St. Louis Orphanages

St. Louis Orphanages

David A. Lossos, updated 3/31/2015

The following articles were written in the early 1990s, but the revelancy of the information is as current today as it was back then. It is by far the most comprehensive treatise that I've seen relating to the early history of St. Louis orphanages. Peggy Greenwood's efforts will be utilized by current researchers as well as genealogists for many generations to come.

Address comments and questions to Dave Lossos

To return to the "Genealogy in St. Louis" Web Site click here.

Part I (1991)

by Peggy Thomson Greenwood

"NOTE ADDED 12/8/2012 from Bethany Harrison: I was just reading your article on St. Louis Orphanages and wanted to update you on the Masonic Home of Missouri. I just went to their main office in Columbia looking for our family's records (my father was in the Delmar home from 1939-1946, and his father and uncle were both MO Masons), and I learned that they are in the process of scanning the old records from the Delmar home. My understanding is that there will be some sort of database for people like myself looking for information on their ancestors. The project was just started, so it will take a while, I am sure, but I thought this might be helpful information for those with questions. The woman in charge of the project is going to keep me updated, so I will contact you again once I get news that the scanning has been completed."

“Please, sir, I want some more” was the plaintive cry of Oliver Twist as the 1960 musical Oliver turned the scathing social condemnation of Charles Dickens into sweet poignancy for our modern world. But the Dickens novel was muck- raking reality, not sweet poignancy. And like London, St. Louis in the mid-l9th century had a shadow world of juvenile delinquents, child indigents and orphans.

Between the years 1850 to 1870, the focal point of this study, the number of institutions for dependent children in the St. Louis area more than doubled. A variety of historical events contributed to this phenomenal growth. It was in 1849 that the residents of St. Louis experienced the greatest of the cholera epidemics that periodically struck this river port city. About 10% of the total population - 7000 people - died of cholera between January and August of that year. And the orphan population multiplied.

It was in 1849 that the great fire destroyed much of the river front and left behind unforgettable death and destruction. And the orphan population multiplied.

It was in 1849 that St. Louis became a center for outfitting caravans bound westward to the gold fields, to Oregon, and to Texas. Whether the cause was death or financial circumstance or deliberate choice, again the orphan population multiplied as children of the pioneers were abandoned to the grime and pain of the streets of the city.

It was in 1849 that St. Louis experienced the height of the great German immigration. Comments added 3/21/2008 by Dave Lossos: "Gary Stoltman, a well-known authority on St. Louis history, sent me the following clarification "(the) height of German immigration ... was actually 1854 during that period. Incidently, the peak year for StL (not nationally) was actually 1882"). Added to the large influx of the Irish in the mid 1840s and a continuing high birth rate, St. Louis suffered all the travails of an over- rapid urbanization. Impure water, foul sewage, and improper garbage disposal were just a few of the by-products that added untold numbers of children to the ranks of the institutionalized indigent and orphaned. Because there was no extended family to take in the orphaned children of immigrants, a large number of foreign-born children are found in these institutions. Add to this situation the social alienation associated with immigration and de-humanizing poverty, and the result was an increasing number of illegitimate births. The orphan population multiplied.

Each year until 1925, the orphan population continued to grow and the number of institutions existing to house the orphans also grew. The problem of tracing one’s family history beyond the orphanage is an acute one. The types of records kept vary from orphanage to orphanage and, if extant, are often difficult to locate. But there are some avenues of investigation for the persevering genealogist. Following is a survey of 17 institutions for the orphaned, indigent or delinquent children in existence in St. Louis between 1850 and 1870. If the institution no longer exists, the successor organization is named. If the records still exist, the location of the record is given. If the records have been misplaced or destroyed, it is noted.

In St. Louis, Juvenile Court Records begin in 1917. All adoptions before 1917 were recorded in the Recorder of Deeds office. These adoptions are not found in the Land. Records indices, but they are found in the Land Records books dispersed indiscriminately between the real estate transactions. To save hours of time researching these books in the basement of City Hall, there is a card file in the office of the Recorder of Deeds. The file is not open to public scrutiny. But given a name and a date, a staff member may inform the researcher if there is a record of adoption and the volume and page number of the deed book in which the information is recorded. Family historians are welcome to research in the Land Records Office of the City of St. Louis. Written inquiries are also welcome. They should be sent to Recorder of Deeds Office, St. Louis City Hall, 1200 Market St., St. Louis MO 63103.

According to a file card at the Missouri Historical Society, there was also an Orphans Court in St. Louis as early as 1804.


“Early records of this (Orphan’s) court are currently (1951+) filed with the record books of the Probate Court in the Civil Courts building. Their records date from 1804 and are arranged chronologically. In late years, they have been indexed for names. Mr. Adolph Thym, Office of the Probate Court, 6/16/1954.”

These record books can no longer be found at the Probate Court. The staff now working at Probate believes the books were turned over to Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court division does not say they now hold these records. It was stated that no information from historical records would be released to the inquirer without a court order. Probate Court does hold guardianship records available to the family historian.

