Title:
Custodians of Social Justice: The Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children, 1870–1922

Author:
Thomas W. Cowger

Date:
1992

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 88, Issue 2, pp 93-110

Article Type:
Article

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Custodians of Social Justice: The Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children, 1870–1922

Thomas W. Cowger*

Following the Civil War large numbers of destitute African Americans migrated to Indiana from the South. In late 1869 Friends (Quakers) in Indianapolis, concerned over the plight of newly arrived African Americans, met with a committee associated with the Freedman's Bureau. Further interest in the subject prompted a committee comprised of representatives from three quarterly meetings, Plainfield, Fairfield, and White Lick, to consult with the Marion County commissioners and prominent citizens of Indianapolis to consider various solutions to the problem. Providing aid to helpless, homeless, and dependent African-American children, who seemed particularly vulnerable and weak, was a primary concern. In 1870 Indianapolis Friends won financial assistance and approval from the county commissioners and the Western Yearly Meeting to open the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children (IAFFCC). These devout Hoosiers maintained the orphanage until 1922 when it was turned over to the Marion County Board of Commissioners.1 In part as a result of increasing interest in the plight of defenseless children, American reformers founded numerous orphanages in the years following the Civil War. Most of the institutions were sponsored by Protestant denominations, but the Catholic Bureau of Dependent Children


  • * Thomas W. Cowger is a doctoral candidate in history at Purdue University and currently a Smithsonian Fellow. He wishes to thank Nancy F. Gabin for her encouragement and perceptive criticisms. He also wants to thank Donald L. Par-man and Oakah L. Jones for their comments on various drafts of this essay. Special thanks go to the Friends Educational Fund for Negroes and the Indiana Historical Society for their generous permission to publish from the IAFFCC collection.
  • 1 Minutes, Board of Women Managers, President's Report, March, 1896, p. 151 (hereafter referred to as Board Reports), Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children Collection (Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis). This collection is hereafter referred to as IAFFCC Collection. Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children ([Indianapolis], 1915), 1, pamphlet in ibid.; "Colored Orphan's Home," IndianapolisNews, October 27, 1900.
  • INDIANA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY, LXXXVIII (June, 1992). " 1992, Trustees of Indiana University.
was also active, as were several Jewish orphanages and societies. Virtually all of the organizers were amateurs without formal training in child care. Many of the religious organizations were motivated by the desire to correct frightening new urban problems. Migrants from farms, small towns, and Europe caused cities such as Indianapolis to grow rapidly. The 1870 decennial census listed the population of the Hoosier capital at 48,244 compared to approximately 8,000 in 1850. The African-American population of the city, which before the war numbered only 500, reached almost 3,000 by 1870.2 The disruptive effects of such growth and change seemed to include a breakdown in traditional values and morals.3 Organizations like the IAFFCC desperately sought to provide moral ballast. Its leaders saw religion as a stabilizing force in a rapidly changing society. The alternative, they feared, was a splintered, chaotic community. Friends in Indianapolis, by answering African-American children's needs through the IAFFCC, hoped to revitalize traditional values, insure social cohesion, and meet a number of more general pressing social needs.4

At the time that Friends in Indianapolis opened the IAFFCC, American Quakers were in the midst of transition. Throughout their first two hundred years in America, Quakers had been distinguished by their adherence to quietism, plain dress and speech, pacifism, the doctrine of inner light, and a non-pastoral ministry. By 1870, however, Friends, like other religious groups, were being affected by modernizing forces that tended to fragment them. Nineteenth-century American Quakers split first into Orthodox and Hicksite factions; the Orthodox group further separated into Wilburites


  • 2 U.S., Ninth Census, 1870. Vol. I, Population, 127.
  • 3 Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978); Thomas Bender, Toward an Urban Vision: Ideas and Institutions in Nineteenth Century America (Lexington, Ky., 1975); Stuart M. Blumin, The Urban Threshold: Growth and Change in a Nineteenth Century American Community (Chicago, 1976); and Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York, 1967).
  • 4 Historical studies of orphanages are sparse, making comparative analysis of the Indianapolis experience difficult. For examples, see Priscilla Ferguson Clement, "Children and Charity: Orphanages in New Orleans, 1817–1914," Louisiana History, XXVII (Fall, 1986), 337–51; Carleton Mabee, "Charity in Travail: Two Orphan Asylums for Blacks," New York History, LV (January, 1974), 55–77; Ann N. Morris, "The History of the St. Louis Protestant Orphan Asylum," Missouri Historical Society Bulletin, XXXVI (January, 1980), 80–91; Clare L. McCausland, Children of Circumstance: A History of the First 125 Years (1849–1974) of the Chicago Child Care Society (Chicago, 1976); Gary E. Polster, Inside Looking Out: The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum, 1868–1924 (Kent, Ohio, 1990). General histories of destitute children in the nineteenth century include: Leroy Ashby, Saving the Waifs: Reformers and Dependent Children, 1890–1917 (Philadelphia, 1984); Robert H. Bremmer, comp., Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History (3 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1970–1974); David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order in the New Republic (Boston, 1971); Henry W. Thurston, The Dependent Child: A Changing Story of Changing Aims in the Care of Dependent Children (New York, 1930).
and Gurneyites. The Orthodox Gurneyites, of which the Indianapolis Friends were a part, splintered in the 1860s and 1870s into Conservatives, Moderates, and followers of the Holiness movement. By the latter decade the dominant Protestant evangelical and revivalist ethos had permeated Orthodox Quakerism. By the end of the nineteenth century most Orthodox Friends in Indiana had embraced evangelical conversion, a paid ministry, undistinguished dress, vocal prayers and preaching, and reinterpretations of the inner light, placing them much closer to the American Protestant mainstream.5

