The Crittenton Home in 1901, shortly after opening. Courtesy of MOHAI.
-- Eleanor Boba and Nancy Dulaney
In 1899 a group of women in the Seattle area, inspired by the message of millionaire-philanthropist Charles Crittenton, formed a Rescue Circle to help “fallen women” in their community. The establishment quickly evolved from one meant to rescue prostitutes to a home for pregnant teens and unwed mothers. The home weathered changing economic times and social norms for nearly three quarters of a century, all in the same spot at the south end of the Rainier Valley.
Crittenton Seattle was an institution run largely by women, for women. And while the focus was on helping girls and young women “in trouble,” the charity also served as a training ground for community volunteers, for staff, and for professional women seeking a toehold in a man’s world.
Rainier Beach, circa 1895. Seattle Municipal Archives. The building that would become the Crittenton Home can be seen at extreme left, middle.
Detail of above
A HOME ON THE HILL
The Crittenton Home had its origin in a visit to Seattle by millionaire-turned-evangelist Charles N. Crittenton (1833-1909) early in 1899. The wealthy druggist had made it his purpose in life to help the women of the streets, founding the Florence Crittenton Mission (named for his daughter who had died at the age of four) in New York City in 1883. During the 1890s he traveled the country in a special train car he dubbed “Good News” speaking to gatherings and urging action at the local level. His fiery rhetoric took hold in a nation rapidly adopting progressive thinking. Crittenton homes and hospitals were founded all over this country and in a few foreign ones.
In March 1899 he favored Seattle with a week’s worth of meetings. Fired up by a mission from God, the women of the newly-created Crittenton Rescue Circle in Seattle were able to turn their resolution into reality within eight months of Crittenton’s visit – an astounding feat! Funds were quickly raised from businesses, churches, and individuals. (The list of contributors published includes $50 from “colored people.”) Mr. C., himself, donated the largest sum, $1,000, toward the goal of purchasing and refurbishing a large property in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of what was then unincorporated King County, one that came complete with a large Italianate mansion.
The mission of the Florence Crittenton Home in Seattle, as stated in the 1900 Articles of Incorporation, was the “founding, maintenance and conducting of a home and refuge for fallen women and the children thereof.” [i] The founders also wrote up a constitution in which they pledged to “train and rehabilitate worthy unwed prospective mothers, and to render to these mothers such aftercare and assistance as will help keep mother and child together until such time as they find their proper place in society.” [ii]
Early histories refer to the large structure as the former home of the “Young Ladies Baptist Seminary” or the Baptist “University of Seattle.” Whether that institution actually built or ever occupied the building is a matter of some mystery. Land purchases are recorded in the name of the start-up school in the area in 1891 and 1892; however, beginning in 1892, all newspaper references to the college place it in Kirkland. It is possible that the university board envisioned the home on the hill as a segregated campus for female students. Instead, the house became home to an entirely different category of girls.
In 1897 the university sold the land to one “William Prosser of Renton.”[iii] This was Colonel William F. Prosser who served in the Union Army during the Civil War and afterwards made a fortune in timber in the Northwest. Prosser bought land in a number of locations, including the town that now bears his name, Prosser in Benton County. For reasons unknown, Prosser held on to the Rainier Beach property for only two years before selling it to the women of the Rescue Circle for $4100.
The original Crittenton Home consisted of two stories and 27 rooms, with basement, attic, and tower. Spaces were converted into classrooms, medical examining rooms, two maternity wards, and a delivery room; hospital births were still decades away. The more than 20 acres included an orchard and lawn; according to the 1933 history of the Crittenton mission, “…one could look down a pretty canyon between the hills and get a glimpse of Lake Washington, about half a mile away.” [iv] The ladies of the home were able to raise chickens and at least one cow on the property. It was definitely in the boonies; there were no paved roads, although the Seattle to Renton streetcar ran along the foot of the hill.