In 1827, John Mullanphy granted to Philippine Duchesne a 999 year lease for property on Broadway and Convent Streets. One of the stipulations of the lease was that 20 orphan girls or girls from indigent families should be cared for. Thus began the Mullanphy Orphanage. These girls entered the Orphanage and thereby the academy directed by the Religious of the Sacred Heart upon recommendation by Mullanphy’s daughters, and later his descendants. This stipulation has been carried out to the present day with the exception that now, in lieu of institutional care, financial need scholarships are awarded to students attending Villa Duchesne who require assistance. Inquiries concerning girls who were cared for are accepted, but in most cases there is little or no information. Inquiries should be sent to: Society of the Sacred Heart, National Archives U.S.A., 801 South Spoede Roads, St. Louis MO 63131.

The St. Louis Protestant Orphan Asylum was established in 1834 as a direct response to the growing number of homeless children created by the westward movement and the 1832 cholera epidemic. It was a united effort of Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist congregations. Some records may be found at the Missouri Historical Society. Volume 1 covers the years 1834 to 1852. In the early years the record sometimes mentions residents by name as recently indentured or newly admitted to the Home. But this type of information is not a regular part of the bi-monthly journal until 1850. In 1865, this Home merged with the Soldiers Orphan Home of Webster Groves, a Home established to meet the needs of the Civil Wax. Volume 2 of the Missouri Historical Society holdings covers the years 1882 to1916. This volume lists the name of the resident, the date of entry, the age, birth place and by whom placed. (Comments from Dave Lossos 1/30/2007: St. Louis Protestant Orphans' Asylum (1834- ), Records, 1834-1940. 70 Volumes on 8 Microfilm Rolls Western Historical Manuscript Collection University of Missouri-St. Louis)

In 1853, to care for vagrant girls, the Girl’s Industrial School was established. It was intended to be a learning center for elementary English education as well as to provide training in cooking, sewing, and cleaning. The successor organization to the St. Louis Protestant Orphan Asylum, the Soldiers Orphan Home and the Girl’s Industrial School is Edgewood Children’s Center. Some early records are extant. (LOSSOS NOTE: Note from N. Ellen Reed-Fox (Chief Development Officer of Edgewood Children's Center) dated 5/25/2008). Edgewood's current President & CEO is Wayne G. Crull, 330 North Gore Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63119, 314.919.4736. Website:

St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, established in 1835, was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. From 1850 to 1870 it was one of the largest institutions for indigent boys in St. Louis. Still in existence today, this Home will not answer inquiries concerning specific residents of the home at any time period unless there is a court order.

The Episcopal Home for Children was established in 1837. In this Home lived many boys and girls orphaned when their families were moving west. The Home closed in 1939. The earliest records are simply the name of the child and very little more. Later records contain more information. [IMPORTANT NOTE - This was received August 22, 2002: I am the archivist for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, and have recently received several requests for information about children placed or believed to have been placed in the Episcopal Home for Children/ Episcopal Orphans Home. By state statute, orphanage records are sealed and can only be opened by court order, so I am not able to look at any of the records. I hate to disappoint people to think they may have found a source for information about a hard to locate ancestor, and I know in the case of adoptions this can lead to a brick wall, but there is nothing I can do. Anyone looking for other types of church records -- baptisms, marriages, burials that took place in churches that are no longer in existance -- is of course welcome to write to the Archives, Diocese of Missouri, 1210 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO 63103. Susan G. Rehkopf, Archivist and Registrar, Diocese of Missouri].

Dr. William Greenleaf E1iott, founder of the Unitarian Church in St. Louis, opened in the basement of the Church of the Messiah a day school for the children of the poor. By 1840 this day school had become the Mission Free School and Home, a social settlement center providing short term residential care for indigent boys and girls. From the beginning the brighter students were educated. Dr. Eliott later founded Washington University, in part to provide a local institution where the boys of poor families could finish their education. Residents of the Home who were judged to be more manually oriented were taught a trade. To accomplish this task, the Manual Training School, the forerunner of O’Fallon Technical School, was established.

Extant records of the Mission Free School and Home are held in the archives of the Unitarian Church. There are very few names recorded. Much of the content of the early journals may be found in “The Mission Free School” by Elizabeth Chapin Carson, Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, July 1953. It is sometimes possible to trace a resident through the Sunday School Records of the Church of the Messiah. Inquiries are welcome. They should be sent to the attention of Mrs. Melanie Fathman, Archivist, Unitarian Church, 4967 Pershing Place, St. Louis MO 63108.

St. Mary’s Orphanage was formally established in 1843. However, records show that an asylum under the supervision of the Daughters of Charity had been in existence since 1831. St. Mary’s was a home for orphaned girls ages five to 14. Opened first in a home donated by Mrs. Ann Biddle, there was no regard for race or religion. St. Mary’s Orphanage ceased operations in 1952, but the building continues in use today as St. Mary’s Special School.