The Quakers were among the earliest migrants to Indiana, and certain counties in the state—Wayne, Randolph, and Henry, for example—had heavy concentrations by the early nineteenth century. The Society of Friends in Indianapolis grew gradually. The first Friends Meeting in the Hoosier capital organized in September, 1855. By December, 1856, members had completed construction of a one-story building at the triangle of Fort Wayne Avenue and St. Clair and Delaware streets. By 1859 the meeting consisted of 57 members; by 1865 the membership had reached 150. Continued growth forced Friends to erect a second building in 1895 at Alabama and Thirteenth streets. Ten years later, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the first Friends Meeting, membership in Indianapolis totaled 950. In the Hoosier capital, as elsewhere in Indiana, most of the resident Quakers had migrated from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other eastern states.6

The Quakers in Indianapolis had created the IAFFCC to aid dependent African-American children at a time when such benevolence was generally extended only to those who were white. In fact, Quaker interest in African-American children developed in a time and place in which few whites believed in equality of the races in any respect. Indiana laws in the early nineteenth century


  • 5 By the late nineteenth century Friends in Indianapolis had "discarded distinctive dress, and have usually adopted paid ministers, singing, prescribed services, instrumental music, and revival methods." Jacob Piatt Dunn, Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes (2 vols., Chicago, 1910), I, 627. See also Thomas D. Hamm, The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800–1907 (Bloomington, Ind., 1988). Hamm's superb study focuses on the Friends in the Midwest, particularly Indiana and Ohio.
  • 6 Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana before 1900: A Study of a Minority (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XXXVII, Indianapolis, 1957), 48. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century, it appears that Indianapolis Friends had numerous non-professional ministers among them simultaneously. Some of the ministers included: Hannah Pearson, David and Hannah Tatum, and James and Jane Trueblood. Jane Trueblood was minister for over thirty years. She also played a prominent role in the management of the IAFFCC in the early decades of the orphanage's operation. For a history of the church in Indianapolis see Dunn, Greater Indianapolis, I, 625–28; Berry R. Sulgrove, History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana (Philadelphia, 1884), 413.
barred African Americans from voting, testifying against whites, and serving in the militia. African Americans were also forbidden to marry whites and to attend public schools. Article XIII of the state Constitution of 1851, although never strictly enforced, prohibited free African Americans from settling in the state. After the Civil War political, economic, and social prejudice continued. Although African Americans were permitted to vote, they failed to gain significant political power. African Americans also often labored in menial occupations. Denied access to jobs, education, and charity services, African-American families often struggled desperately to provide for their children. By the end of the nineteenth century racial antipathy sometimes turned to hatred that brought violence and lynchings.7

It was against this backdrop that Indianapolis Quakers opened the IAFFCC. No other white church in the nineteenth century showed more concern for the welfare of African Americans than American Quakers, who often combined altruism, benevolence, and a sense of social responsibility to lead the nation in the promotion of social reform.8 This sense of charity carried over to dependent African-American children. In a society that aided only white orphans, Quakers had been among the first to provide relief to African-American "waifs." The Philadelphia Association for the Care of Colored Children opened in 1822. A decade later Friends started orphanages in Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City. Because of displacement produced by the Civil War, the Society of Friends also started orphanages for African Americans in Helena and Little Rock, Arkansas, and in Lauderdale, Mississippi.9 The IAFFCC was thus one of only a handful of orphanages for African Americans in the nation.