The house served the organization until 1926 at which time a brand-new brick structure was built on the same property and the 19th century structure torn down. The new, purpose-built home was considered the epitome of Crittenton ideals. It included a delivery room and hospital ward, two isolation rooms, presumably for those with communicable illnesses, a nursery and sun parlor for the infants, office spaces, and bedrooms sufficient for 25 girls. The facility underwent two subsequent expansions: in 1953 a new wing was added and in 1966 four dormitory cottages were built behind the main building. All of these were designed to increase the capacity of the home, since demand for services continued to grow. By 1967, the home was capable of housing 80 young women at a time. Alas, the latest expansion came only six years before social and economic factors brought about the end of Crittenton operations in Seattle.
THE EARLY YEARS
The Crittenton movement nationally claimed 78 affiliated homes and maternity hospitals at its peak in 1914.[v] The homes were run independently, but generally strove to adhere to principals laid down by the national body.
Girls placed at the Seattle Crittenton Home came via referrals from physicians, clergy, and the law. Many came on their own. A stay at the home might last for several months, both pre- and post-partum. Operating funding came from occasional modest allocations from the state and from donations. Girls whose families could afford it paid for their stay, but, at least in theory, no girl was turned away for lack of ability to pay. In 1921 the charity was accepted for annual funding through the local Community Chest.
Lofty goals notwithstanding, the early managers struggled to make ends meet. Some early pledges of support had not been honored. In 1904 they made a public appeal for assistance, reporting that their inmates were dining only on beans and rice and broth.[vi] For a number of years the home relied on the kindness of churches and community groups such as the Rainier Beach Women’s Club, which often donated sacks of flour, jars of fruit, cans of milk, boxes of tomatoes, and soap.[vii]
On more than one occasion the board was forced to turn to the national mission for financial assistance or administrative guidance. About 1930 the national society sent out a representative to take charge of a disintegrating situation. Documents hint at low morale, big debts, few residents, and in-fighting at the board level. Mrs. J. Erle Collier was able to put things to rights in short order, including instigating a complete reconstitution of the board and staff.[viii]
The Great Depression no doubt had a hand in creating those dark days. Money was hard to come by. Seattle Crittenton did manage to avoid the far worse calamity experienced by its sister home in Spokane, where six infants died in a short period of 1910; the suspected cause was tainted milk.[ix]
Charles Crittenton was a proclaimer of Christianity and the movement he founded held onto the rhetoric of that religion for decades. And while the Seattle home was not aligned with any one faith, it was far from nondenominational. A Christian ethos runs through the early days. The Annual Report for 1912 is heavy-handed in its use of the term: “We have been able to rescue scores of girls. We have put them in Christian homes. Many of them have been regenerated and have made Christian homes of their own. Babies have been rescued, protected and given into hands gentle and Christian.”[x]
Adoption of infants was a course of last resort in the early decades; in this, the home echoed the dictates of the national Crittenton movement. The 1912 Annual Report states that “of necessity” three infants of the 37 born in the home that year were adopted into good Christian homes. Far preferable, it seems, was undoing the damage done by arranging hasty marriages with the young men in question. This was considered the best possible outcome for all, even if, as the report proudly proclaims, some of the girls were only fourteen or fifteen years of age.[xi] More common outcomes were returning the girl and baby to her parents’ home or finding “work under proper conditions,” generally of a domestic nature.
THE DISRUPTION OF WAR
World War II brought an unexpected interruption to the life of the home. Requisitioned by Uncle Sam, the Crittenton Home became a “Rapid Treatment Center” for women with venereal disease. The women targeted were largely the “Victory Girls” who populated Seattle’s downtown and waterfront, as well as other ports of embarkation, during those years. Not exactly prostitutes, these young patriotic women were willing to give their all for the war effort. Unfortunately, the resulting outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea threatened to sap the fighting power of the armed forces, so punitive measures were taken. Women and teens were arrested and detained if suspected of being infected; if contagion was proved, they could be quarantined, even when no laws had been broken.
So serious was the problem that the federal government set up an agency, headed up by one Eliot Ness, with funding from the 1941 Lanham Act to combat the problem. The Seattle treatment center, run jointly by the city and the feds, was one of 47 nationwide under the aegis of the Division of Social Protection of the Federal Works Agency. The Crittenton Home, already fitted up for the care of girls and young women, and far removed from temptation, seemed the perfect location.