The extant records of St. Mary's Orphanage date from 1843 to 1900. The records include the name, date of entry, why the child was an orphan, the date of departure and where the child went. ( (LOSSOS NOTE: Current contact information from Carole Prietto: (as of March 31, 2015)
The Daughters of Charity Archives are now firmly settled in Emmitsburg and so wanted to give you updated contact information. Records of St. Louis orphanages run by the Daughters of Charity (St. Mary’s, St. Philomena’s, and Guardian Angel) are now housed at the Daughters of Charity Province of St. Louise Archives in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Here’s the contact information.
Daughters of Charity Province of St. Louise Archives
341 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, Maryland 21727
phone: 301-447-7017
Reference email:

Our social media sites
Twitter: @Archives_DC

Most homes for dependent children in St. Louis between 1850 and 1870 were church affiliated. The notable exception to this was the House of Refuge, chartered by the State of Missouri in 1851. In theory the House of Refuge was a progressive social reform intended to preserve society’s juvenile offenders from the influence of hardened criminals. In brief, it was a reform school. In practice, the House of Refuge became a residence for indigent and orphaned as well as delinquent boys and girls in St. Louis. The Journal of the House of Refuge for the years 1854. to 1899 may be read at the Missouri Historical Society. The Journal has an alphabetized index. The entry for each resident lists the date of entry, the name, the cause, or by whom placed, the date of departure, to whom released and the relationship, if any.

The German St. Vincent Home for Children was established in 1851. Originally under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, this home for boys and girls was directed to receive, maintain and educate orphans of German parentage. It was financed by German Catholics throughout the city. St. Vincent’s Home is still in existence today. Few records of the earliest years remain. But inquiries are accepted if a name and date of residence are provided. Inquiries should be sent to St. Vincent Home for Children, 7401 Florissant Road, Normandy MO 63121.

A home for aged widows, a maternity hospital for illegitimate children and a foundling asylum were established in 1853 and incorporated as St. Ann’s Foundling Asylum and Widow’s Home. Again it was a donation by Mrs. Ann Biddle, daughter of John Mullanphy, that allowed the Daughters of Charity to respond to the increasing social problem of illegitimate births. Located at 10th & O’Fallon, the first St. Ann’s constructed a “turn” by the alleyway door where a desperate mother could anonymously commit her baby. Babies abandoned in doorways or on church steps could freeze to death or worse before being discovered. The “turn” was intended to protect infants from this danger-fraught practice. St. Ann’s Foundling Asylum received about 350 infants annually. There are no extant records. But at age five orphan girls were transferred to St. Mary’s Orphanage, and orphans of German heritage were sent to the German St. Vincent’s Home.

The Evangelical Children’s Home was established in the basement of St. Peter’s Church in 1858 to take care of German immigrant children orphaned due to yet another raging cholera epidemic0 Many children in this Home were only half orphans. But the working hours of the laboring class, often 14 to 16 hours a day, prohibited child care. And because these were children of immigrants, there was no extended family to step in and fill the gap left by the death of one parent. This Home was also intended to break the pattern of creating indentured servants or “child slaves” from orphans. The Evangelical Children’s Home is still in existence today. There are records from the early years, but they are sparse, usually just a name with a date for entry and departure. Sometimes there will be a description of cause for entry, but not often. A name and a date are needed for research. Written inquiries should be sent to Ms. Betty Markowski, 8240 St. Charles Rock Road, St. Louis MO 63114.

The House of the Guardian Angels opened as an orphanage for girls ages seven to 12 in 1859. Under the direction of the Daughters of Charity, it quickly evolved into a half—orphanage and technical school. The school was self-supporting through the sewing skills of the residents. In 1906, the House of the Guardian Angels ceased operation as a technical school and became Guardian Angels Settlement, still in existence today.

Records of the residents of the House of the Guardian Angels from 1859 to 1906 are held in the archives of the Provincial House of the Daughters of Charity. The records contain the name, date of entry, age, who brought the child, sometimes place of baptism, date of departure and where the child went. Inquiries by mail are welcome. (See St. Mary’s Orphanage.)

By the year 1860 there were almost 1.500 orphans in the City of St. Louis. It became common practice to indenture or apprentice children at a very young age in order to make room for the little ones. With no one to protect the “child slaves,” they were frequently over-worked or physically abused. To alleviate this problem St. Philomena’s Technical School was established in 1864 by the Daughters of Charity. This was a Home for girls ages 12 to 18 where basic education and training could be continued. The main source of income was from the sewing of layettes, trousseaus, and fancy needlework by the residents. Extant records from 1864 to 1930 are somewhat incomplete, but available to family historians at the archives of the Daughters of Charity. (See St. Mary’s Orphanage.)

