'A good, warm hearted girl," wrote the matron in 1905, describing a young woman barely out of her teens. A few weeks later, another entry noted the birth of her baby. After six months the new mother left the home with her child. The matron then added this final note: "She has the making of a good woman in her."
The little book chronicles the significant role of the Florence Crittenton Home in Montana. Its history parallels a national movement whose mission, to offer sanctuary and rehabilitation to women and girls, remains vital today.
Florence Crittenton Homes were the brainchild of wealthy New Yorker Charles N. Crittenton whose 4-year-old daughter Florence died of scarlet fever in 1882. After months of depression, Crittenton had a religious awakening. He followed street evangelist Smith Allen into the heart of New York City's underworld.
Appalled at the despair of the district's prostitutes, in 1883 Crittenton founded the Florence Night Mission, naming it for his little daughter. It was a haven for "lost and fallen women and wayward girls" who had nowhere else to go.
A decade later Crittenton expanded his vision to found shelters across the United States. Forming a partnership with Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, whose own crusade targeted young single mothers, the National Florence Crittenton Mission incorporated in 1895 and by 1897, 46 homes operated across the country. Because of Barrett's involvement, many focused upon unwed expectant mothers.
"Christian and parental" in character, the homes encouraged young mothers to keep their babies.
In 1896, Crittenton brought his mission to Montana, establishing homes in both Helena and Butte. Butte's home closed by 1898, but Helena's flourished, and in April 1900 the Florence Crittenton Home Circle of Helena purchased a six-room building in Kenwood with a $500 donation from the national mission. It could serve 13 women and children.
The national organization sent Maria Dadman to Helena as matron. On May 21, Dadman recorded the first birth since her arrival. The child's 19-year-old-mother named her baby Florence Dadman.
The Helena home incorporated on June 12, 1900, and a litany of troubled, sick and homeless women and teens found refuge there. The pages document cases referred by the judicial system, conveyed by relatives or ministers, and occasionally brought by the local sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd. The sisters' mission, to rehabilitate wayward girls, closely paralleled the Crititenton model but did not extend to expectant mothers. Many paid the $25 maternity fee, but the home refused no one.
In December 1903, Dr. Kate Barrett came to Montana when Great Falls requested its own Crittenton Home. Proponents argued that Great Falls was its own community, not tributary to Helena. Barrett countered that her organization had all it could do to maintain the Helena home. She promised, however, to help establish a Great Falls circle, "to look out for fallen women" to refer to Helena.
Florence Crittenton Home circles formed in Great Falls, Butte, Anaconda, Miles City, Billings, and other communities. The book records many girls referred by these local circles.
Over the next few years, six different matrons recorded the brief story of each temporary "inmate." Many were pregnant, but some were homeless, and some were victims of abuse. They came from all ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds, from across Montana and neighboring states. Most kept their babies as the Crittenton Mission recommended.
Lena Cullum became matron in 1907. During 38 years of service, she saw the best endings and some of the worst. Among her first cases was a pregnant 15-year-old who came to the home in 1908. Her brother, the father of her child, had been sent to the penitentiary. The girl died of consumption at County Hospital four weeks later. The book records other such cases, stillborn babies, and mothers who died in childbirth. But for every sad ending, there were successes, too.
The Crittenton Home at Helena received no financial assistance beyond maternity fees. The Helena circle hired a field secretary in 1908 to raise funds and by 1910 there was enough to build an addition. At this time the household included seven children under 2 and sixteen young women between 12 and 26. But by 1920, the home (which still stands on Hauser Boulevard) had become too small.
Cullum and the Helena Circle scraped together $2,000 to purchase the abandoned Albert Kleinschmidt mansion in 1924. There was room for 50 women and girls and 30 children. Cullum welcomed each girl, treating her as an individual with a future.
Eighty-one-year-old Lila Schroeder Anderson recalls with fondness that need was the only criterion for admittance. Lila was 10 when she ran away from the Montana Children's Home. Mrs. Cullum took her in, and Lila proved her worth. She did chores and sometimes even helped girls her own age through hours of labor. Cullum saw Lila through school and gave her gave away on her wedding day.
The Crittenton Mission adapted to changes, reevaluating the policies of its 62 homes in the mid-1930s. Emergence of the first legitimate adoption agencies and legal recognition of parental and child rights made adoption a more feasible choice. The homes now discouraged young mothers from keeping their babies. Then, after World War II, social workers with college degrees began to replace occupational staff. Cullum resigned in 1945.
Jessica Simmons, former head of student nurses at Warm Springs State Hospital, became superintendent. With professional experience in mental illness and social work, Simmons followed national models emphasizing the stigma of teen pregnancy and encouraging adoption. By 1957, 98 percent of Helena's Crittenton teens chose adoption through the Montana Children's Home, State Welfare, Lutheran Social Services or Catholic Charities. By 1960, the Helena home had cared for approximately 5,800 girls since 1900.
The national Florence Crittenton Mission studied trends in unplanned and adolescent pregnancies in the 1960s, and in the 1970s, recognized teen pregnancy as a symptom of social and emotional problems. Young unmarried mothers needed more than medical care and shelter. Services evolved to include day care, planned parenthood, and emergency housing.
Use of contraceptives and increasing acceptance of single parenthood prompted a move to smaller quarters in the old Montana Children's Home in 1973. There was room for 23 girls but no maternity facilities and no nursery; adoption continued to be the recommended choice. Girls typically stayed 14 weeks before delivery and several days after, paying $270 a month room and board if they could afford it. If not, county welfare often picked up the bill, but not always.
During her 27 years at Crittenton in Helena, administrator Karen Northey dreamed of a modern facility. But shortage of funds always loomed; sometimes Northey spent her own paycheck on groceries for the girls.
In 1982 Northey saw the home through another move to a converted grocery store. Woefully inadequate, it housed 14 girls and five babies. But during this decade, the clientele changed significantly. Girls from supportive families were once typical, but now dysfunctional relationships, multiple foster-care placements, abuse, and neglect put clients at much greater risk.
A 24-year-old resident in 1990, for example, was five months pregnant when her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend locked her out on Christmas Eve. Driving the streets of Helena in her nightgown, she had no money and nowhere to go. A radio ad for the Florence Crittenton Home probably saved her life.
The 1990s marked more changes: 70 percent of Crittenton mothers were keeping their babies and in 1992, Karen Northey rejoiced when the cornerstone of the present Crittenton Home at 901 Harris was laid. Although she did not live to see it completed, her vision became reality in 1995 when the first residents moved in.
Divided into two separate programs, one side offers rehabilitative services for girls who are not pregnant and the other is for expectant and parenting adolescents.
Executive director Pat Seiler says that today, residency at the Crittenton home is not a reflection of mores, but a matter of protection and advocacy for those without options. Helping teens break the cycle of poverty, welfare, and abuse has far-reaching consequences. The need for the Helena home is overwhelming and adequate funding is critical.
Nine presidents have praised Crittenton services including Theodore Roosevelt who said in 1903 that those in need "...pay a heavy penalty and the road to reform is made so difficult that I can conceive of no more worthy work."
In recognizing "the making of a good woman," dedicated workers have touched countless lives and influenced generations. The history of the Crittenton Home in Helena and the vital work of its dedicated staff are profound evidence of the difference these services have made to so many.
Ellen Baumleris interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society.