The IAFFCC, as the sole orphanage of its kind in the state, represented a pioneer effort in Indiana. As was generally true elsewhere in the country, Indiana's laws regarding dependent and neglected children developed piecemeal. Indiana's first response to the needs of dependent children was to adopt the Elizabethan poor laws in 1807. At the core of these poor laws was the indenture system, which bound children as apprentices to families and individuals


  • 7Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana; James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Bloomington, Ind., 1986), 169–73.
  • 8 This is not to suggest, however, that American Quakers promoted complete equality of the races or that Friends were exempt from racism. See Hamm, The Transformation of American Quakerism, 69–70.
  • 9 Mabee, "Charity in Travail," 55–77. See also Andrew Billingsley and Jeanne M. Giovannoni, Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare (New York, 1972), 27–31; Minutes of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends (Richmond, Ind., 1865), 41; Minutes of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends (Richmond, Ind., 1866), 33. The complete minutes of every Yearly Meeting were recorded and distributed to local meetings and members.
to work for a given length of time. Overseers, representing specific counties and appointed by the courts, monitored the treatment of the youngsters. The laws required masters to provide education and some wages and prohibited cruel treatment or neglect. Later amendments, however, made education for African-American apprentices optional and up to the discretion of the overseers.10

When Indiana became a state in 1816, framers of the constitution provided for a poor asylum for all indigent whites.11 The first attempt to fulfill the provision came in 1821 when Knox County built a facility for the poor. A general law, permitting each county to build an asylum, was passed in 1831.12 Over a decade later the first orphanage exclusively for dependent children opened in South Bend. The state authorized the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum as a private, sectarian institution run by Catholics to receive orphans. The governor appointed individuals to inspect the institution and to make reports to the next legislature.13

Direct government involvement in the asylums represented a significant departure. Dependent children were no longer under the care of overseers but were now under state supervision.14 Unfortunately, fragmented records make it difficult to estimate the number of orphanages that appeared in the period before 1870. The available evidence suggests that very few existed and that most dependent children remained in almshouses. It was not until passage of an act in 1881, which authorized county commissioners to purchase more asylums, that orphanages became more widespread in the state.15 The IAFFCC was unique not only because its sole purpose was to aid African-American children but also because it was one of Indiana's first orphanages.

Friends completed construction of the IAFFCC in early 1870. The simple brick house, built according to the congregate plan, was located at 317 West Twenty-First Street.16 The home was built on six lots, one-half of which had been donated by Gustavus Shurman


  • 10 Alice Shaffer, Mary Wysor Keefer, and Sophonisba P. Breckenridge, The Indiana Poor Law: Its Development and Administration with Special Reference to the Provision of Care for the Sick Poor (Chicago, 1936), 8, 12–13, 39.
  • 11 See Article IX, Section 4, of the Constitution of 1816 in Charles Kettleborough, Constitution Making in Indiana: A Source Book of Constitutional Documents with Historical Introduction and Critical Notes; Vol. I, 1780–1851 (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. I; Indianapolis, 1916), 114.
  • 12 Shaffer, Keefer, and Breckinridge, The Indiana Poor Law, 17, 22, 34.
  • 13Ibid., 23.
  • 14 Indiana, Laws (1833), 75.
  • 15Thirty-Second Report of the Board of State Charities made to the Legislature of Indiana, (Indianapolis, 1921), 172.
  • 16 Susan Tiffin, In Whose Best Interest? Child Welfare in the Progressive Era (Westport, Conn., 1982), 67. Most orphanages during this period were patterned after the congregate plan. Children usually ate, slept, played, worked, and learned in a single building. Rarely was there much interaction between the institution and the local community.
and the other half which had been purchased from him. Friends quickly found burdensome the challenge of caring for children in the original building design. At normal capacity the home was never capable of housing more than one hundred children, but it often exceeded those limits.17 Numerous additions to the home attempted to meet changing needs. There were separate dormitories for girls and boys and a nursery for infants. Over the years the remainder of the home included playrooms, dining room, receiving room for guests, laundry, kitchen, and a small hospital. Two small schools were built a short distance away from the main building. Except for 1889, when children were temporarily removed to outside families following an Easter Sunday fire in one of the wings, the IAFFCC housed children at the same location throughout its existence.18

The Quakers ran the orphanage through a Board of Women Managers, whose president also served as director of the asylum. Only two different presidents directed the Board during the orphanage's tenure under the Quakers. Jane Trueblood, a minister in the Friends church, served as president from its inception until her death on August 8, 1891. Following a brief interim, Alice R. Taylor succeeded Trueblood and managed the home until Marion County assumed control.19 The board generally met once a month to discuss the needs of the institution. The organization of the asylum was pyramidal. The president appointed an executive committee from among the managers. The executive committee consisted of the president, two vice-presidents, a secretary, and a treasurer. The executive committee then received assistance from clothing, educational, visiting, and other committees. The various committees were charged with obtaining supplies and materials. In the case of the visiting committee, one officer and two board members were appointed to visit the home each week to transact business and inspect conditions.20

In addition to the Board of Women Managers, a Board of Directors, made up of nine male Quakers, oversaw the financial affairs of the orphanage. According to their synoptic view of life, men presided over the world of material affairs while women tended the domestic sphere of hearth and home.21 The orphanage received