St. Bridget Church in St. Louis found itself in the orphan business when people began to leave orphans at the door. In 1862, under the direction of the Daughters of Charity, St. Bridget Orphan Asylum was established. It quickly became a half-orphanage for deaf and deaf-mute children. Very early the Home was given into the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet because of their renowned reputation in training deaf children. But some few of the records of the earliest years can be found in the archives of the Daughters of Charity. (See St. Mary’s Orphanage.)

The Methodist denomination was also involved in providing care primarily for German Methodist orphans. The early efforts eventually evolved into three incorporations: the Central Westland Orphan Asylum in Warrenton chartered in 1864; the Methodist Children’s Home of St. Louis chartered in 1879; and the Epworth Home for Girls chartered in 1909 in Webster Groves. Because of the affiliation with the Methodist Church and because of the location of Epworth near the railroad track, the present administration believes that this Home was part of the route of the Orphan Train. These Homes seem to be outside the general scope of this study. They are included because the modern-day researcher of early Methodist child care will find the few extant records in the archives of the present-day successor organization, the Epworth Children’s Home in Webster Groves. Records begin in the 1800’s. Inquiries are welcome. They should be sent to the attention of Mr. Roger Drake, Epworth Children’s Home, 110 North Elm, Webster Groves MO 63119.

The Lutheran Orphan’s Home (see comments) (Evangelical Orphan Home) was established in 1868 in Kirkwood, Missouri. This home served orphans from the German Lutheran community. The early journals and annual reports, written in German, can be read at the Concordia Archives. The successor organization to this institution is Lutheran Family Services. Inquiries are accepted. To receive information from any records still extant, the inquirer needs to have a direct relationship such as: biological parent, an adoptive parent, the child him/herself or a biological sibling. So a grandchild will be given no identifying information, but may receive a lead such as a church where a christening took place. Inquiries should be sent to ..... (Editor note: The address of Lutheran Family and Children's Services is now located at 4201 Lindell Blvd., Suite 400, St. Louis Mo 63108)

This research centered on institutions for children in St. Louis between 1850 and 1870. For those researchers who need to find information for a later date, a good starting point is: Adoption Agencies, Orphanages and Maternity Homes: An Historical Directory by Reg Niles, Phileas Deigh Corporation, Garden City New York 1981; or Trends in Child Dependancy in St. Louis, 1860-1894 by Edwin Olds, Research Bureau of Social Planning, St. Louis Missouri 1946. Those researchers who need to track an Orphan Train might try the collection at the Missouri Historical Society, Forest Park, St. Louis, or contact Heritage Act Incorporated, 721 Olive, Suite 1510, St. Louis, Missouri. They have produced a video entitled “The End of the Line - Orphan Train.”

Was there a Fagin, Oliver Twist’s nemesis, in St. Louis? Probably not. But surely you have seen the ghost of an Artful Dodger or two darting in and out of the pages of this report.



1.         The records of the St. Louis Protestant Orphan Asylum, the Soldier’s Orphan Home of Webster Groves, and the Girl’s Industrial School were reported as located at the Missouri Historical Society or Edgewood Children’s Center.  As of Spring, 1992, afl. historical records not previously donated to the Missouri Historical Society were donated to the Mercantile Library, 510 Locust St., St. Louis. To view this collection, call Mr. Charles Brown, Reference Librarian, to make an appointment. (621—0670)


2.         The St. Louis Poor House, established in 1827 by the General Assembly of Mo., was a dumping ground for unfortunate men, women, and children. The blind, deaf, handicapped, feeble—minded, insane and terminally ill were committed alongside the healthy and temporarily homeless. The only extant records discovered so far are found in various census records. Every name lists of residents of the Poor House appear in the U.S. Federal Census, the aforementioned 1880 Special Census, and the 1866 census of the City of St. Louis - the last - named being available on microfilm at the Missouri Historical Society.

Part II (1993)

by Peggy Thomson Greenwood

Dressed in red, with carrot-colored curls and a dog named Sandy, the fictional Little Orphan Annie pulled on the heart strings of Americans of every age. She became the classic prototype of a sweet little innocent committed to the drudgery of life in an asylum. In the opening act of “Annie,” the 1977 musical version of the Sunday Comics serial, the not-quite-totally depraved matron of the orphanage, Ms. Hadigan, mutters, “Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me.” But meander through the mean streets of the late 19th century. The years 1870 to 1900 were years of chaos in America. It was a century in the throes of an industrial revolution that would change America from a nation of small farms to a giant of technology in 50 short years. And the same forces that gave some Americans the highest standard of living in the world also created sweatshops and rabbit-hutch slums. Wealth and pauperism, side by side, were the result of industrialization, urbanization and immigration.


St. Louis did not escape the pangs of industrialization as it made the transition from a commercial and mercantile center to a heavy—industrial producer and wholesale marketing center. As the impersonal gears of industrialization gained strength and momentum, the depersonalized laborer became a powerless cog in the wheel. The sweat of labor lubricated the vast new industrial machine twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for eight cents an hour. Unorganized, abandoned by government, deprived of legal help, the American laborer was power-less when the industrial giant flexed its muscle, casting into living perdition the weak, the injured, the old, and the sick.

