Primary Source

1919 Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum Annual Report [Official Document]


The official records and reports of social welfare agencies and institutions provide insight into societal beliefs and attitudes related to deviance and changes in those beliefs and attitudes over time. While review of such documents may in some instances reveal radical changes in an agency's mission, more often what unfolds is a narrative of an evolutionary process anchored by consistent themes. Such is the case with the many child welfare agencies founded in the mid-19th century as orphan "asylums." Over time, they came to redefine their mission vis-à-vis dependent children from sheltering to changing.

The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum (CPOA, later renamed BeechBrook) was established by a religious organization, as many were in this era, and began with what is often described as a child-rescue mission. The year 1919 marked the first time in which specific reference was made to "difficult" (though still considered redeemable) children. Of the 296 children served, 85 had been placed in foster homes and 132 had been "returned to friends" (typically a parent or close relative). Over the next few decades, the agency reports document increasing numbers of "difficult" children. The growing discussion of degrees of difficulty, as well as evidence such as engaging psychiatric consultation, indicate movement toward the agency's present role within the mental health system.

Additional records are available on this topic: American School for the Deaf, Perkins School, and others via the Disability History Museum.


The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum. Sixty-Seventh Annual Report. October 31, 1919.

Primary Source Text

OCTOBER 31, 1919.

The function of the Orphan Asylum, making a home for children, carries always hope and love and increasing interest. Every year the workers are learning and improving, and accomplishing more satisfactory results. The definite form of service in this Asylum, taking care o f children in this home, finding permanent homes for some of them in a good family, sheltering and eventually returning others to their own family or relatives, goes steadily on. There were two hundred and thirty children admitted during the past year. Three hundred and nine, in all, were cared for. Seventy-four were placed in homes, one hundred and fifty-six were returned to their own friends, and seventy-nine were still in the Asylum on October 31st, 1919.

. . .

The staff of visitors has been increased. This permits us not only to emphasize visits to the homes where our children have been placed, but also to carry on extension and advisory lines of work through visits to the parents of children who are in the Asylum for temporary shelter and thereby help them and their children in the future. The remarkable personal work and thought for every child results in good health, happiness and a helpful spirit toward others. The children were singularly free from illness and contagion for several months of the year. Careful attention was given to the report cards which the boys and girls brought home from school. Days in the open air when all enjoyed picnics to the farm were especially beneficial.

. . .

Respectfully submitted
Mrs. J.R. OWENS,


Quietly and persistently your Committee on Admitting and Placing Children has carried on its work during the past year. Because of the flu epidermic and the readjustment period following the War the many cases have kept us on the alert trying to help those worthy and counseling those who needed guidance rather than help.

However, our aim is to aid in some way all who call. Visitors ofttimes feel slighted because we do not immediately relieve them of their children and suggest instead other ways and means. Many times the parents need the children with them to act as governors on their own conduct. In other instances the quicker the children are admitted to the Home the better it is for them.

We have cared for three hundred and nine children during the past year. It is interesting to note that of the one hundred and eleven new families helped this year but forty-four were American. The remaining - sixty-seven represented twenty-two different nationalities.

On our records of the year we also note that twenty-four fathers and nine mothers deserted. Twelve mothers were immoral. Eleven families were temporarily broken up because one or the other of the parents was in the hospital. The deaths of twenty fathers and sixteen mothers caused us to take temporary care of the children until other arrangements could be made for them. Fourteen cases were illegitimate.

The present policy of the Institution is the same as in the past in regard to admitting and caring for children. In recent years there have been greater calls for the temporary shelter of children by parents who have for one cause or another been unable to care for their own.

Last year we returned one hundred and fifty-six children to their parents or relations, as we believe in keeping the family together if possible. It is also our aim to thoroughly investigate the relatives of the child with the idea in mind of having them take care of their own kin and not delegate this responsibility to strangers.

During the past twelve months we leave placed but seventy-four children in foster homes. One reason for this is that many children given to us for adoption have been returned to relations whom we have succeeded in interesting in the case. Very often, upon investigation, we found relatives who at first refused to assist the parents in caring for children willingly accept the responsibility when they learned that the parental rights had been legally forfeited.

The real work of the Institution, however, is the same - the receiving of children who are left dependent and are eligible to be placed in foster homes. We are still firm believers in the family life for the child and no one can question the fact that the Institution is a great help in training the child for his future home.

We thoroughly investigate the parents and home before We accept their child for adoption, believing it is but natural that the child should be kept, if possible, in the home of his own people.

It is our plan to move slowly in placing a child, no matter how desirable the home may appear, because people sometimes are impulsive in this as in other important matters and give little thought to the responsibility they would assume. By delaying the placement a reasonable period it gives the parties concerned time to consider all phases of the undertakings. It also gives us a better opportunity to fit the home with the proper child and thus prevent a return or transfer later on. Our experience has shown us that this is the most satisfactory plan.

Every charity organization has on its list people who are habitual troublemakers. The following case is typical in this respect. Several years ago we admitted a family of five children whose parents were of the worst type and who were living under disgraceful conditions. With the possible exception of the boy they could not rightfully be termed borderline, but rather they belonged to that class of child known as difficult. It was only after long periods of training that the children were placed in foster homes.