In some ways, the program for the inmates was quite similar to that of the Crittenton girls – school studies, occupational training, and fun and games interspersed with medical exams and treatments. However, unlike their predecessors, the inmates of the euphemistically-titled “Lake View Manor School for Girls “were all court-mandated. Further, they were not (necessarily) pregnant.
Lake View Manor did aspire to something more than medical cures; the authorities hoped fervently for moral rehabilitation as well. A memo to Ness written by his local representative invites him to come and see “what can be done with promiscuous girls.” The writer adds that the inmates are “worthwhile human material.”
The regional rep enclosed copies of the Tattler, a typewritten newsletter written by the inmates, as an example of their creative spirit. True to its name, the Tattler offered up gossipy tidbits about both residents and staff, using full names. For example,
“Where on earth did Alice Flowers get those bedroom slippers? For a while we thought someone had dyed their French poodles red and turned them loose in the house.” [xii]
Treatments consisted of sulfonamides for those with gonorrhea and a combination of drip and injection therapy with drugs containing arsenic for those infected with syphilis. “Rapid treatment” typically meant six to ten weeks of confinement. The use of penicillin, which could effect a cure in a far shorter period of time, was just around the corner.
The use of the Crittenton Home for the treatment center lasted from late fall 1943 until spring of 1945, scarcely a year and a half. Because the Crittenton board had only leased the property to the city, they were able to re-open the home by August of 1946.
|Cartoon from The Tattler, newsletter of the Rapid Treatment Center.|
World War II was a watershed moment for the Crittenton Home and not only because of the disruption of service. In the Crittenton movement nationally, a dramatic, almost seismic, shift occurred in the philosophy of infant placement following World War II. The new, college trained social workers rejected the blanket policy of keeping mothers and babies together, in favor of case-by-case analysis. In 1947, the national Crittenton organization officially abandoned the decades-long dictum.[xiii] The pendulum may have swung a bit far in favor of adoption; In The Girls who Went Away, Anne Fessler catalogs heart-wrenching stories of Crittenton girls across the country who felt constrained to give away their infants – to do “what is best for baby.”[xiv] In the 1963 annual report of Seattle Crittenton, Executive Director Aileen Overton complains that some nurses at Swedish Hospital were surreptitiously encouraging girls to keep their babies – “one of these actually offering the girl and the baby shelter in her home.”[xv]
As the professionalization of social work became the norm, no longer could the homes rely on just a handful of paid staff and earnest volunteers. Funders, which in the Seattle case were primarily the state welfare department and the Seattle community chest, were increasingly demanding professional level case work and accountability. Reflecting this new reality, costs in 1958 were $109,473, twelve times those of 1940, while capacity had increased by only 32 percent.[xvi] Ten years later, expenses topped $324,000.[xvii]
During this same period hospital births became the rule. Girls in labor were sent to Renton’s brand-new “wagon-wheel” hospital and later to Swedish Hospital in Seattle. As before, the new mothers were brought back to the home for recuperation; however, with over 90% of the infants going to adoption by this time, the stays were shorter.
Staff and volunteers strove to create a home-like atmosphere at Seattle Crittenton. In addition to necessary medical services, residents were offered a range of occupational training experiences. In the early days, the focus was on learning good parenting skills, as well as some form of domestic labor. Gradually, additional options were added to the curriculum, including office skills. The 1946 Annual Report lists sewing, cooking, bedside nursing, and child care as classes, with typing and weaving awaiting the acquisition of the necessary equipment. It also reports that the “spiritual program is evolving satisfactorily.” [xviii] By the 1960s the home was offering full academic instruction at the middle and high school levels, including graduation ceremonies, with the cooperation of the Seattle Public School District.
The Crittenton girls had household chores to perform daily; however, carefully selected amusements were also part of home life, including birthday parties, game nights, and talent shows. Some board members offered special outings; others provided improving lectures at the home. In 1950 a board member arranged for in-home classes by the local charm school.[xix]
BACKS TO THE CAMERA: THE GIRLS OF THE CRITTENTON HOME
Patient confidentiality rules were not nearly as codified in the first part of the 20th century as they are today. Nonetheless, the girls who stayed at Crittenton were protected by an iron shield of privacy dictated by the national organization and based on the core tenet that pregnancy outside of marriage was shameful – shameful for the girl, shameful for her family. In the 1912 Annual Report, the writers state “we do attempt to rescue these young misguided girls who, through lack of discipline or a mother’s watchful care have gone astray.”[xx] Decades later, the same sentiment prevailed. As late as the 1950s, only girls from out of state, of which there were many, were allowed to guide visitors and help at events. In all house literature and newspaper coverage, girls are pictured only from the back.