  • 17IndianapolisNews, October 10, 1900; IndianapolisStar, September 30, 1918; Board Reports, March, 1896, p. 152.
  • 18Ibid. See also Board Reports for February 27, 1877, pp. 75, 78; March 29, 1881, p. 159; March 10, 1885, p. 29; March, 1887, p. 59; March 14, 1889, p. 152; March 14, 1889, p. 186; March 14, 1890, p. 197; March 14, 1901, p. 219.
  • 19bid., August, 1891, p. 106; March 14, 1922, p. 96.
  • 20Ibid.; See also ibid,., By Laws, January 17, 1870, p. 11; November 27, 1900, p. 212. It appears from the evidence that everyone associated with the operations of the home was white.
  • 21 Walter Joseph Homan, Children and Quakerism: Study of the Place of Children in Theory and Practice of the Society of Friends, Commonly Called Quakers (New York, 1972), 10.
[Figure]

INDIANAPOLIS ASYLUM FOR FRIENDLESS COLORED CHILDREN Courtesy Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis

funds from both private donations and support from county governments. It appears likely, although the evidence is not conclusive, that the IAFFCC was the recipient of a large donation from an individual named John Williams. An African-American pioneer from North Carolina, Williams settled in Washington County, near a Quaker community. Unlike most African-American Hoosiers he made a substantial living as a farmer and a tanner. Williams was murdered in December, 1864, an innocent victim of racial hatred. Before his untimely death he had made provisions to donate his estate to furthering the education of African Americans in Indiana. His executor, William Lindley, or someone else, turned the proceeds of the estate, amounting to $5,750, over to the IAFFCC in 1870.22

[Figure]

Courtesy Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis.

Monthly reports of the IAFFCC commonly listed other donations of food, clothing, money, and time from various sources. The largest donations came at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but gifts


  • 22 For more on Williams's life and the controversy surrounding the disbursements of his will, see Lillie D. Trueblood, "The Story of John Williams, Colored," Indiana Magazine of History, XXX (June, 1934), 149–52; Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana before 1900, 378.
also occurred throughout the year. Contributions included everything from library books to $34 for the purchase of a cow.23

Although many donations came from Hoosier Quakers others came from outside Indiana. O. C. Blackman, president of a printing company in Chicago, for example, furnished free subscriptions to such magazines as The National SS Teacher, Scholars' Weekly, the Little Folks, and the Indiana Farmer. Twice each year, in addition, the Indiana Farmer advertised to find prospective homes for the children. Merchants from around Indianapolis also contributed goods and services. Bobbs Dispensary, for instance, generously provided medicines, and the local newspapers offered advertising space for the home.24

Although this sporadic aid helped to meet daily needs, the primary financial support for the IAFFCC came from the Marion County commissioners who had provided $1,500 to establish the orphanage and who agreed to pay a per diem rate for each child in the asylum. When the IAFFCC opened, the rate was 25 cents a day per child; this later increased to 75 cents. These payments, made promptly on a quarterly basis, allowed the orphanage to survive.25

Shortly after its inauguration the orphanage agreed to accept children from outside Marion County. Although most of the children came from the Indianapolis area, records suggest that in the period from 1899 to 1922 at least thirty-five counties from within the state sent children to the IAFFCC. Often officials in other counties found it more convenient to send their dependent African-American children to the IAFFCC than to care for them at home. Each of these counties also agreed to pay the per diem rate.26

Although public financial support was essential, the Quaker women actively involved with the home carried the burden for its survival. Indiana Quaker women were similar to other middle-class Protestant women reformers in post-Civil War America. In a world of uncertainty, they saw motherhood and home as symbols of stability. The ideal of domesticity not only placed women on a moral pedestal, but it also helped raise the status of children.27


  • 23 Board Reports, August 27, 1872, p. 15; May 28, 1872.
  • 24Ibid., March 18, 1879, p. 114; February 24, 1880, p. 133; March 14, 1888, p. 73; February 25, 1875, p. 35; February 28, 1882, pp. 174–75.
  • 25Ibid,., 25th President's Report, March, 1896, pp. 151–52; "Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children," IndianapolisNews, October 27, 1900; Thirty-Third Report of the Board of State Charities (Indianapolis, 1922), 30.
  • 26 Statistics compiled from reports contained in Records of Children from Counties other than Marion, 1899–1922. These reports are part of the IAFFCC Collection. This figure also serves to illustrate that the IAFFCC's unique role in aiding dependent black children was not limited solely to efforts within Marion County.
  • 27 Keith Melder, The Beginnings of Sisterhood: The American Woman's Rights Movement, 1800–1850 (New York, 1977); Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–1860," American Quarterly, XVIII (Summer, 1966), 151–74; Robert E. McGlone, "Suffer the Children: The Emergence of Modern Middle-Class Family Life

More than any other individual connected with the IAFFCC, the matron of the home was responsible for the arduous task of day to day operations. She was aided by a staff that included two governesses (one supervised the boys and the other the girls), two nurses, seamstress, teacher, cook, laundress, and an assistant.28 Several of the staff lived separately in a house across the street.29 Despite this assistance the matron's duties presented endless new challenges and paid little. Her job was so demanding few lasted more than several months.30

