Ohio History Journal

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Homes for Poverty's Children:

Cleveland's Orphanages, 1851-1933


Orphanages were first and foremost responses to the poverty of

children. Although historians disagree over whether orphanage

founders and other child-savers were villainous, saintly, or neither,

there is little disagreement that the children saved were poor. When

this becomes the focus of the story, orphans appear less as victims of

middle-class attempts to control or uplift them than as victims of

poverty; orphanages emerge less as punitive or ameliorative institu-

tions than as poorhouses for children, and a history of Cleveland's

orphans and orphanages is less about the struggle to restore social

order or evangelize the masses than about the persistence of poverty in

urban America.1

Today Cleveland's three major child-care facilities are residential

treatment centers which provide psychiatric services for children with

emotional or behavioral problems. These same facilities, from their late

nineteenth-century beginnings to the Great Depression, however, were




Marian J. Morton is Professor of History at John Carroll University.


1. Historians critical of child-savers include the following: David J. Rothman, The

Discovery of Asylum: Order and Disorder in the Early Republic (Boston, 1980); Steven

L. Schossman, Love and tile American Delinquent: The Theory and Practice of

"Progressive" Juvenile Justice, 1825-1920 (Chicago, 1977); Anthony M. Platt, The Child

Savers: The Invention of Delinquency (Chicago, 1977); Ellen Ryerson, The Best-Laid

Plans: America's Juvenile Court Experiment (New York, 1978), and Michael B. Katz,

Poverty and Policy in American History (New York, London, 1983) and In the Shadow

of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York, 1986). More

positive evaluations include Susan Tiffin, In Whose Best Interest: Child Welfare Reform

in the Progressive Era (Westport, Conn., 1982); Robert H. Bremner, "Other People's

Children," Journal of Social History, 16 (Spring, 1983), 83-104; Michael W. Sherraden

and Susan Whitelaw Downs, "The Orphan Asylum in the Nineteenth Century," Social

Service Review, 57 (June, 1983), 272-90, and Peter L. Tyor and Jamil S. Zainaldin,

"Asylum and Society: An Approach to Institutional Change, Journal of Social History,

13 (Fall, 1979), 23-48. A sensitive and balanced portrait of child-savers and child-saving

institutions is provided by LeRoy Ashby, Saving the Waifs: Reformers and Dependent

Children, 1890-1917 (Philadelphia, 1984). An excellent review of the literature on

child-saving is Clarke A. Chambers, "Toward a Redefinition of Welfare History,"

Journal of American History, 73 (September, 1986), 416-18.