|Children’s Home. ca. 1918. J. H. Hawley.|
Records as far back as 1660 in Massachusetts describe how governments in the U.S. grappled with the problem of orphans and other homeless children. Orphanages proved costly and not very effective. In 1853, New York tried a new way to avoid institutionalization: a “placing-out” approach where neglected children ended up in foster homes.
Over the next half century, “children’s aid” and “home finding” societies grew up all over the country. For the approach to work, of course, these organizations needed a residence where the children could live until they were placed in foster homes … or longer if they could not be placed.
The movement came to Idaho in 1907, when the national Children’s Home-finding Society asked the governor if such an organization could be established in the state. The governor responded enthusiastically and put the representative in touch with potential donors. That led to the first tangible step toward a Home when Mrs. Cynthia A. Mann donated a block of land on Boise’s Warm Springs Avenue.
However, a cottage opened in May 1908 proved inadequate. So the state appropriated $20 thousand to help, with the stipulation that the organizers also come up with that amount. A fund-raising campaign allowed them to match the grant.
Officials laid the cornerstone for the building at an elaborate ceremony in mid-May. The president of the national Society, Hastings H. Hart, attended and said (Idaho Statesman, May 15, 1910), “The significance of this occasion is that it represents not only the philanthropic spirit of the state, but its great wisdom …”
The Society considered the structure dedicated in December to be ideal for their needs. It was made largely of stone with an interior constructed of the best available fire-resistant materials.
The second floor contained separate dormitory rooms for boys and girls. These were large, bright with natural sunlight, and designed for good ventilation. This floor also housed a nursery for the youngest children. Quarters for the immediate caring staff were also located nearby on the second floor, along with medical facilities. The first floor contained administrative offices, some apartments, a large kitchen, and the dining hall.
Besides orphaned and abandoned children, the Home provided a refuge for youngsters from families unable to care for them … due to unemployment, sickness, catastrophic emergency, or whatever. Mostly, the Society hoped that the families could regain a stable environment and recover their children.
National legislative changes in 1966 mandated a new foster care approach and made orphanages obsolete. The Children’s Home arranged its last adoption in 1968. Rather than disband, the Society recreated itself as a source of affordable behavioral health services to families and individuals.
|Main building, Children's Home Society.|
|References: [French], [Hawley]|
|Hastings Hornell Hart, Preventive Treatment of Neglected Children, Russell Sage Foundation, New York (1910).|