The staffs work load increased dramatically during the institution's frequent epidemics. Whooping cough, scarlet fever, mumps, measles, smallpox, and diphtheria flourished in the large open air dormitories.31 The home initially employed a doctor who was on call as needed; later the American County Medical Society provided free services. The staff tried to prevent epidemics by thoroughly screening new children for contagious diseases, but this procedure often met with little success.32 Death tolls reached their highest point during periods of epidemics, which resulted in more deaths for children under five years of age.33 Those who died received a religious service and were buried in lots donated at Crown Hill Cemetery and Brown Hill.34

The IAFFCC accepted dependents up to age fourteen. A few more than half of those admitted were boys. At the end of the home's first year of operation it had housed eighteen children; by the 1890s the number reached over 170 annually.35 From the


  • in America" (Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1971). Margaret Hope Bacon, Mothers of Feminism: The Story of Quaker Women in America (San Francisco, 1986); and Mary Maples Dunn, "Women of Light," in Women of America: A History, ed. Carol Ruth Berkin and Mary Beth Norton (Boston, 1979), 114–33.
  • 28The Indiana Bulletin of Charities and Correction (September, 1902), 24.
  • 29Indianapolis Star, September 30, 1918.
  • 30 For duties of the matron see Board Reports, By Laws, November 27, 1900, pp. 213–14. In 1876 the matron received wages of $25 per month; by 1918 those wages had been increased to only $40 per month. Catherine T. Timberlake was the first matron of the home until her death September 21, 1871. After that the matrons changed frequently.
  • 31 For examples of outbreaks of these diseases see Board Reports for January 30, 1877, pp. 72–73; February 27, 1877, pp. 74–76; August 31, 1880, p. 141; March 26, 1883, p. 3; March 14, 1890, p. 198; March, 1897, p. 164; March 14, 1900, p. 201.
  • 32Ibid., January 30, 1877, pp. 72–73; February 26, 1878, p. 97; March 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • 33 Based upon a compilation of Board Reports during the period from 1887 to 1909, the home averaged ten deaths per year, while housing 109 children yearly. During this period 67 percent of those who died were four years old or younger. (Figures were not kept for 1903.) Beginning after 1897 new state laws required the institution to keep better records.
  • 34 Board Reports, January 30, 1880, p. 145; IndianapolisNews, October 27, 1900.
  • 35Fourteenth Report of the Board of State Charities (Indianapolis, 1903), 230; IndianapolisNews, October 27, 1900; Board Reports, March, 1909, p. 430.
IAFFCC's inception until 1909 the home averaged 109 annually.36 The children entered the home for a variety of reasons. Many had been assigned by courts, which made vague distinctions among dependent, neglected, and delinquent children. The categories mattered little to the managers. They saw their function as offering protection and shelter to any African-American child in need.

Managers identified orphans, half-orphans, and victims of unstable home environments as dependent children. In fact, most of the children were not orphans in the true sense of the word. Often, on the death of one parent the surviving parent was not able to care for the child. Some parents would board the child in the home certain months of the year. Surviving relatives paid a small fee to help support the child. Boarding children for small payments from family members typified institutions across the country. Not all residents of the IAFFCC needed placement in individual homes. Many of the children were motherless or fatherless in the sense that their parents were simply not able to provide. African-American families in Indianapolis, frequently propertyless and consigned to low paying jobs, often had little choice. The home simply helped such families get through difficult times. Throughout the year many of these children returned to relatives or friends. The home also cared for many true orphans and also for abandoned children. Some of these were victims of abusive and irresponsible parents. After the IAFFCC had succeeded in rescuing these children, it faced the difficult task of finding homes for them.

The board did not envision long periods of care for many of its charges but rather hoped to dispatch them to apprenticeships, adoptions, or relatives. A few of the youngsters suffered from mental or physical liabilities that made them unacceptable for outside placement. Frequently, however, board members complained of the difficulties in finding adoptive homes even for healthy African-American children. Few families seemed interested in adopting the youngsters, and most children left the home only when they became old enough for indentured work.37 Board members thought of indenture as a method to support and prepare children to become working adults and responsible citizens. The apprenticeship contract defined the legal relationship between master and in some detail the child. Often the master agreed to provide clothing, lodging, education, and food for the apprentice. Board members hoped the child's experience would include religious as well as vocational training.38


  • 36 Figure is based upon a tabulation of annual board reports during the period. It does not include the years 1872, 1873, and 1903 when no records were submitted.
  • 37 Board Reports, March, 1897, p. 165.
  • 38Ibid., By Laws, November 17, 1870, Article 13, p. 14.

