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Book of the Fortnight:
A Home For Every Child: The Washington Children's Home Society In The Progressive Era

HistoryLink.org Essay 10788 • Printer-Friendly Format

By Patricia Susan Hart
Paperback, 272 pages
Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index
University of Washington Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-295-99064-4

A Home For Every Child documents what to many readers will be a new subject matter: the care and placement (temporarily or permanently) of parent-less children in Washington during the Progressive Era. Specifically, the book chronicles the Washington Children's Home Society -- how economic and social conditions in the Pacific Northwest influenced parents' ability or inability to care for their children.

Many of these parents immigrated to Washington hoping to create their own prosperity: on farms, in Northern gold fields, in the logging and timber industries, in the coal fields.  Most found less prosperity than they'd hoped for, or none at all. Some struggled to support their children and some relinquished the care of their children to institutions, including the Washington Children's Home Society.

The society sought to place their children in home-like environments rather than in orphanages or asylums.  The history of Washington state's adoption laws and foster care system are also examined in this volume. 

Washington Children's Home Society records indicate that children were sometimes removed from the care of their parents if the parents were deemed morally inept to raise the child. As Hart explains, this went along with certain aspects of class warfare. 

Hart explores social aspects of child relinquishment. Illegitimacy was the main culprit. Washington Children's Home Society received newborns from White Shield Home in Tacoma and from Salvation Army Rescue Home in Spokane, among others. Hart also explores the many heartbreaking experiences that led mothers and sometimes fathers to relinquish their older children. 

Some children entered Washington Children's Home Society as infants, and some as older children. The older children entered following "sudden tragedies such as murders, suicides, or industrial accidents, but they more often came into care after witnessing prolonged illness of a parent or having endured poverty, disintegrating relationships between adults, household disruption, neglect, or desertion. Children from coal mining, railroading, and logging camps may have experienced both the traumatic loss of a parent and the effects of hunger, exposure, and homelessness" (p. 75). This book offers  window into oppressive and desperate social situations few contemporary readers may have contemplated. 

This is a poignant, heartfelt volume, very thoughtful, employing copious primary source material as witness to the plights of the children here examined.  Unique, and highly recommended. 

By Paula Becker, August 3, 2014

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A Home For Every Child by Patrica Susan Hart
Courtesy University of Washington Press

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