as your Sadie. Sad.

  6. Welcome to the Junction, Anne! I love the premise of your book and your heroine sounds wonderful!!! I certainly hope she gets her orphanage and her hero. I plan to get a copy of your book to find out!!!

  7. Hi Anne, great post! I would really enjoy read your book. Sounds really interesting and something I would love to read. Thanks for sharing with us today.

  8. Good morning, Anne! So glad to read your informative post and can’t wait to read A Home for my Heart. The cover is beautiful and the book just feels good in my hands. Thank you for what you do.

  9. Hi Anne! We’re so happy you could be with us today. It’s great to have you. Interesting blog. I can’t imagine having to give up a child because you couldn’t provide for him. That would really scar a child for life. I’m writing a historical romance series right now where the three brothers were orphans and how it affected them so much after they were grown. I’m really enjoying writing it. Sadie Sillsby in your book sounds like an amazing woman to make caring for orphans her life’s work.

    Wishing you much success!

  10. I’m so glad the setting of the orphan home and Sadie and Blaine are appealing to y’all! Another interesting fact is that the foster families received no compensation. They chose to care for the children. Of course some used them as labor–there are always those that do not act correctly–but at least there wasn’t any incentive drawing those only eager for cash instead of children.

  11. Anne, thank you for a good overview of the system over the past 200 years or so. My husband’s step-father was in the orphanage system in the very early 1900’s. He was not an orphan. After his mother died, his father decided he couldn’t care for 5 young boys and turned them over to the orphanage to be cared for. They didn’t appear to maintain a family unity while growing up. He didn’t keep in touch with the others until well into his 70’s and was never close to them. The others seemed to be more friendly with each other.

    It is sad that children are handed over to these systems, but in many cases they were better off. Unfortunately, as you mention, many were take advantage of by the families with whom they were placed. I can’t imagine the fear and anxiety the children placed on the orphan train must have felt. For some it did open a wonderful new life. Others were separated from siblings or were placed in bad situations. I would hope the workers tried to get the best situations they could for the children, not just try to “unload” them.

    Your heroine, Sadie, sounds like she represents the good ones. It is unfortunate that in that time, a woman couldn’t hold these jobs and be married. Dedicated as she was, it was wrong for her to have to choose. It sounds like she was just what these children needed to feel secure and loved.

    Best of luck with A HOME FOR MY HEART. I hope it does well.

  12. I have always loved learning more about the orphans or homeless children. These books always fascinate me.

    Would love to read about Sadie.


  13. Hi Anne. I just wanted to say that I visited an Orphanage when I was 13 in Oklahoma City, OK. The children all seemed to be happy but I felt so
    sorry for them not to live with good parents like I had. Sometimes mom and dad just scraped by but with GOD’s help they made it with 8 children. Lots of children get homes through the foster systems. When they keep a child if they come up for adoption, this couple have first chance to adopt them. Hpuston,TX. has a large Orphans Home, but so many live there until they are 18 then have to leave. This is hard for them, so there have been people who have made places for them to live and learn how to live in the outside world and help with getting jobs. I like that. People always want babies or very small kids, so the others have no one who wants them. Lots are there because of parents being in prison or abandoned the child, and others taken from drug addicted parents. I like the idea better of the cabin groups where they live with a couple who acts as parents, but all in one location where everyone has to account to others. I know people who have children because of foster care in their homes. But, they need to e checked on more and unexpectedly.
    Take care and GOD bless. Maxie

  14. Thanks you for the post. I didn’t know children with a parent or relatives were labeled orphans and put in homes or foster families. I like the sound of the book and would like to have it. I wish there was some way to help children in bad circumstances today.

  15. I enjoyed this very interesting post on orphans, Anne. I did not realize Theodore Roosevelt was the first President that address the issue of orphans. Your book sounds great. Looking forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing this history with us and sharing a giveaway. Please enter my name in the giveaway.

  16. Thanks for enlightening us about the background of your new book. I’ve read your other books and really enjoyed them so am looking forward to reading “A Home for my Heart.” Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  17. This was really an interesting post. I know that my grandfather was taken in by a family, but do not know any of the details except I know that he changed his last name to what their family name was.

    My daughter works for the DCS. Most of the children that she has to remove are from families where the parent or parents are drug users. Priority placement is usually with a relative, if possible. The DCS makes every effort to reunite families.

    Thanks for offering a copy of A Home for My Heart. It sounds like a great story.

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