Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life in the Children's Home

After finding that my great-grandmother's nieces, Nellie and Emma Allion lived in the Kalamazoo Children's Home for seven years I was curious about what their lives there were like and how they ended up there despite having two living parents. Unfortunately, the records from the home do not state who placed the children there. I do know that their mother moved to Ohio during this period to establish residency to file for divorce. The girls' maternal grandparents lived in the Kalamazoo area at the time, but likely did not have the means to provide for them. Their father's whereabouts are unknown to me between his last appearance in the Kalamazoo city directory in 1895 until he removed the girls from the home in 1902. Though the girls clearly had a troubled home life, it seems they were fortunate to be accepted into the Children's Home because mere months after they were taken in, twelve applicants were turned away for lack of room and funds. [1]

While I may never know more about how the Allion girls came to reside at the Children's Home, a search of the Kalamazoo Gazette (1895-1902) turned up a few details of their time there. A matron lived in the home and supervised the day-to-day lives of her charges. While most of their days involved going to school and presumably helping to keep the home clean, the tedium was occasionally broken.

In 1895, the Children's Home girls enjoyed multiple Christmas celebrations. A few days before Christmas the People's Sunday school held a Frolic for the children of the public kindergarten and the girls of the Children's Home. The children participated in a “pretty entertainment” and then assisted Santa Claus in distributing presents from under the tree. [2] A few days after Christmas, the girls gathered around the tree in the Children's Home to entertain former inmates as well as patrons and friends of the Home with “pretty songs.” Each girl received a gift from the St. Luke's Sunday school. [3]

The new year began with frosty noses and smiling faces when the girls were treated to a sleigh ride one morning by Chauncey Bonfoey. “It was greatly enjoyed.” [4]

In August, the girls enjoyed a picnic. A “carryall” picked them up along with their matron and took them to Gull Lake where a banquet was laid out for them. Afterward, the steamer “Crystal” ferried them around the lake. The excursion was provided through the generosity of Messrs. J.J. Morse, H.B. Peck, Dr. W.E. Upjohn and Dr. J.T. Upjohn. [5]

Later in the year, the home received a number of food items. After losing an election wager, John Galligan wheeled a barrel of flour to the home, led by a drum corps. Passing the hat along the route he received in addition $8.42, a chicken and a half bushel of cookies. [6] A liberal supply of “potatoes, apples, squash, cabbage, cooked meat, bread, cake, pies, etc.” was donated to the Children's Home after the Sunday School convention concluded to find an “immense amount” of perishables left over. [7] They also received many offerings at Thanksgiving. [7]

In January of 1897, the children of the home threw a small party to which each girl could invite one guest. Everyone enjoyed the evening playing games and eating the chocolate, sandwiches and cake served by the girls. [8]

After the street fair in the fall of 1897, the girls of the Children's Home were the lucky recipients of a dozen eggs, four barrels of potatoes, more than 2 dozen loaves of bread, in addition to the $109.40 cash donations brought in for maintenance of the house. The girls were also the beneficiaries of 50 garments made for them by the ladies of the Church of Christ. [9]

In November, 1897, a food sale for the benefit of the Children's Home and the Industrial school was successfully held. “The fine Portland cutter” donated to the home by M.H. Lane (founder and co-owner of the Michigan Buggy Company) was on display. [10] A Portland cutter is a type of one-horse, open sleigh that could easily accommodate two adults.

The Christmas celebration was held December 28th. The girls sang songs and performed recitations to the managers of the home as well as members of the public that attended the reception. All guests were “expected to bring a pound of something.” [11]

In May there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the home. A new matron had not long been in residence when she was accused of ill treating the children by a woman whose two step-children lived in the home. The nature of the ill treatment was not described, but the matron was “allowed to tender her resignation” and a member of the board stayed at the home until a new matron could be found. [12]

The Christmas celebration of 1898 was apparently one to remember. “The tree was beautifully decorated and each child received a number of presents. The exercises throughout were very pleasing and consisted of songs and recitations. The children range from 3 to 12 years of age and Christmas is an event each year to which the little ones look forward to with great pleasure and anticipation. The presents distributed were donated by Kalamazoo people, who gave abundantly. The ladies who had charge of the institution have worked diligently towards making this Christmas a happy one for the little ones who unfortunately must face the world alone, and their efforts were crowned with success.” [13]

A big event that clearly demonstrated the public sentiment for the Children's Home culminated in April 1900. Over half a million votes were cast by residents of Kalamazoo to award a piano to the institution of their choice. The overwhelming favorite was the Children's Home which received 177, 275 votes. Borgess Hospital came in second with 136, 885 votes and Kalamazoo College third with 54,818 votes. [14] I can only imagine the delight of the girls upon seeing such a marvelous gift arrive. I imagine it provided much occupation and hours of enjoyment for the girls.

While some of the benefits held to raise funds for the Children's Home were clearly adult affairs, I hope the girls attended the Ed. F. Davis show when it came to town. The notice in the paper said “the performances to be given for the benefit of the Children's home.” The show billed itself as “the most colossal amusement enterprise of its kind in the country,” with acrobats, trapezists, contortionists, jugglers, clowns, bands and performing animals. [15] It would certainly have been a highlight of the year for the girls of the home whose lives likely held few pleasures.