The good intentions of the board and staff are not in question. Board and public relations materials evince a broad sympathy for the plight of the “unfortunates.” Nonetheless, there are attitudes and practices that, from today’s vantage point, feel highly paternalistic and even damaging. Frequent references to the need to keep the girls’ weight down pepper the later annual reports. A gain of more than half a pound in a week meant the loss of privileges in the 1960s. Strict controls were placed on visitors, outings, and mail.
Due to privacy concerns, both past and present, actual case studies are difficult to come by. Some may be gleaned from the few reports to the board still in existence; these cases all use fictitious names. In addition, some stories, generally the most tragic or salacious, were freely reported in the newspapers of a century ago.
One of the more unusual stories involving the Crittenton Home was that of Kaoru Yamataya (1886? -?), a pregnant 15-year old Japanese girl brought to this country by an adult male in 1901. [In the photo of the Crittenton Home at the top of this story, Kaoru, in kimono, can be seen standing on the front steps of the house.]
|From Seattle Daily Times, October 16, 1906.|
Shortly after disembarking at the Port of Seattle, Kaoru and the man who called himself her uncle were detained by immigration inspectors who suspected that the girl was bound for work in a brothel. Such things were not uncommon. A short hearing called a Board of Special Inquiry was held in which the feds decided that the girl met the criteria for deportation outlined in the Immigration Act of 1891: She was a pauper and likely to become a public charge. Her companion, Masataro Yamataya, was arrested on suspicion of what today would be called human trafficking. Since Kaoru was quite young and in a “delicate condition,” she was spared jailtime and delivered to The Home of the Good Shepherd in Seattle, a Catholic institution for girls, by a U.S. Marshall. As her pregnancy neared term, she was moved to the Crittenton Home where she gave birth to a boy on September 24, 1901. Sadly, the child died a few weeks later of pneumonia.
Kaoru’s story does not end there. In fact, her case wound up at the Supreme Court of the United States. She had become something of a cause célèbre in the Japanese community of Seattle, which hired attorneys to appeal her case. Two years after her arrival on our shores, the Supreme Court ruled that while she did have a right to due process, the board of inquiry had satisfied that requirement; she was deported.
Whatever the feds may have thought, public sentiment in the case, as reflected in the papers of the day, was decidedly on Kaoru’s side, inventing all sorts of romantic back stories involving a secret lover, a cruel uncle, and elopement.
The case Yamataya v. Fisher became part of case law and, as such, has had a life of its own. The ruling that would-be immigrants facing deportation are entitled to legal due process became a part of Supreme Court precedent. To date the “Japanese Immigrant Case” has been cited in nearly 300 opinions, including challenges to President Donald Trump’s Muslim bans.[xxii]
Not all the residents of the Crittenton Home were pregnant. In the early days, the home became a convenient dumping ground for certain women who were draining the resources of the public hospitals and jails. One of these was Jessie Newman (1871-1903). Jessie was born to a farming family in Ontario, Canada; from the early 1890s until at least 1900 she worked as a domestic servant for a dry goods salesman in Detroit. The King County rolls record her death at Crittenton in May 1903, with Bright’s Disease as the cause, a failing of the kidneys. She was 31 years old. We do not know how long Jessie stayed at the home or if she had been offered the indicated treatments of the day for her condition -- warm baths, herbal infusions, heart tonics, dietary restrictions, digitalis and opioids.
Jessie had not been without means at some points in her life, but it appears that a generous nature may have left her bereft just when she needed help most. Probate records list her personal belongings as one ladies gold watch and chain, one gold ladies brooch and bracelet, a trunk and its contents, and a $300 mortgage and note to a brother, William, in Port Angeles. She had also made loans to her sister’s husband in Ontario and an associate of his. Her estate was ultimately valued at $670, the amount of the promissory notes. She was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, with the funeral expenses of $69 paid by her estate.[xxiii]
So sad was the story of Mary Hall (1888-1903) that the newspapers of the day followed the sensational case closely. As with the case of Kaoru Yamataya, reporters felt justified in embellishing the facts.
