Crittenton Homes: A Reflection of Societal Values - myfoxcarolinas.com

Crittenton Homes: A Reflection of Societal Values

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    Thursday, July 17 2014 5:59 PM EDT2014-07-17 21:59:26 GMT
    Crittenton homes across the country have evolved its services to keep up with American cultural values. What started as a night mission for prostitutes is now an open resource for teen mothers.
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Charles Crittenton, nicknamed the "Millionaire Evangelist," was a lesser known Horatio Alger success story. Crittenton grew up on a family farm in upstate New York until he was old enough to move to New York City. He worked as an office boy for an undertaker before he started a drug wholesale business with $60, his entire savings. After years of devotion to his work, Charles eventually grew his self worth to $800,000 (a fortune by 19th century standards, but despite his nickname, not quite a millionaire).

It wasn't until the death of his four years old daughter Florence, in 1882, that Crittenton dedicated his life to missionary work. He started the Florence Night Mission in New York city's red light district, a place where prostitutes could go for midnight prayer and redemption. In 1893, Crittenton reconditioned a train car he called the “Good News” and traveled the country, urging people to devote their life to Jesus. He promised $500 to any community that would start a Florence Crittenton mission for unfortunate women, asking that they follow these rules:

1. The government of the House shall be Christian and parental in Character.

2. The property purchased shall remain for all time for the purpose for which it was given.

3. No debts shall be incurred except those for current expenses, without the consent of the National Organization.

4. Everything possible shall be done to keep mother and child together.

5. A stay of at least six months after the birth of the child is prescribed.

Even though most of the homes were in the United States, Crittenton had a vision for an international mission. He started homes in Mexico City, Marseilles, Tokyo, and Shanghai.

Rescue work of the time focused on converting streetwalkers to Christianity. Some of these “fallen women” were pregnant, a hazard of the trade, others were simply looking to get out of the business. Life in the mission involved committing bible verses to memory, and cleaning, preparation for a career as a maid. Women gave birth at missions like Peoria's House of Blessing, and kept their children because staff believed that was part of God’s divine plan. They thought the presence of the child would help a reformed woman live a holier life.

Thirty years later, Florence Crittenton homes focused less on eradicating prostitution, and more on serving unwed mothers.

After the Great Depression, Americans expected the government to provide social aid for the first time in American history. Social work as a profession gained credibility. Pioneering scientific studies indicated a child’s environment was just as important as the genes inherited from parents. All of these factors gave The Florence Crittenton organization increasing pressure to drop its Christian roots and focus on standardized procedures.

In 1940, the Crittenton association held its national conference in Illinois. Crittenton workers were urged to focus less on the spiritual redemption of each woman, and to focus more on services the home can offer her.

This was the beginning of a gradual nationwide shift to focus on adoption. New staff trained in social work urged women to give their children to infertile married couples. They believed this kind of family planning would allow both mother and child to make a new start, and hide from the stigma of illegitimacy.

For the next thirty years, hundreds of thousands of women in maternity homes were told the best thing they could do for their children was give them away. Adoptions were secretive and closed, meaning adult adoptees and other family members couldn't get access to information about birth family separated through adoptions.

In the early 1970's, as the women's rights movement gained momentum and birth control became readily available, Crittenton homes experienced a new trend: fewer women coming to their homes to hide through an unplanned pregnancy. Crittenton homes across the country began shifting their services to reflect the societal change. Staff at many homes created programs to help unwed mothers keep their children.

Charlotte's Crittenton home, established in 1903, now helps pregnant girls and teens in crisis. Unlike homes in other cities, Charlotte continues to house pregnant women, in addition to other at-risk women. Their programs help young mothers get an education, build solid careers, and become responsible, self-sufficient moms.



 

 

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