A sad event for the home occurred in the fall of 1900 when Mrs. Jane Dewing died. A founding member of the Children's Home, as well as a member of the board of managers, she was likely a frequent guest and probably knew many of the long-time residents there. As reported in the Gazette: “'She always watched and guarded with unceasing vigil the present and prospective welfare of the 'little ones' sheltered in the home, and many are indebted to her for their comfortable homes and honorable and lucrative positions.'” [16]

There were likely eighteen residents of the home for Christmas in 1900. [16] The home had been forced to re-do the plumbing during the year so funds were low. The managers appealed for donations and among others, “hoped that the merchants of the city who have had a prosperous Christmas business will remember the score or more of orphan girls at this season.” Those attending the Christmas celebration, another “pound social,” were asked to “bring an offering of a pound of any useful commodity or a can of fruit.” The girls sang and performed recitations. [17] The tree “was beautifully decorated with ornaments which were also donated. The gifts were numerous and pleasing and consisted largely of mittens, stockings, ribbons and handkerchiefs. Each child received candy, of which 15 pounds were given, and an orange, apple and banana. The merchants were very generous in their gifts. One merchant gave each little child a little pocketbook and the board had placed 5 cents in each purse. The parlors were filled with guests who each brought a gift of some nature. There were many cans of fruit, groceries, etc. The program... was well rendered. At its close Miss Jennie Fish played a march and the children marched in and circled about the tree. Certainly there was a company of happy hearted children for this one evening at least. Among the guests were a number of former inmates who each received a gift also. The board deserve special thanks for their labor in preparing the tree which required no small effort to make it so pretty.” [18]

In January, 1901, the girls entertained members of the board of supervisors (of Kalamazoo) with their Christmas program in an appeal to receive an appropriation from the city. The board was also served dinner by the girls followed by a tour of the home. [19] The next day the results of this effort appeared in the paper. “The old adage that a man's heart is reached by way of his stomach, certainly proved true in the case of the action of the board of supervisors, when the matter of an appropriation for the Children's Home was considered.” The original resolution for $300 was increased to $400 and passed. [20]

The girls were also likely excited by the new furnishings in one of the rooms which were provided by the Ladies of District No. 6, Portage. They provided an iron bedstead and other articles, “making the room very pleasant and comfortable in case of sickness.” [16] “The ladies also furnished a beautiful Christmas dinner for the children at the Home, and an Easter offering of eggs.” [21]

The inmates may have enjoyed other events as well, but the ones mentioned were merely those that arose during my newspaper search. It seems clear that although their families may have experienced difficult times, the girls fortunate enough to live in the home were not forgotten by the Kalamazoo community. The diligence of the board of managers not only brought in donations, but through their fundraisers kept the girls in the public consciousness, as shown by the vote to award them the piano. It is nice to know that although my Allion girls had family problems they seem to have been well taken care of during their stay in the Kalamazoo Children's Home.

  1. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-2-1895
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-22-1895
  3. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-3-1896
  4. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-13-1896
  5. Kalamazoo Gazette, 8-14-1896
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-20-1896
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-4-1896
  8. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-22-1897
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-29-1897
  10. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-19-1897
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-17-1897
  12. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-18-1898
  13. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-30-1899
  14. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-25-1900
  15. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-29-1900
  16. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-14-1900
  17. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-23-1900
  18. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-28-1900
  19. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-10-1901
  20. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-11-1901
  21. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-24-1901


  1. Hi Sonja,
    I enjoy reading your blog so much. I tried family genealogy an one point but just didn't have the patience - lol. I actually started reading your blog through my Aunt (Dorothy Mills). I'm wondering if the Emma Allion in this post is my great grandmother who married my great grand father George Kopp. I have all great grand parents last names except hers and I'd love to know if this is her. Thanks Sarah Johnson

  2. Hi Sarah, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog! Your great grandmother who married George Kopp was Emma Taylor. Before her marriage to George she had a brief marriage to George Little (ended in divorce) and then Perry Kuhn (ended in divorce). After George died she married twice more to Clark Glazier (ended in divorce) and Frank Runyan (he pre-deceased her). The Emma Allion mentioned here was Emma Taylor's niece by her older sister, Nettie.

  3. Thank you so much!! I didn't realize divorce was so common in that era, how interesting. I'm so glad you take the time to research and write these wonderful entries.

  4. If you want to learn a little more about divorce and the records they left behind you may want to read my post "Husband, Schmusband" from June 2012.

  5. I just discovered that two of my relatives most likely lived at the Children's Home with your two relatives. Mine were Lela and Rhea Culver. May I ask what records you used to discover the dates that they were there? The Culver girls' parents divorced between May 1896 and May 1897. In May 1897 there is a Gazette article that says that the girls were living at the home and that the father either wanted them out of there.

    1. Wow, Luanne, what a small world! Yes, our girls were there at the same time. I contacted Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo (what the Children's home eventually morphed into) and amazingly they still have a record book from the time my girls (and thus your girls) were there. I just checked my copy of the page in the book with the Allion girls and the Culvers were not on that portion of the page. FYI, the record book does not have a lot of information: name, birth date, date taken into the home and "notes" which sometimes has information on when the girls were removed from the home and by whom. If you found something in the Gazette you may want to check the Telegraph (digitized at kpl.gov) to see if there is any more information on the Culvers.