Mary was the daughter of Abraham Howard Hall, an African-American porter at a dry goods store in downtown Seattle. In August 1902, Hall filed criminal charges against the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mack Scott. Mary had revealed to her father that she was with child by the Reverend Scott, her Sunday school teacher, and that she had refused to “undergo a criminal operation” to end the pregnancy.[xxiv] Mary was just 14 years old. Since her mother had died, Mary had taken care of her five siblings while her father worked. Sometime after her disclosure, “in order to hide her downfall from her younger sisters” she was placed at the Crittenton Home.”[xxv]
In March 1903, Mary died of convulsions shortly after giving birth. According to the Seattle Star, she had earlier protested when her father told her she would have to give up the baby since it would be too much of a burden for her to raise and also because her siblings would then have to know “her whole sad story.”[xxvi] Reverend Scott was convicted of rape and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He began serving his time in August of 1903; his wife moved nearby so she could “supply him with all the delicacies of each season.”[xxvii] With less than two years’ time served, Mack Scott was paroled by Washington Governor Albert Mead. A request for pardon was later denied.[xxviii] Mary’s baby, a girl, was adopted by a Christian family of a local church.
For a period of 18 months during 1902-1903, frequent interactions between “habitual drunkard” Kitty Bird and local law enforcement were serialized in the Seattle Daily Times. The paper described her as both “a pretty little thing not much over 21 years of age” and “a notorious character of the underworld.” The Seattle Star labeled her “A Barrell of Trouble.”[xxix] Her fair hair was more than once noted, as well as the fact that she had suffered desertion by her husband. Seattle’s Anti-Saloon League was intent on driving out undesirable aspects of the recent population and economic boom -- waterfront saloons, gambling and dance halls, brothels and opium dens, and those who frequented them. Kitty had caught the attention of the authorities as early as 1893.
In June of
1902, Bird was very briefly an inmate at the Crittenton Home. Facing a
five-month sentence at the “comfortless” jail, she had been offered an
alternative: “nothing to do but sit in the shade of the trees and watch the
gentle waves of Lake Washington come and go in response to the sighing wind.”[xxx]
But some situations are short-lived; some habits hard to break. Just the next
morning, Kitty was spotted hiking north along the streetcar tracks back toward
the city, having escaped the home. Within weeks she was returned to the custody
of the jail on new charges of being “beastly drunk before morning.”[xxxi]
The type of reporting typified in Kitty Bird’s case went out of fashion as the century progressed. Certainly, by mid-century, the plight of unfortunate young women was no longer a source of public amusement. At the same time, privacy became the prevailing currency for the Crittenton girls, particularly as many came from the respectable classes. Girls admitted to the Crittenton Home in the post-war years trended middle class. Private pay patients now accounted for half or more of house receipts. There is a hint or two of cherry-picking the better girls in the reports, a far cry from the early days when the home felt constrained to take all comers.
In a snapshot from 1966 we find that only 31% of the girls came from the city of Seattle and 13% came from out of state. They ranged in age from 13 to 23, with a median age of 17. The average stay was three and a half months.[xxxii]
While perhaps coming with more resources than others, the girls of the 1950s and 60s had plenty of problems. Long-time Executive Director Overton, in her annual reports to the board, provides case studies involving broken homes, sexual assault, severe emotional and behavioral problems, and many pregnancy complications. Fortunately, by this time, the caseworkers were trained to deal with all such situations and to connect girls with community resources, such as specialized medical and psychiatric treatment, when needed.
|Weekly weigh-ins. A gain of more than half a pound in a week meant the loss of privileges in the 1960s. Crittenton Home Annual Report.|
The 20th century saw remarkable progress in women’s rights, from suffrage to the right to practice as professionals, to serve on juries, and to make decisions about their own health care. During these times of struggle, many smart and capable women looked to charitable organizations as an outlet for their talents. In the venerable tradition of clubwomen, both society and middle-class women stepped up to organize and run service organizations, especially those working with women and children. The Crittenton Home in Seattle, like its sister homes throughout the country, was founded by women. And while men were represented on the board of directors in the early days, over time the directors and committee members were virtually all women.