Board members attempted to guard against the exploitation of adoptable and indentured children by placing them into "good Christian homes." Of course, at times, it was difficult to prevent abuses. Records show pathetic examples of irresponsibility and cruelty. One such example involved a girl who was not yet eight years old. Late one evening she returned to the asylum wearing a blouse saturated with her blood. She had been the victim of a brutal whipping from a ruthless master. Although an investigation revealed that numerous whippings had taken place over an extended period of time, the mayor pardoned the accused, and the court forced the girl to pay a $10 fine and court costs39

The Quaker belief that an ordered life was a moral, pious life dictated the Friends' exercise of power over dependent children.40 The board argued that many of the children in the home could become "burdens to society," hence measures were needed to prevent "crime and pauperism."41 Friends believed that a Christian life involved structure and discipline. Like managers of other orphanages of the period, Friends valued a strict and orderly daily routine. In that sense, one of the IAFFCC's functions was directed toward societal order. Its purpose, in short, was to prepare children for adulthood by instilling self-discipline and a sense of individual responsibility.

The IAFFCC's attempt to order the make up of the children's lives, however, was not simply another means to support the existing class system and thereby perpetuate inequality. Instead, the institution sought the opposite. Friends intended to "instruct" and "elevate this class."42 The orphanage never intended to sacrifice individuality for inflexible routines. Regularity and orderliness were simply a means to improve the character of the child. Underlying such routines were a deep sense of compassion and a sensitivity to the needs of the children.

The IAFFCC's house rules had a simple purpose: to "inculcate a strict regard to cleanliness, order, and economy."43 The children


  • 39 Newspaper clipping, dated June 8, 1883, included as part of inventory marked "Loose papers from the volumes of Minutes, Treasurer's Reports and Admission Record" Box 3, IAFFCC Collection.
  • 40 Various theories of social control have been promoted to explain the motivations of reformers and their methods of control over lower classes. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that social control theory, as an interpretative strategy for reform and institutions, can be ambiguous and suffer from serious inadequacies. For two perceptive and balanced critiques of the social control theory, see William A. Muraskin, "The Social Control Theory in American History: A Critique," Journal of Social History,, IX (Summer, 1976), 559–69; and David A. Rochefort, "Progressive and Social Control Perspective on Social Welfare," Social Service Review, LV (December, 1981), 568–92.
  • 41 Board Reports, March 27, 1876, p. 60.
  • 42Ibid., February 26, 1878, p. 96.
  • 43Ibid., March 27, 1883, p. 6.
were awakened at 5:30 a.m. every morning, and they immediately washed and dressed. Meals during the day followed the same rigid schedule; breakfast was at 7:00 a.m., lunch at 12:00 p.m., and dinner at 5:30 p.m. The children were to proceed to and from meals in an orderly fashion, remaining quiet before, during, and after. By 6:30 p.m. they were to be in their dormitories for religious devotional exercises conducted by a matron or the governess. At the conclusion of the exercises the children were to go to sleep. The older children were to insure that the younger ones followed the rules.44

Strict order and routine, of course, necessitated discipline. Unrelenting supervision brought mild, but certain, punishment for any infraction of the rules. Friends desired that all corrective measures fit the nature of the offense and disposition of the child. The matron, unless she delegated to others, was the only person with the authority to inflict punishment on a child. If disciplinary methods proved ineffective, however, the president could resort to expulsion.45 Discipline, according to board members, was more effective when based on persuasion and moral influence. Fear may have been an underlying motive for corrective child behavior, but the ostensible reason was a religious one.

Religion, board members thought, served to mold the children into worthy individuals. The best way to create good Christians was to control the youngsters' spiritual environment.46 The matron assured that one-half of every day was devoted to scripture exercises. Each child received and recited new verses each week. Board members took great pride in reporting the number of scriptures memorized each year. In 1884, for instance, they reported with great joy that 3,000 scriptures had been memorized. They were disappointed to learn, however, that it was unproductive to try to teach scripture passages to infants in the nursery. Aside from the scripture exercises, religious services were held every Sabbath.47 The Sabbath services were conducted by either the matron, governesses, or outside individuals. Frequently, individuals from local African-American churches presided over Sunday school.48

Quakers also emphasized the need to obtain a secular education to shape children's characters and prepare them for responsible lives. Education inculcated respect for authority and offered solutions to some of the fundamental problems of the time.49 Quakers


  • 44Ibid., House Rules, November 27, 1900, pp. 214–16.
  • 45Ibid., November 11, 1900, Article 8, p. 216; By Laws, January 17, 1870, Article 8, p. 11.
  • 46Ibid., February 26, 1878, p. 93.
  • 47Ibid., March 10, 1885, p. 31; March, 1884, p. 17; By Laws, November 17, 1870, Article 7, p. 13; House Rules, April 1, 1910, Article 5, p. 102; November 6, 1916, p. 12.
  • 48Ibid., November 27, 1900, p. 223; March 25, 1902, p. 3.
  • 49Ibid., Articles of Association, January 1, 1870, Article 1, p. 7.
also hoped that education would provide African-American children an equal opportunity to compete in society. A day school opened in 1886. Throughout most of its existence the school was supervised by the Indianapolis public school system. A single teacher taught the school at least three hours a day, six days a week. Legislation enacted in 1899 required all children from ages six to fourteen years of age to attend classes.50 All children studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and elementary geography. The school was coeducational, but as in other areas of the home interaction between sexes was strictly controlled. The IAFFCC had hoped to build a manual training school, but it was never completed. Outside of school hours the girls were taught domestic skills and the boys manual labor.51 The home proudly announced in 1921 that five students had graduated from the school and gone on to college.52