And the children? Some 1.75 million children across the U.S. helped feed the industrial monster, seldom saw the light of day or knew the pleasure of play, received 25¢ a day for the sacrifice of their childhood. These were the innocent victims of the second industrial revolution. It was from the misery of unprotected child labor and the slavery of apprenticeship that the growing juvenile institutions tried to save the children.

But, why would any kid want to be an orphan?

People poured into the cities from the prairies, the farms, the defunct mining towns, the war-ravaged South, and foreign countries. As San Francisco had its Tenderloin District and New York its Hell’s Kitchen, St. Louis also had a nightmare in stone: a district so filled with violent crime and human degradation that even police officers feared to tread its cobblestones, Slum neighborhoods proliferated on the fringes of the new industrial centers. Slums were savage places. Although St. Louis had few tenements, 100% use of the lot space with buildings on the front, back, and down the middle of the lot created the same effect. In 1908, the Civic League of St. Louis conducted a study of a slum neighborhood. Known as Carr Square, one area contained as many as 1900 residents per acre. The average living space was 16.9 square feet per person. There was an average of one bathtub and four toilets for 2479 people. The average rent was $1 a week. Human waste and garbage accumulated in the few open spaces.  And in these ill-ventilated, foul-smelling shacks and cellars were found saloons, bakeries, groceterias and laundries.

And the children? Raised in utter poverty - death, disease, malnutrition, neglect, abuse, abandonment and delinquency were prevalent. These were the victims of an over-rapid urbanization. Eventually, a virtual army of do-gooders began to use their resources and energies to save the children through the ever-increasing establishment of juvenile institutions.

But why would any kid want to be an orphan?

America could not have developed into the giant of industry that truly made it “the land of opportunity” without the steady stream of immigrants who provided plentiful, cheap, unskilled labor. By 1880, the steady stream of immigration had become a rushing torrent. Although Germans remained the largest immigrant group in St. Louis, and there were always impoverished Irish finding their way to the gateway city, they were now joined by large numbers of people from Austria-Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Russia. These bright-shawled, quaint—jacketed aliens were visibly and volubly different from the western Europeans St. Louis had earlier accommodated. The new immigrants took their places in the industrial machine in an aura of fear and suspicion. And they took their places in the ethnic neighborhoods where strangeness could be cushioned by clinging to old ways. But as ethnic neighborhoods multiplied, so did difficulty of assimilation.

And the children? Caught between the old world and the new, the children perhaps endured the deepest pangs of social alienation. Ravaged by poverty, neglected by necessity and buffeted by violence, the children were the catalyst that spurred the rescue effort represented by the mushrooming juvenile institutions in the City and County of St. Louis.

But why would any kid want to be an orphan? Perhaps if Ms. Hadigan had looked more closely into the backgrounds of her charges she would have understood that the children were the innocent victims of a colossal industrial revolution, the wretched victims of over-rapid urbanization, the unfortunate victims of flood tide immigration. For in the late 19th century, these were the “new orphans” of America who filled the children’s homes.

One hundred years of history have passed since the second industrial revolution wrought its havoc on the American family. With this passage of time the true extent of the period’s social disintegration has faded. But a study of the organizations established to aid the children exposes the depth of the problem .In St. Louis, orphanages, children’s homes, receiving homes, foundling homes, and asylums continued to increase and were filled to capacity. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of children institutionalized in St. Louis during this 30-year period. In any given year, the number represents about 2% of the total juvenile population. In 1870, about 1635 children were institutionalized. By1900, the number was about 2500 children. But the homes had a quick turnover. The actual number passing through these institutions during this 30-year period was probably close to 11,000 children. These were the orphaned and half-orphaned, the neglected, abused, abandoned, pauperized, handicapped, delinquent, of St. Louis.

The number of true orphans found in St. Louis juvenile institutions was under 5% of the total number institutionalized. Most of the true orphans were children of immigrants with no extended family to provide a home.

Half-orphans made up almost 23% of the juvenile institutions’ population. A single parent, working 12 hours a day and threatened with dismissal for single-day absence, tardiness or illness could not work and raise children. It was these children - neglected by circumstance, deprived, vulnerable, and particularly susceptible to the temptations of crime that many institutions were established to help. Homes would often contract either the parent for some financial aid. Most of these children were not abandoned to the institution. However, strict rules were enforced through signed contracts. A parent or guardian who neglected Sunday visits or became severely delinquent in the monthly stipend could lose his/her children to adoption.

A growing number of children were committed to the institutions by working parents. These were the boarders. By 1890, this group represented about 24% of all children institutionalized. Both parents working 72 to 84 hours a week were able to scrimp and save and realize the American Dream. Parents would contract for the ca re of their children - for a monthly fee to protect them from the violence of the streets and to save them from the dangers of neglect. As boarders, children would have weekly visitors and. often return home for holidays. Although austere and regimental, children’ s homes offered a way to provide care and training to the children of the upper-class poor. Both boarders and half-orphans helped finance the operation of various institutions.