Given the sensitive nature of the work, it is understandable that the board and primarily-female staff would look to female professionals to help the girls with medical and legal matters. Female doctors and lawyers were few and far between in the early decades of the century, but several offered their services pro-bono to the home. These pioneers deserve to have their stories told.
Harriet J. Clark (1879 - ?) was one of the very first physicians who attended girls at the Crittenton Home. It was she who signed the death certificate for Kaoru’s child, Thomas, in 1901, and for Mary Hall in 1903. In 1906, Dr. Clark was one of the founding members of the Medical Women’s Club in Seattle. Two decades later Dr. Clark was in India, associate director of the Ahmednegar missionary hospital for women and children.
Historian Clarence Bagley included a biographical entry for Mabel Seagrave, M.D., in his History of King County, published in 1929, noting among her many accomplishments that she was on the staff of the Florence Crittenton Home. In November 1935, Dr. Seagrave suffered a fatal stroke and died at age 53. One year later, the first tree planted in the Florence Crittenton Home memorial garden was dedicated to Dr. Seagrave in recognition of her outstanding service to womanhood and children. Her girlhood friend Florence Denny Heliker, of the pioneering Denny family, was in attendance, at the time a trustee of the Home. [xxxiii]
Mabel and Florence graduated from Seattle High School, in 1901 and 1898, respectively. The two became the first Seattle women to attend Wellesley College in Boston. After receiving a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1911, Seagrave opened her medical practice in the downtown Cobb Building as one of 24 women physicians in Seattle, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She also began her work with the Florence Crittenton Home about this time.
Decades later, in 1959, Heliker told an interviewer that Mabel had decided to go to war and she had followed. Sent to France by a national suffrage association, the women worked together, first at a battlefield hospital and then at a hospital for influenza-stricken refugees, during and just after World War I. Heliker recalled that, while she had volunteered as an x-ray technician, her ultimate role was “sort of an aide, carrying the heavy end of the stretcher and Mabel’s bag.” Seagrave was awarded the Medal of Valor by the government of France in recognition of her service in 1919.[xxxiv] Upon her return to Seattle with the silver decoration, Seagrave described carrying out the duties of the woman-run hospital unit with “Not a man in the outfit.” [xxxv]
|Mabel Seagrave, right, and Florence Heliker in France, 1915.|
Seattle Times photo licensed through Wikimedia Commons.
Dr. Minnie Burdon (1878-1972) grew up in Anacortes. A family story relates that at a young age she took it upon herself to perform tracheostomies with a kitchen knife on some chickens that were choking on bacon rinds.[xxxvi] It seems some of the chickens survived the procedure and the rest was history – Burdon went on to take a medical degree from the University of Oregon in 1909, served as a surgeon/anesthetist in World War I, completed a residency in gynecology at the Mayo Clinic, and practiced at Seattle General Hospital until her retirement in 1949 at the age of 70. She volunteered at the Crittenton Home during the 1930s and ‘40s, serving both on the board and in a medical capacity. The volunteer guild that bore her name was dedicated to raising funds for medical supplies and equipment for the home.
|Minnie Burdon, right, with her sister-in law, Courtesy of the Anacortes Museum|
Lady Willie Forbus (1892-1993) was an attorney who offered services to the Crittenton Home. The southerner with the unique given name arrived in Seattle in 1918 with a law degree from the University of Michigan, where she had been the only female in a class of 50. During a long life (she lived to be 100), Forbus practiced law, lost elections for judgeships, won an election to the state senate, stumped for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election, and advocated tirelessly for the rights of women and children. As president of the Crittenton board in 1938, she presided over the ceremonial burning of the mortgage, accomplished in a witch’s cauldron. Forbus also provided free legal services to the home where needed. This often took the form of tracking down fathers of the infants born in the home with a view to arranging marriages.