The children were occasionally provided some reprieve from the monotonous daily routine. Guests were permitted daily, except Saturday and Sunday, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Family members or friends were limited to two visits a month unless the board approved additional visits because of unusual circumstances. Additionally, the IAFFCC staff tried to take the children on occasional picnics.53 Perhaps the happiest moments for the youngsters were the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. Local donors provided turkey, ham, candy, and toys. Sometimes special dinners and programs were held in their honor. One Christmas the home accepted invitations from the Harmony Club, Elks, and Colored Shriners. The board of managers agreed to purchase new clothing for the children to make sure they were properly attired to attend the events.54

In an attempt to convey a sense of the human quality of the institution, managers consistently referred to all residents as members of the "family." Monthly meetings of the board often reported with deep satisfaction the acceptance of their children into new families.55 Monthly reports also provide evidence that the institution successfully established close ties between some children and the orphanage. The board in one meeting recorded the gift of a Bible from one of their former charges. The boy had been given the Bible as a present from the home before leaving to go to a family,


  • 50 "Compulsory Education Law," Tenth Report of the Board of State Charities (Indianapolis, 1899), p. 150.
  • 51 Board Reports, March 1886, p. 45.
  • 52Ibid., September 6, 1921.
  • 53Ibid., House Rules, November 27, 1900, Rules 1 and 12, pp. 214, 216; March, 1886, p. 47; By Laws, November 17, 1870, Article 16, p. 14.
  • 54Ibid., March, 1886, p. 47; December 12, 1914, pp. 90, 91.
  • 55Ibid,., see, for example, February 26, 1873, p. 23.
but unfortunately became deathly ill. In compliance with his last wish the Bible was returned to the home with a note of thanks.56

Near the turn of the century the dynamic burst of reform associated with the progressive movement included numerous campaigns to reconcile modern industrialization, urbanization, and ethnic diversity. Progressives sought to battle inequities and injustices and to confront social problems. Dependent children became one of their prime targets.57 During the progressive era Congress created the United States Children's Bureau to investigate and report on all issues regarding child welfare. Sudden fascination with the needs of children produced juvenile courts, child labor laws, compulsory school attendance laws, child-aid societies, and the playground movement.58 Much of the legislation of child-care reform came at the state and local levels. In the late 1800s several types of state systems developed. Michigan set a significant precedent in 1874 by creating a state public school to which probate courts temporarily assigned children as wards of the state. By 1900 nine other states, including Indiana, had adopted modified versions of the Michigan plan. Reforms in the Indiana child welfare system began in 1897 when a children's division of the State Board of Charities was authorized to investigate orphanages and report its findings. Perhaps more importantly, dependent children in Indiana became legal wards of the state. In 1907 the child welfare laws were further reformed to invest juvenile courts with the sole authority to declare dependent children public wards. Orphanages were to function only as temporary receiving centers until state agents could find homes for youngsters.59

Many progressive reformers wanted to close outdated, cold, and sterile institutions. Congregate asylums, such as the IAFFCC, fell into disfavor as critics contended that children in these homes were denied a healthy, secure home environment. By the turn of the century "child savers" tended to promote sending children into


  • 56Ibid., June 26, 1877, pp. 83–84; compare with February 26, 1878, pp. 94–95.
  • 57 David M. Kennedy, "Overview: The Progressive Era," Historian, XXXVII (May, 1975), 453–68; Robert H. Wiebe, "The Progressive Years, 1900–1917," in The Reinterpretation of American History and Culture, ed. William H. Cartwright and Richard L. Watson, Jr. (Washington, 1973), 425–42; Otis L. Graham, Jr., An Encore for Reform: The Old Progressives and the New Deal (New York, 1967); Richard M. Abrams, The Burden of Progress, 1900–1929 (Glenview, Ill., 1978). On the rise of children's issues among reformers see, Tiffin, In Whose Best Interest?; Ashby, Saving the Waifs.
  • 58 On the importance of volunteerism in the progressive era, see Kenneth L. Kusmer, "The Functions of Organized Charity: Chicago as a Case Study," Journal of American History, LX (December, 1973), 657–78; Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 189–219.
  • 59Eighth Report of the Board of State Charities, (1907), 115–17. After the legislation passed in 1897, numerous orphanages were closed down, and the IAFFCC noted a decrease in the number of children they admitted. Board Reports, March 14, 1899, p. 186; March 14, 1901, p. 219.
foster homes, and asylums such as the IAFFCC were on the defensive. The difficult task of finding such homes for African-American children, however, suggests the limited vision of white reformers.