The third-largest group found in late19th-century institutions were the children of the totally destitute. Some had been abandoned by parents unable to care for them. Others were children picked off the street by civic officials, police officers, and do-gooders, all believing that the improved quality of life offered by the juvenile institutions was more important than the love and security that might be found in even the most impoverished home. This practice added horror and fear to the lives of destitute families in their struggle to satisfy the bosses and keep the family unit together. It was 1909 before it was recognized that poverty alone was not sufficient cause to remove the children from their homes.

Juvenile delinquents and children judged incorrigible by a responsible adult made up about 15% of the total numbers of institutionalized children. Handicapped children — the deaf, blind, lame, and feebleminded - accounted for another 15%.For the rest, the population came from a mishmash of social deviants and the down-trodden. Children whose parents were committed to the poorhouse, the work-house or prison were admitted to the juvenile institution that would care for them. And victims of parental vice were rescued and placed in children’s homes.

Given the number of children institutionalized in the 19th century, it would be reasonable to suggest that many family historians could flesh out ancestral bones by investigating the records of the appropriate institution. While records vary, many hold a wealth of information. Census records are very useful in locating an institutionalized child. U.S. Federal Census records from 1850 to 1920 contain an every-name record of all reported juvenile institutions with routine listings of age, race, sex, and state of birth. Should your family tree contain a child institutionalized in the year 1880, do not overlook the 1880 Federal Census, Supplemental Schedules, 1-7: Dependent, Delinquent and Defective Classes. Information found on this census includes name city, county, state or country of origin, status of parents, date of admission, and names of siblings in the same institution. This special census for the State of Missouri may be found in micro-form at the Missouri Historical Society. For a listing of the repositories for this census in all 50 states, see: Hatten, Ruth Land, C.G.R.S., “The ‘Forgotten’ Census of 1880: Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 80 (March 1992), p.57.

Following is a list of juvenile institutions established in the St. Louis area between 1870-1900. If the institution holds records of value to the family historian, their location and how to access them is included in the survey.

The German General Protestant Orphans Home was opened in 1877 by a small group of German Protestant church members to protect and provide for orphaned children without discrimination with regard to religion or gender. Very early, the Home had a special dedication to keeping siblings together in the Home and in outplacements. Although its charter specified it as a home for orphans, several half-orphans are found in the original population of 20 children, at the first home on Chouteau Ave. near 11th St. It is still in existence, now known as theGeneral Protestant Children’s Home. Inquiries from family historians are acceptedbut responses are often delayed, due to a small staff. Inquirers should state thename (include maiden name) to be searched, birth date, date the person lived at the Home, and the relationship. The inquiry should be directed to: Mr. Lenz, General Protestant Children’s Home, 12685 Olive St. Road, St. Louis MO 63141.
Comments added 10/28/2005 by Dave Lossos: the St. Louis County Library, Special Collections, has the intake records of this facility on microfilm. Book One dates from November of 1878 until Sepetember 20, 1916, and Book Two contains November 29, 1917 thru March 8, 1943.

A group of Victorian ladies who were convinced of a desperate need for a Protestant infant asylum established Missouri Baptist Children’s Home in 1886. (Infants were accepted by only a few Catholic asylums at this time.) Frequently the babies were illegitimate and suffered from poor prenatal nutrition or disease. They required round-the-clock care and extensive medical treatment. Even then, mortality was high. Boys under the age of seven and girls under 12 were accepted in the first Home at 2651 Morgan St. The various committees responsible for the welfare of the Home kept excellent records. Records of the admission committee are of most interest to the family historian; they contain the name and age of the child, date of admission, when and from whom received, name and residence of immediate relatives, removals and to whom, death dates and causes. Inquiries from family historians are accepted on a fee basis. Send inquiries to: Ms. Karen Glazebrook, Missouri Baptist Children’s. Home, 11300 St. Charles Rock Road, Bridgeton MO 630144.

St. Louis Colored Orphan’s Home was founded in 1888. The first home was located at 1427 N. 12th St., on ground purchased by black soldiers after the Civil War, for a soldiers’ home that was never built. The Home served orphans, half-orphans, and neglected black children. It was renamed The Annie Malone Children’s Home in 1946, because of the support and financial aid given by Mrs. Annie Minerva Pope Turnbo Malone, who was president of the institution for a time. Inquiries from family historians are welcome. UPDATE 12/4/2008: Direct your queries to Linda M. Nance, Director of Resource Development, Annie Malone Children & Family Service Center, 2612 Annie Malone Drive, St. Louis, MO 63113. (314) 531-0120. Website:

The Masonic Home for Children and the Elderly was established in 1889 for dependents of members of the Fraternity and of the Eastern Star. Both orphans and children of destitute parents were admitted to the children’s home. No payment was required. If orphans arrived with an inheritance, it was held in trust for them until they left the Home. Children were supported and educated until they completed their training of choice. But records were not preserved. Some few children are mentioned in A Consolidated Version of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, but this is by no means an extensive record of children provided for between 1889-1981. And even this record has been temporarily misplaced due to disorganization associated with a move to Chesterfield after almost a century on Delmar.