The burning of the mortgage came about due to the munificence of one Talluah Alice Wright (1863-1936). Talluah married Hamlet Wright, a Canadian resident and thus a British citizen, in Dawson City, in the Yukon Territory in 1889. She must have given up her American citizenship at this time, because in 1923 she petitioned the courts for naturalization despite having been born in Georgia. Hamlet Wright is listed as a gold miner in the 1910 census. He and Talluah must have done fairly well in the Klondike Gold Rush, since by 1910 they owned a large home free and clear in the desirable Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle and had a live-in servant. At her death in 1936 the Widow Wright left a substantial bequest of $32,000 to the Crittenton Home, enough to pay off the mortgage and then some! Her personal connection to the home is not clear, but it may be that she was acquainted with the women who ran the home. After her death, one of the volunteer circles that supported the home was named the Alice Wright Guild.
|Blanche Narodick, circa 1994. Courtesy of Joan Roth, photographer.|
Blanche Narodick (1909-95) was an energetic committee woman in mid-century Seattle, as well as a public relations professional. She was active on the board of the Crittenton Home from the time it re-opened after the war until the mid-1950s, serving as board president, treasurer, and head of the public relations committee. At the same time, she chaired the Washington State Committee on Unwed Parenthood. One achievement had long-lasting effects: in 1949 Narodick worked with reporters from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to expose the practices of some private maternity homes. While the term “baby market” was a bit sensational, the stories did lead to scrutiny of these unregulated businesses, ultimately leading to state legislation requiring the licensing of such establishments. [xxxvii]
Narodick was something of an anomaly, because she was Jewish. In an oral history, she recalls being encouraged to work on behalf of the Christian home by a friend who said “You have to go out there and show them that you don’t have any horns!” Narodick goes on to give an insider’s view of the home and the girls served in those days: “We had [some] girls from very wealthy and very socially elite homes. In fact, when members of the community came out to visit [the home], we had to hide [those] girls.” Why? “In those days, it was a horrible disgrace. I would say 95% of the girls gave their babies up for adoption.”[xxxviii]
Asked about diversity, Narodick reports that there was an occasional Jewish girl – apparently there was quite a demand for Jewish babies – and even “black girls, but not predominantly.” It seems that the conventional wisdom at the time was that “blacks would take care of blacks.” Narodick continued her long career of community service long after she left the Crittenton Home, working primarily with the Red Cross. In 1989, she received that organization’s highest honor for volunteerism, the Harriman Award, for her efforts to bring volunteers and medical equipment to Shanghai, China.
AN ABRUPT END
The shame of unwed motherhood was a constant through at least the 1950s. In the 1960s, views began to change as more professional woman began to choose single motherhood and the availability of birth control, perversely, meant less sympathy for those who “chose” to become pregnant outside of marriage. Certainly there was no dip in the number of unwed mothers, but the perception of need had changed.
When the end came for the Seattle Crittenton Home it came fairly rapidly. In 1968 the home reported a total of 299 girls sheltered and 208 babies born, seeming proof of the continued need. Yet in 1972 the home was notified that they would no longer be a recipient of United Way of King County funding, a quarter share of their budget. The Boeing Bust recession, beginning in 1970, likely was a major cause of the contraction of funding region-wide, but there were other factors. New management at United Way, taking a cost benefit stance, declared that the home “was more than the community could afford.”[xxxix] Further, they suggested that the home was only at half capacity.
Faced with mounting debts and the loss of a major funding source, the home made the difficult decision to close. The last girl was admitted in November 1972 and the house shuttered its doors completely on March 15, 1973. There were seven girls living at the home at the time; some of these were transferred to the Ruth School for Girls in Burien (later Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center), a facility for emotionally troubled girls.
A few months later, another venerable institution, the Home of the Good Shepherd, shut down, as well. The age of residential treatment was giving way to that of outpatient and community support services.
The Seattle home was not the only Crittenton to close. In her 1983 history of the movement, Nancy Fifield McConnell lists 69 homes by name, of which only 24 were still active; some of those had merged with other service organizations to insure viability.[xl] Today National Crittenton operates as a resource for a number of social service agencies, focusing on advocacy and research to better the lives of young people.