The idea of substituting foster families for institutional settings was not new. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Charles Loring Brace's well-known "orphan trains" carried thousands of New York children to rural homes largely in the Midwest. Other societies adopted the technique and sent children westward.60 Still other innovative approaches included forms of self-government, farm schools, and the "cottage home" system.61 Many progressive reformers believed in the power of the press to awaken and enlighten the public about the needs of homeless children. National campaigns were highly critical of traditional orphan asylums, and by the early twentieth century public sentiment had clearly shifted toward the foster care system.62

Perhaps critics of the IAFFCC and other similar homes were correct. Although these large congregate institutions once filled a void in child care, the decaying buildings and crowded conditions severely limited what well-meaning matrons and board members could accomplish. In 1918 a report of the New York Bureau of Research outlined the problems. The bureau's inspection commission criticized the IAFFCC for its unsafe and overcrowded conditions, pointing particularly to inadequate fire protection measures, medical care, play space, and sleeping quarters. The rooms for the children were "dark and foreboding" and "unpleasant in every particular." The board admitted that thirty-six boys slept in a room less than twenty feet square.63 The report of 1918 noted other problems. In one corner of the nursery the inspection commission team found a "mentally defective epileptic child" enclosed in a wire cage. It was the only way that the staff could keep him from "annoying the others," the matron noted. The New York investigators suggested that the child be removed to a facility where he could receive adequate care. The report did, however, compliment the staff of IAFFCC for the cleanliness of the home and their efforts with limited resources and for being the only institution of its kind in the state.64


  • 60 Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 94–107; Bender, Toward an Urban Vision, 131–57.
  • 61 Among the more well known of the self-government approaches were Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Boys' Brotherhood Republic, incorporated in Chicago in 1914. Most of the farm schools were built on the model of the Ohio Reform Farm. See Robert M. Mennel, "The Family System of Common Farmers: The Origins of Ohio's Reform Farm, 1840–1858," Ohio History, LXXXIX (Summer, 1980), 279–322. Indiana considered adopting the cottage plan but never did.
  • 62 See, for example, Mabel Potter Daggett's "Where 100,000 Wait," Delineator, LXXII (November, 1908), 773–76, 858–61. Starting in 1907, the Delineator was a major voice for the home placement movement.
  • 63 Board Reports, March 14, 1904, p. 26.
  • 64 "War Chest Charity Survey, Part 8—Indianapolis Homes for Friendless Colored Children," IndianapolisStar, September 30, 1918.

As the report indicated, the space needs had outgrown the home's original site. Once located in an undeveloped area in the countryside, the IAFFCC had become encircled by the rapid growth of the city. Neighbors, angry at having the home in their neighborhood, also protested it should be moved.65 The New York bureau agreed and recommended that Marion County take over the orphanage and build a new home.

In response, the IAFFCC conceded that the state had more resources to operate the home. The Board of Women Managers formally requested that public officials assume control. In 1922 the recommendation was accepted, and the Marion County Board of Commissioners took charge. The money left in the asylum's budget, $4,304.22, became the basis for a still-existing Friends scholarship fund for African-American students. The county commissioners operated the home until 1939 when the Marion County Welfare Department took it over and cleared the home of children within a year. It closed a few years later.66

By 1922, on the eve of its fifty-second anniversary, the IAFFCC took great pride in the fact that it had housed more than three thousand children. Throughout its existence Quaker managers labored long and diligently to establish what they hoped would be a better world for African-American children. The desire to make a turbulent world orderly, the extended role of women managers, and strong benevolent instincts helped define the nature of their child rescue work. Humanitarian zeal, fostered by the belief that all children were sacred, special, and part of an extended family, led Quakers to aid African-American children when such support was not common.67

As progressive critics charged, however, traditional homes like the IAFFCC had become outdated by the early twentieth century. Just as its energies and efforts reflect early reform work in the Victorian era, so did its decline conform to patterns in the waning years of progressivism. In many respects the progressive critics were right, but in light of the problems of the foster-care system the virtues and failings of noninstitutional and institutional care continue to be debated.

The weaknesses of the IAFFCC should not overshadow what the home accomplished. If one measures the success of the IAFFCC by the intentions and the void it served, then the institution was a great success. Motivated by a sense of social justice, Friends in Indianapolis


  • 65 Board Reports, March 3, 1904, p. 26.
  • 66 Board Reports, March 14, 1922, p. 96; "Report of the Colored Orphans Home for May 1922," IAFFCC Collection, 140–41; IndianapolisNews, November 30, 1920; Indianapolis Star, March 28, 1939, June 30, 1939, July 28, 1939.
  • 67 See, for example, Board Reports, February 26, 1873, pp. 21–22.
established the IAFFCC for homeless black children denied access to white orphanages. The endurance of the home for fifty years in a world hostile or at least apathetic to African Americans is a testimony to their achievements. The IAFFCC stands as a unique, pioneering effort and represents one of the era's finest accomplishments.



Published by the Indiana University Department of History.