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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ORPHANAGES - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ORPHANAGES. Colonial Americans, following the English poor laws, cared for dependent children as they did dependent adults: by providing outdoor relief that allowed recipients to subsist in their own homes, by boarding them out with the lowest bidder to be cared for and perhaps taught a trade at the expense of the town or county, or by placing them in public almshouses. In the first quarter of the 19th century, care of dependents in almshouses or poorhouses gradually replaced outdoor relief and boarding out, and children were segregated in separate institutions. Cleveland's earliest public institution which housed dependent and neglected children was the City Infirmary, built in 1837 for the ill, crippled, insane, feeble-minded, and dependent of all ages. Through the century, public opinion and funds supported separate non-residential institutions for dependent children such as the House of Correction (1858, also called the House of Refuge) and the City Industrial School (1856, see the CHILDREN'S AID SOCIETY and CLEVELAND INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL), founded as the "Ragged School" in 1853 by Methodists. During the second half of the 19th century, these public efforts were supplemented by private orphan asylums, sometimes aided by public funding but financed mostly through philanthropy, church collections, or fundraising bazaars and orphans' fairs. In Cleveland, for example, several church-related orphanages were established in which children received a common-school education, vocational training, and moral and religious guidance. Orphanages were designed for long-term care, although they occasionally provided only temporary shelter. Their stated goal was returning children to the parental home, adoption, or release when the child was of legal age and could become self-sufficient.

The first Catholic orphan asylums were established in the 1850s during the administration of Bp. LOUIS AMADEUS RAPPE†, partly in response to the Protestant proselytizing of institutions such as the Ragged School. The orphanages were run by nuns but were under the direction of the Diocese of Cleveland. The Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened ST. MARY'S ORPHAN ASYLUM FOR FEMALES (1851) and St. Joseph's Orphanage for Older Girls (1863); the two institutions later merged as ST. JOSEPH'S ORPHANAGE FOR GIRLS (1894). The SISTERS OF CHARITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE opened ST. VINCENT'S ORPHAN ASYLUM for boys (1853), and, in connection with St. Ann's Maternity Home, St. Ann's Infant Asylum (1873). St. Ann's cared for the smallest children, often foundlings or the infants of the unwed mothers sheltered in the Maternity Home (see SAINT ANN FOUNDATION). An orphanage for Catholic children outside diocesan auspices was incorporated in 1896 as the Home of the Holy Family (see HOLY FAMILY CHILDREN'S HOME). Sectarianism was also evident in Protestant orphanages. The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum, for example, was first proposed at a meeting at the FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (OLD STONE) in 1852 by the Protestants who had created the SOCIETY FOR THE RELIEF OF THE POOR. Funds collected from local Protestant churches were supplemented by monies from the city of Cleveland in return for the asylum's care for children from the City Infirmary. (There is no record of Catholic orphanages receiving public funds.) The DISCIPLES OF CHRIST opened the Cleveland Christian Home in 1901. The Jones Home (see JONES HOME OF CHILDREN''S SERVICES, INC.) opened in 1886 with no official church ties, but its "inmates" attended a Methodist Episcopal Sunday school and worship. Also officially nonsectarian was the Lida Baldwin Infants' Rest, run by the Cleveland Humane Society (1884-1915). The Independent Order of B'NAI B'RITH established a regional Jewish Orphan Home in Cleveland (1868, see BELLEFAIRE) for the orphans of Jewish Civil War veterans. African American children were apparently cared for by the Protestant Orphan Asylum; there are only scattered records of a short-lived black orphanage.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, child-placing agencies, patterned after Charles Loring Brace's New York Children's Aid Society, supplemented residential care. Providing only temporary shelter, their goal was to place children in foster homes or back with their families (see CHILD CARE). The Federation of Charity and Philanthropy's Social Yearbook (1913) reveals that local orphanages differed in size and clientele. St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum, for example, admitted only boys ages 3-14, and St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum, only girls within the same age range. Both had a capacity of about 250. The Jones Home and the Protestant Orphan Asylum took both boys and girls, with the former caring for 166 children in a year and the latter, 369. The Jewish Orphan Home, which admitted both boys and girls and had regional constituency, took in about 500 children a year between 1890-1918. Orphanages' denominational links ensured a continued emphasis on religious and moral training.

Two trends dominated 20th-century child care: the shift from institutional to noninstitutional care (emphasizing the importance of family life) and the increase in public funding and management. These trends, however, did not put the orphanages out of business: two new institutions were founded. In 1909 the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio opened St. John's Orphanage for young girls, staffed by the Sisters of the Transfiguration; the facility moved to Painesville in 1929. In 1921 the ORTHODOX JEWISH CHILDREN'S HOME began operation. The largest Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish orphanages moved to the suburbs in, the 1920s and expanded. In 1925 the Catholic Diocese opened PARMADALE CHILDREN'S VILLAGE OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL, which combined the boys from St. Vincent's and from St. Louis Orphanage in Louisville, OH. The Protestant Orphan Asylum moved to Orange Twp. in 1926, changing its name to BEECH BROOK, INC.. In 1929 the Jewish Orphan Home relocated to SHAKER HEIGHTS, becoming BELLEFAIRE. The noninstitutional names accompanied a change from congregate housing to cottages; both indicated the desire to simulate home life. Referrals were made by the Children's Bureau or other child-placing agencies, by the CUYAHOGA COUNTY JUVENILE COURT (est. 1902), or by parents. In principle, the institutions were designed for short-term care until children could be placed in foster homes or returned to their parents. The orphanages still retained their sectarian atmospheres, providing religious instruction and worship services.

Cleveland orphanages relied increasingly on public resources. The juvenile court became responsible for making plans for dependent children, as well as for collecting support money from negligent parents. The haphazard regulation of existing county homes for children by the Board of State Charities was tightened with a licensing law in 1913. Private foster homes were also required to
be licensed, and adoption procedures were more strictly controlled. Social-welfare legislation passed during and after the New Deal, such as the Social Security Act, lessened the need for orphanages. Dependent and neglected children increasingly came under the care of the CUYAHOGA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, which performed many services formerly provided by orphanages, including adoption, temporary shelter, and child-placement. Spurred by these changes and by a greater emphasis on psychiatric care, orphanages and other child-care agencies shifted their focus to children with emotional or behavioral problems who cannot be cared for in private homes. For example, the Children's Aid Society, the Cleveland Christian Home, and the Berea Children's Home (opened in 1864 as the German Methodist Orphan Asylum) all provided residential care for emotionally disturbed children by the 1980s.

Because of mergers and public funding, especially from the county and the federal governments, many private institutions began to offer a wide range of services, including community outreach. Mergers and diversification took place at Bellefaire and Parmadale; both also began to serve primarily emotionally disturbed or handicapped children. Beech Brook, too, specialized in such residential care but also provided day treatment (on campus as well as in the Cleveland public schools), out-patient care, and an adoption program.

Marian J. Morton

John Carroll Univ.

Bing, Lucia Johnson. Social Work in Greater Cleveland (1938).

Polster, Gary, E. "A Member of the Herd: Growing Up in the Jewish Orphan Asylum, 1868-1919" (Ph.D diss., CWRU, 1984.)

Polster, Gary E. Inside Looking Out: The Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868-1924 (1990).

Federation for Community Planning Records, WRHS.


Last Modified: 08 Dec 2000 02:07:53 PM

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