The property that was the Seattle Crittenton Home was purchased by the Seattle Indian Health Board, which since 1997 operated the Thunderbird Treatment Center for inpatient substance abuse rehab at the location. Today, however, the old Crittenton Home is shuttered and fenced, its ultimate fate uncertain. A petition for landmark status, filed in April 2020, was recently denied by the city landmarks board.
- For a more in-depth discussion of unwed motherhood and maternity homes, see Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945 by Regina G. Kunzel, Yale University Press, 1993.
- For personal accounts of the residents at homes for unwed mothers, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler, Penguin Books, 2006. Both include extensive descriptions of Florence Crittenton homes.
- For more on the Kaoru Yamataya case, see https://historylink.org/File/20597 .
- For more on the Rapid Treatment Center, see https://www.historylink.org/File/21066.
[i] June Peterson, “The Florence Crittenton Home: A History of its Scope and Services,” unpublished manuscript, 1964, p. 21, University of Washington Special Collections.
[iii] Property quit-claim deed, King County Archives.
[iv] Wilson, 1933, p. 437
[v] Adelaide Estep, “Szafran: 25 Years of Crittenton Compassion,” Weelunk.com (https://weelunk.com/szafran-25-years-of-crittenton-compassion/), October 8, 2018. Accessed December 23, 2019
[vi] “Women Lack Food at Rescue Home,” Seattle Daily Times, May 30, 1904, p.1.
[vii] “History of Rainier Beach Women’s Club,” Rainier Valley Historical Society.
[viii] 50 Years
[ix] “Offered Money for a Statement ‘Purifying’ The Broadview Milk,” The Press, June 6, 1910, p.1.
[x] The Annual Report of the Florence Crittenton Home in Seattle, 1911-1912
[xii] Tattler from the National Archives, Baltimore, MD.
[xiii] Regina Kunzel, Fallen Women, Problem Girls, Yale University Press, 1993, 169.
[xiv] Fessler, Anne, The Girls Who Went Away, Penguin Books, 2006.
[xv] Crittenton Home Annual Report, 1963, p. 13.
[xvii] Crittenton Home Annual Report, 1968
[xviii] Crittenton Home Annual Report, 1946
[xix] Crittenton Home Annual Report, 1950
[xx] Crittenton Home Annual Report 1911-1912
[xxi] “Pretty Japanese Girl with Romantic Past is Not to be Found,” Seattle Star, April 11, 1903, p.3.
[xxii] Eleanor Boba, “Supreme Court rules in the Japanese Immigrant Case, , on April 6, 1903,” HistoryLink.org essay #20597, July 3, 2018.
[xxiii] Probate record, King County Archives.
[xxiv] Seattle Daily Times, August 13, 1902.
[xxv] Seattle Republican, March 13, 1903.
[xxvi] Seattle Star, March 9, 1903.
[xxvii]Seattle Star, August 1, 1903.
[xxviii] “Pardons, Commutations, Reprieves, Remissions of Fines, etc., Granted by Albert E. Mead, Governor of the State of Washington”, April 14, 1905.
[xxix] Kitty Bird’s Great Fault,” Seattle Star, April 28, 1902.
[xxx] “Kitty Will Not Stay Reformed,” Seattle Daily News, June 22, 1902.
[xxxi] “Kitty’s Liberty Was Short,” Seattle Daily News, August 8, 1902.
[xxxii] Crittenton Home Annual Report 1966.
[xxxiii] “Friends Bidden to Crittenton Home,” Seattle Daily Times, June 8, 1936, p.15.
[xxxiv] Dorothy Brant Brazier, “A Denny Girl Rolls Back Years,” Seattle Times, October 25, 1959, p.4.
[xxxv] John C. Hughes, “Dr. Mabel A. Seagrave: Living the Wellesley Motto, Pacific NW, August 11, 2019, pp. 8-11.
[xxxvi] Dr. Minnie Bell Burdon, Anacortes Museum online research database
[xxxvii] Crittenton Home Annual Report, 10 Years After, 1963
[xxxviii] Blanche Narodick, oral history, University of Washington Special Collections.
[xxxix] Seattle Times, January 30, 1973, B4.
[xl] Nancy Fifield McConnell, Crittenton Services, the First Century, 1883-1983, National Florence Crittenton Mission, 1983.