St. Elizabeth’s, the only Catholic parish for Blacks in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was established in 1881. An orphanage evolved from the day school in the basement of St. Elizabeth’s. In 1887, the Oblate Sisters of Providence bought the old Taylor Mansion at Taylor & Page and established St. Frances Orphan Asylum to shelter, feed, clothe, and educate poor black girls, irrespective of religious creed. Orphaned, half-orphaned, neglected or abandoned black girls between the ages of two and 12 were accepted. In the early years, education geared to the mastery of domestic arts was emphasized. The Home closed in 1965,but inquiries from family historians are accepted by the archivist of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. She will search registers, record books, and sacramental data; replies are often delayed, due to limited staff. Contributions to defray costs of copying and mailing are appreciated. Send inquiries to: Sister M. Reparata, O.S.P., Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent, 701 Gun Road, Baltimore MD 21227.

The Christian Orphan Home was chartered in 1889 as a home for destitute and homeless children by the Benevolent Association of the Christian Church. The house at 1234 Bayard St. was opened with a treasury containing only $50. The first child accepted was a baby from St. Joseph, Mo. The next four children were Swedish orphans from Houston, Tex. Thus, from the beginning, the home was a national refuge. Orphans, half-orphans and destitute children were accepted free of charge, if permission was given to place them with good families. Others were taken on a temporary basis at a low rate of board until their parents were again able to care for them. In 1954, the name of the institution was changed to the St. Louis Christian Home and in 1978 changed once more to ECHO (Emergency Children’s Home). Today, ECHO deals with victimized, angry, dysfunctional children rather than “the sweet little orphan of yesteryear.” There are some early records and inquiries from family historians are accepted. Send inquiries to: ECHO, Mr. Martin Pratt, Executive Director, 3033 N. Euclid, St. Louis MO 63115. (Comments from Dave Lossos, 2/2/2007 - Thanks to the efforts of Sharon, here is an update to the information provided above. From the current administration at ECHO Emergency Children's Home, The Olive Branch, 314-381-3100 comes the following: "As you can imagine the files and papers ECHO Emergency Children’s Home had for the late 1890’s and early 1900’s were quite fragile. In order to preserve the integrity of the information and paper, we made a decision that our historical files from the 1900s to about 1940s would be sent to the Disciples of Christ Historical Society so that they may be preserved in a more suitable environment. The following is contact information for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society: Ms. Sara Harwell, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1101 Nineteenth Ave., S., Nashville, TN 37212-2196. Phone: 615-327-1444, E-Mail:". Their website is located at

The Children’s Home Society, was founded in 1891 by the Rev. C. W. Williams, a Methodist minister, but the Society was never associated with a particular religious denomination. This was a receiving home for abandoned, neglected and mistreated children, to arrange for their adoption or temporary foster care. Children were received from all over the state as associates of the Society went out by buggy and train to find needy children. The Home became a statewide, non-discriminatory clearing house for indigent children. Although a majority were placed for adoption, and these records are closed except to the biological mother and/or adoptee, there were a few placed without benefit of adoption. For information on children who were NOT adopted, write to: Mr. Michael Marini, Executive Director, 9445 Litzinger Rd.. St. Louis MO 63144. Attn: Search and Review.

The fictional Little Orphan Annie met her happy ending in the person of Daddy Warbucks. Few of the real life orphans in St. Louis in the last century had a Daddy Warbucks waiting in the wings to rescue them. But perhaps each of the men and women dedicated to the success of the children’s homes was a Daddy Warbucks rescuing the littlest ragamuffins from the nightmare in stone that was life on the streets of St. Louis.

The above institutions were established primarily for the care of dependent children in the metropolitan St. Louis area. But this was also the period when the various Orphan Trains were most active in moving children across the United States. The saga of the Orphan Trains has been immortalized in the fiction media. Heart-rending stories of lonely waifs wrenched from all that was familiar, transported thousands of miles and given away to strangers, live on in a vast collection of Americana. Based on historical fact, these books and movies tell the story of the Children’s Aid Society Home opened in New York in 1853. Believing that children were better off in families than in institutions, and better off in a rural setting than in a city, the Society was dedicated to finding country homes for the orphaned, neglected and abandoned children found on the streets of New York. At first all children were placed in the East. In 1854, the first orphans were taken to Dowagiac, Michigan. Thus began the 75-year history of the Orphan Trains, eventually placing 150,000 children in rural homes across the United States. While approximately 6000 came to Missouri, there are no specific statistics on how many may have been placed in rural areas surrounding St. Louis. In 1901 the Missouri General Assembly passed a law prohibiting the emigration of “afflicted, indigent and vicious children.” However, the law was never strictly enforced.