The boy was transferred three times before he was placed in a home where he finally proved at all congenial. Temperamentally he is easy-going and if let alone he enjoys doing any kind of manual work and is happy when nothing occurs to disturb the routine of his life. He neither smokes, chews nor drinks and seldom leaves the farm. He has a good sized back account and as his needs are few the sum is steadily increasing. He will never add to the world's intellectual store, but the brawn of his class is a mighty factor in caring for a record crop of wheat or potatoes.

It has been our experience that the logical place for a mentally retarded man or boy is the farm provided, however, that he has not in his makeup the trait of cruelty to animals. In the city the chances are that he will be but a tool in the hands of astute criminals but in the rural districts the opportunities for getting into trouble. are reduced to a minimum.

Edith, a sister, was found a home in an ordinary family. They were told she was a difficult child to manage, but they assured us we would not be called upon to solve their petty problems if we would but allow them to take the girl with them. The reports of our visitor show that there were many occasions when the family life did not run smoothly and had her foster parents been less persistent and persevering it is not to be doubted that there would have been an entirely different ending to the story of her girlhood days. She now has a home of her own and knows from experience that caring for children has its sorrows as well as its joys, its moments of pain as well as happiness.

Clara, another sister, was the cause of much solicitation by everyone with whom she came in contact. She was by nature a disturber. If an occasion lacked variety or excitement, this child would find a way to supply the apparent deficiency. Her imagination was constantly at work and the plausible stories, complete with detail, caused more than one family to return her to the Home.

When people would see her among the children in the Girls' Department they could not be convinced that she was not really as demure as she appeared, but after they had had her for a time we invariably received a letter asking for advice or requesting our visitor to call and We knew at once that the same old story was to be repeated.

Upon one occasion she almost caused a separation between her foster parents by her stories. Frequent visitations and letters were necessary but even these would have been of no avail had the people with whom she was last placed wavered in what they considered their Christian duty. Clara, too, is married and now realizes her mistakes of earlier days.

Sadie, a few years older than Clara, was marked with a propensity for wandering and was easily influenced by the older children. She remembered localities and names of streets where she had formerly lived with her own people and she never became really reconciled to her foster home. All efforts to interest her in the better things of life failed. School to her was but a place in which to idle away one's time and her attendance at church was always preceded by many protestations. One day we were notified that Sadie had boarded a train for Cleveland. We afterwards discovered that she had found her own people and drifted back into their ways.

Bessie, the youngest, is still in her foster home. She has been a care in many ways but her foster parents are firm in the belief that she will outgrow her natural tendency for troublemaking. Should this prove true, it will be because she was placed when very young and her careful training will have neutralized the family trait.

We have in mind another family of an entirely different type. Conditions were such that of the five children, only two of them were placed in homes- the others being returned to relatives. In after years the brothers and sisters were brought together. The brother and sister of the foster homes had received college educations and each specialized in a chosen field of endeavor. When the others learned of this they were not to be outdone and immediately began courses of study in widely separated institutions of learning. The germ of achievement had been lying dormant in them thorough the years and needed but a stimulus to produce results. Today they are professional men and women but it is doubtful this would have been so had all of the five children been returned to their friends and relatives, as the educational advantages received by the two placed in foster homes proved an incentive to the others and goaded them on to work and study in order to attain an equality of learning similar to that of their more fortunate brother and sister.

We cannot close this report without a word of appreciation to those people who have taken these dependent children into their homes. Many times it has been their first experience in the intimate care of little ones and they have begun their task with positive opinions in the matter of child-rearing. However, they soon find that some revision is necessary. What seems perfectly plausible in theory does not always work out practically where the child is concerned. This period of adjustment affects the child as it does the parents and if the latter are but half-hearted in the desire for a little one in the home they are unable to stand the strain and the child is returned to the Institution the worse for having been placed.

Many people feel so sorry for the little ones they take that their sympathy rather than good judgment is the dominant note in the child's training. Even a baby will take advantage of the weakness of a foster parent and instead of being governed the child becomes the monarch of all he surveys and every whim must at once be gratified.

We see alike the frailties of the child as well as those of the foster parents who think they are following a wise course when they indulge children but really are in error. It is a simple matter to talk to the little one and point out his mistakes but it requires tact to do this with the foster parents. The latter class differ in their tendencies as do the children. They forget that the act of taking a penny from the kitchens table is an offense of no greater magnitude than it was when they themselves surreptitiously tip-toed to the cookie jar twenty years ago. They cannot see why the child should tell stories occasionally but they forget their own vivid imaginations when they were young.

It is sometimes said that it child is lacking in appreciation but we find in some cases that the foster parents have made very little effort to bring out this admirable trait.

When the foster parent has returned from a shopping tour the child eagerly inspects the purchases hoping that perhaps he may find something for himself. Clothing and the incidental expenses of keeping a child in the home mean very little to the average boy and girl and the juvenile tendency is to take these things as a matter of course, but the aspect of a child"s whole world is changed for him if he is occasionally remembered with a small gift such as a base ball bat or a hair ribbon. Perhaps the mistakes of the foster parents have been legion, but the fact is indisputable that were it not for the many homes opened to these desolate little ones their chances for a normal existence would indeed be slight.

Respectfully submitted,

How to Cite This Source

"1919 Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum Annual Report [Official Document]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #112, (accessed August 10, 2021). Annotated by Philip L. Safford