What on Earth is a Foundling Wheel?

I love watching Finding Your Roots on the PBS channel. Here in my town it’s broadcast on Tuesdays. I just love to watch a family ancestral history unfold and see where genealogy can take these celebrities. On the last show, Henry Louis Gates told one woman that her great grandmother came by way of a foundling wheel.

That intrigued me so I had to go look it up. The term originated in 1198 by the current Pope of the Catholic Church. He was appalled at the number of babies found drowned by their impoverished parents in creeks and rivers so he decreed that these devices offering an alternative to drowning were to be installed in every church in the region.

These foundling wheels consisted of what looked like a barrel cut in half and placed where they could rotate in an outside church wall. A parent unable to feed or care for their child would place the baby inside the container and rotate it inside. This was usually done under cover of darkness to preserve anonymity. Then, they’d pull a string that rang a bell and a nun would go get it. A lot of the babies had some type of disease or infirmity and died, but it was far more humane than drowning.

How ingenious. I found this so interesting. Here’s a picture of one from a church in France.

Courtesy of Lebizarreum Atlas Obscura, Mâcon, France

Foundling wheels were taken out of use in the 19th century and replaced in 1952 with what was called “baby hatches.” It’s basically the same idea but the babies can be left anonymously in hospitals, churches, fire stations and other designated safe places.

In Germany, a baby will receive care for eight weeks and during that time the mother can return and get it if she so chooses. After the eight weeks, the baby is adopted out. Sometimes, a harried mother loves her child but just needs a little break. They give her the chance.

Baby Hatches are found in almost every country and serve a real purpose. In the U.S. we have a “safe haven law” that protects parents from being charged. And curiously, mothers and fathers can leave not just babies but any child up to age 18.

Probably half of all my books have an orphaned or abandoned child in them. I simply love writing about them because they’re so vulnerable and desperately need someone to care. Back in the early days orphaned children flooded the country. On the American Frontier, adults died of rampant disease, epidemics, and childbirth. The lack of medical care contributed greatly.

I have a free short story – The Miracle – up on my website if you’d like to go read it. Click HERE

Also, the Love Train series is chugging right along. Only three more to go until mine. FANCY will be up for preorder on July 1st so watch for it. I can’t wait to share the story with all of you. Fancy Dalton was told her baby was stillborn at birth only it wasn’t and she’s determined to find and get her son back or die trying. It’s a touching story of a young mother’s heartache and discovering love along the way. Here’s a link to the first six – CLICK HERE

Do you think foundling wheels and baby hatches are helpful? There are some who argue against them. Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.

That’s all until next time. Stay cool and happy. And if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, you can HERE.

Heather Blanton Finds An Angel on the Loose

In my new book releasing today, Penelope, Book 6 in the Love Train series, my heroine has to pretend to be a nun. This is, of course, a substantial obstacle to the hero who fights falling in love with her. He has to wonder, though, what kind of a nun can’t keep her veil on and doesn’t know her Bible? But when called upon to help an abused Indian girl, Penelope rises to the task with plenty of heart.

The way this story went put me in mind of a young Catholic girl who, while she didn’t don a habit, impacted the West forever with her faith.

In 1850, at about the age of five, Nellie Cashman immigrated to Boston from Ireland with her sister and widowed mother. The three spent almost fifteen years together there, but then relocated west to San Francisco around 1872. Nellie and her mother, both of whom apparently had an adventurous streak, decided to move on to the bustling, untamed mining town of Pioche, NV. They only stayed a few years, but Nellie was deeply involved with

the Catholic church there, helping with fundraisers and bazaars.

When her aging mother decided Pioche was a little too wild for a senior citizen, she and Nellie returned to San Francisco. Nellie, however, didn’t stay. She left her mother with her married sister and headed north alone to British Columbia to another rough-and-rowdy mining town. She opened a boarding house in the Cassiar District and tried her hand at mining.Now, most girls in this situation, hanging around with such an unsavory crowd, might get into mischief, forget their morals. Herein lies the quirky thing about Nellie: she loved to help people, sometimes through hell and high water…and avalanches.