The movement of orphans did not originate with the Children’s Aid Society of New York, although the concept of home placement was new. Some early record books of St. Louis institutions show such movement even before the Civil War. Following the success of the Orphan Trains, several other agencies in the East began placing children out via trains. Among the organizations emulating the Children’s Aid Society was the Daughters of Charity with Mercy Trains. One major difference in the Mercy Trains was that all children were placed before being transported.

The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc. is a central clearing-house dedicated to preserving all information on the children, institutions, agents, railroads, towns and families involved. For information, write: Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc., P.O. Box 496, Johnson AR 72741

The following sources were used to develop the statistics used in this article:


          Olds, Edward. Trends in Child Dependency in St. Louis, 1860-1944. St. Louis: Social Planning Council of St. Louis and St. Louis County, 1946.

          Rumbold, Charlotte. Housing Conditions in St. Louis. St. Louis: The Civic League, 1908.

          “Report on the Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes.” 21, Statistical Abstract of the 1880 Federal Special Census for the State of Missouri. U. S. Bureau of the Census.

          “Report on Crime, Pauperism and Benevolence,” part 2. Statistical Abstract of the1890 Federal Special Census for the State of Missouri.”U.S. Bureau of the Census.

(Comments fromLaVerne (posted 12/11/2001)
As a child, (I was born in 1922) I went with my family every year to the Lutheran Orphan Home picnic. Church women around the city cooked and served a hot meal under a wooden picnic pavilion on the grounds.
The orphanage was in Des Peres, on the site where St Paul Lutheran Church now has its elementary school. The Church sanctuary occupied the corner on Manchester and Ballas as it does today, but the church building was smaller. It was never in Kirkwood.
About 1935-36 the orphanage had a fire, but I don't believe anyone was hurt.
From a church history published by Concordia Publishing House in 1954 and called The Heart of Missouri by August Suelflow, page 135, we read,
"The Orphans' Home, established in first served both orphans and aged people. In 1867 the Lutheran Hospital Association of St Louis resolved to build an orphanage, and soon thereafter purchased 40 acres of land near St Paul's Church, Des Peres, for $4000. The first building, a log cabin, was dedicated on October 11, 1868. By 1871 there were 38 children in residence, and larger quarters became necessary. The second building cost $9000 and was dedicated on June 8, 1873. The official name of the institution was "Waisenhausen zum Kindlein Jesu" In 1893 a third building was constructed, accomadating 150 children. The present fireproof building was dedicated on June 14 1936 and in 1947 the new Andrew H. Cremer School. To date (1954) 21,047 children have been served at the orphanage."
The Concordia Archives mentioned in the article is really Concordia Historical Institute. It can be reached at Concordia Historical Institute: Department of Archives and History, LCMS (
Hope this information helps."

(Comments from Meredith, 4/1/2008: I was reading the page about the orphanages in St. Louis, and the information you have about the Lutheran Orphanage in Des Peres (particularly the addendum at the bottom) is incorrect. The orphanage never existed where St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary school is now. It has always been where Des Peres Park is. The City Hall building is the former orphanage. Prior to the current building, another building stood in its place and was destroyed by fire in 1935. The Kramer School - school building for the orphanage - still stands just east of City Hall. Much of what is now Des Peres Park was the farm for the orphanage, as it was largely self-sustaining.")

(Comments from Peter Lessing (posted 1/23/2010)
My great grandmother on my father's side was placed in the Lutheran Orphan's home around the year 1880. This is a fairly well-known and documented fact in my family, as I have correspondence from elderly relatives that were alive when my great grandmother was alive that establishes the date she entered the orphanage and date she left. She was placed in the orphanage when her father died, the last of her living parents, and she was 12 years of age. My comment is in regard to how people may find information about orphans at this orphanage for the period 1880 to 1886 and possibly past that period. The St. Paul Des Peres Lutheran church was associated with the orphanage as was hinted at below in one of the comments previously posted. I can confirm this fact because records of my great grandmother's baptism into the Lutheran faith (at the age of 12) and her subsequent confirmation (at the age of 14) appear in the church records of St. Paul Des Peres Lutheran Church. These church records are available at the St. Louis County Library on microfilm. I have personally viewed these microfilms and made copies of the entries of my great grandmother's baptism and confirmation. There is further confirmation in the fact that one of her baptismal sponsors is also related to me, and was married to my great grandmother's husband's elder sister, of whom we have many, many records. So for those who may be unsuccessfully trying to find family members through the Lutheran Orphan's home records (which may or may not exist or be accessible), another avenue is to search the St. Paul Des Peres Lutheran church records on microfilm as they may contain records of confirmation for children at the orphanage. There is even an on-line index to the St. Paul's church records at the St. Louis County Library web site which can be found here:

This index was how I originally found my great grandmother's records.