In the winter of 1874-75, Nellie took a trip to Victoria where she helped establish the Sisters of St. Ann Hospital. Over the coming decades, she would continue to be a stalwart supporter of this hospital and several others. She is most famous, though, for what she did upon leaving Victoria.

Traveling back to Cassiar, she heard a blizzard had stranded dozens of the folks from the district. They were trapped, hungry, and experiencing a scurvy epidemic, to boot. Nellie immediately hired men and sleds, acquired medicine and supplies and started out for Cassiar. It took the group 77 days in unimaginable conditions to reach the miners. Nellie then worked tirelessly to nurse the folks back to health.

Her feat was so astounding, so fearless, the story was picked up by the newspapers. With good cause, she came to be known to the miners as their “Angel of the Cassiar.”

Nellie was a legitimate legend.

She was also a restless girl, constantly on the move from one raunchy mining town to the next. After the death of her sister, she continued to feed her wanderlust, but with five nephews and nieces in tow. To keep food on the table, she bought and sold restaurants, and even owned and worked her own claims.

She spent several years in Tombstone, AZ where she rubbed shoulders with larger-than-life figures like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Nellie’s faith, however, was as ingrained on her heart as cactus on the dessert. Even in wild-and-wooly Tombstone, she worked to build the city’s first hospital and Roman Catholic church.

Nellie worked tirelessly to make the world a better place and still managed to raise five upstanding citizens while keep her mines working. When she passed away in 1925, she did so in the Sisters of St. Anne hospital that she had funded for nearly fifty years.

Today Heather is giving away 5 copies of Penelope! For a chance to win one, tell Heather what ways you think we can make an impact in our local communities or neighborhoods.

Buy PENELOPE on Amazon!

The Lasting Legacy of Social Work

I hope everyone is enjoying this fall weather. I just love the slower pace and hunkering down in the winter. For some reason colder weather and gray skies act as a spring-board for long writing days. Weird, huh? But with little to do outside, I can focus on my story.

Over the years, I’ve written about characters helping women caught up in bad situations with nowhere to turn. But the most recent is A Cowboy of Legend that came out in April. Grace Legend rescued a lady of the night and got her out of that life. She helped her find redemption and she ended up with her family, painting pictures again. Grace and Deacon also work to save the street children and open a home for them.

In real life, a lot of women fell into a trap and got caught in prostitution or ended up pregnant with no hope of finding a way out. One couple, Reverend James T. and Maggie May Upchurch, began their crusade in social work in Waco, Texas in 1894 after encountering women working in the “entertainment” profession. There they started the Berachah Rescue Society.

The relocated to Arlington, Texas in 1903 and founded the Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls. It was a home for “fallen” and unwed women in the family way who had nowhere else to turn.

The Upchurch’s had one rule for their pregnant residents—they were required to keep their babies. No children were given up for adoption.

The couple provided room and board and taught these women a skill of some kind where they could become a productive member of society.

But they didn’t limit their help to just women. They spread their gospel to the street corners and opened their hearts to the homeless street children. They truly were an inspiration and instead of scorning those who’d taken a wrong path, they helped them rise from the gutters, treating them with compassion and love.

At the Berachah home that was funded by donations from businessmen, the women were taught parenting skills in addition to providing a way to make a living and be independent. The Upchurch’s erected a chapel, a handkerchief factory, infirmary, print shop, and school on the property. In 1924, there were 129 women and girls living there with the average age of 17.  The home close in 1935 due to donations drying up and the residents were relocated to other places. Today, a Texas Historical Marker stands there to commemorate the groundbreaking work of the Rev. and Mrs. Upchurch.

Deacon Brannock and Grace Legend in my story could’ve been the Reverend and his wife. I love it when what I think is fiction turns out to have really deep roots in history.

The Rev. and Mrs. Upchurch changed so many lives that would’ve been forever lost. I would love to sit down with them and ask them what the biggest challenge was and also the biggest reward.

My question: If you could sit down with any person in history, who would it be? And what would you ask them? I’m giving away an ebook copy of A Cowboy of Legend to one person who comments.