The Florence Crittenton Movement
Note: In addition to the history of the Crittenton Movement, this entry includes a history of the “Mother House” the first facility of the Florence Crittenton Mission, a poem entitled: “The Soliloquy of a Florence Crittenton Girl” and the
Florence Crittenton Homes Association (FCHA) that was established in 1950
Florence Crittenton work is a memorial to the four-year old daughter of Charles Nelson Crittenton; she died in 1882. Seven months after her death her father was roused from his stupor of grief through interest in the welfare of girls on the lower East Side of New York City. He was a very practical man and saw very soon the need for shelter for the girls whom he told “Go and sin no more”.
The Florence Night Mission was opened on April 19, 1883 as a combination mission where daily and nightly services were held and a shelter for girls. The work continued as a combination of evangelism which included midnight street-corner meetings and the care of the girls in the shelter. In 1889 Mr. Crittenton went abroad for a year’s rest and on his return he spent several years in the West, preaching and helping “rescue homes” with their problems. New homes were organized with his name. Because so many imitators used to name “Florence Mission”, it was changed to Florence Crittenton.
In 1893 Mr. Crittenton caught the interest of Dr. Kate Waller Barrett of Atlanta, Georgia, who had been doing rescue work for several years and had opened a home there. Together they worked out the plan of organization for the National Florence Crittenton Mission, which was to federate the scattered homes and encourage and help with the establishing of home across the country.
Because the Barrett family moved to Washington, the National Florence Crittenton Mission was organized and chartered there in 1895. The need for a character which was more inclusive than that given by District of Columbia was felt and in 1898 the Mission was characterized by special act of the United States Government; this was amended n 1903 to give the National certain more-inclusive trusteeship of the Homes.
Mr. Crittenton was president of the National Florence Crittenton Mission until his death in 1909; Dr. Kate Waller Barrett succeeded him and acted as both president and General Superintendent
Dr. Barrett’s son, Dr. Robert South Barrett, succeeded his mother in 1925; her daughter, Reba Barrett Smith, took over the work of the General Superintendent. The two traveled a great deal around the country, counseling and advising on matters from Board and management to finances and building projects. They felt the need for an additional person, and a traveling “Extension Director” was added to the staff.
Greater participation from the Homes was wanted and there was representation on the National Mission Board; the Central Extension Committee was organized in 1925 with membership drawn from the different Homes on a geographical selection. The Committee’s responsibility was to employ and direct the work of the Extension Director. With the Homes represented on the National Board and the Extension Committee, plans were begun to carry out National’s plan to turn over to representation of the Homes (and therefore to the Homes themselves) the responsibilities of the National Florence Crittenton Mission, except finances.
In 1950 the Florence Crittenton Homes Association was chartered. It has taken over all of the National Florence Crittenton Mission’s work except that of finance. Representation on the Association’s Board is drawn geographically from the Boards and staff of the Homes. The function of the Association is to help the Homes develop high program standards, consolidation of program and service information to be used as a norm against which to measure; exchange of information and experiences; to give field advisory service to the individual homes; to give interpretation to the public.
History of the “Mother Mission:” The First Florence Crittenton Facility
The history of the New York Home is of the particular interest and significance because with it began the Florence Crittenton movement and also because it is a striking example of how the work changed to meet the needs of the community and the times. The New York home was known from 1883 as “Florence Night Mission”, “Florence Crittenton League” and “Barret House.”
The work started in 1883, helping poor and misguided women in the days of large immigration to this country and predated that of the Salvation Army and Red Cross. As a Mission on Bleeker Street women were recruited from the local pubs and rooming houses, and were given spiritual guidance, clothing, shelter, food, jobs, and new hope. This idea spread rapidly and other agencies here and in other cities took up the work with sick and underprivileged girls, many of them unmarried mothers who required special care.
The period of transition in the years following Mr. Crittenton’s death in 1909 held many difficulties and crises. In the summer of 1912 it was determined to reorganized the work thoroughly and put it on a solid basis, financially and otherwise, Mrs. Barrett was struck with the work being done in Boston by Mr. Clarence R. Preston. The board of the Boston Home was persuaded to allow him to go to New York, early in 1913, on a part-time basis. With the title of General Secretary of the New York Home he spent the next 18 months in alternating between two cities, giving each two weeks at a time. By 1914 the plans were moving along rapidly for a campaign for $150,000 when the War broke out and ended the project.
In 1914 the problem of segregating first offenders and runaways form hardened criminals was brought to the attention of the Board. It became clear that there was a great need for custodial home for these girls, 18-21 years of age, while they awaited court disposition.
On July 6, 1914 a new charter was obtained from the State of New York, the name was changed to Florence Crittenton League, Inc., a new Board and a new set of officers were selected. The incorporators were: Kate Waller Barrett, Clarence R. Preston, Thomas M. Debevoise, Franklin B. Waterman and Aldia B. Hazard. A Home was set up and for many years Florence Crittenton League cared for girls on a temporary basis as they waited disposition of their cases in court. The Home was pleasant and helpful but the numbers were large – 18,000 in 30 years – and not much was being done on an individual basis to try to find the roots of the girl’s problem and put her rehabilitation on a firm basis.
In 1949 a study made by the Welfare Council of New York indicated that the greatest need in the Youth Group in New York was for residences where girls could have their individual needs studied, where each according to her own capacities could be helped to take her place in the community. By that year other agencies had taken up custodial care for the Courts and so once more as pioneers Florence Crittenton Board set out to show a new way to help girls.
“Barrett House” named in honor of Dr. Robert South Barrett, past-president of National Florence Crittenton Mission, was a well-equipped residence, designed for girls who had personal problems and in need to save them from the serious consequences of intolerable home situations. It was inter-faith, open to all races and creeds. The girls stayed in residence as long as they needed help—weeks, months, and longer. The follow-up program continued to give them counseling after they have left the Home. “Barrett House” was a positive factor in the prevention of delinquency. The brochure, from which part of this material were taken comments: “Programs of prevention are not popular because they are not dramatic.”
“The Soliloquy of a Florence Crittenton Girl”
By Mrs. Reba Barrett Smith
“The dormitory is dark at last And every cot is still.
Come forth haunting, bitter thoughts Now plague me as you will.!’
“There’s my mother, heartbroken in her shame,
I’m sorry, mother, I tried to keep it from you; But now you know I wish you, too, could know The torture in your poor child’s heart.
You beg me to come back to you, but leave my child I must You ask it in my girlhood’s name,
That youth and joy “I’ll find again. Where can I recapture youthful joy, I who am a mother?”
“And poor old dad, trying so hard to be stern, But recognizing that something of himself in me Which led me to my doom.’
All his anger vented on the boy who caused my fall. Oh boy, you who promised, you who plead,
Where are you tonight”
Not a villain truly, only a weakling Who loved and ran away.
Would I not, too, have run
Had nature not placed this yoke upon me?
And mayhaps we may meet again some distant day
And guilty though he be, will look at me with accusing eyes,
And say, “You, too, forsook our child.”
“And now the Board has come, twelve women tired and true,
To you I fled when all else failed, You found a cradle for my child.
Forgive me if an ingrate now I seem, And bitterness assails.
You ask me only this, “Do not forsake your child,”
And pledge friendship eternal.
Oh! friendship’s sweet and eternity is long
But in a few short years perchance hard luck will Track me down, and my child hungry be.
Will you then stand by?
The years will stretch between, and many miles; Will your friendship reach me then?
“And Chaplian kind, your prayers do comfort me, But now you bid me, ‘go and sin no more,’
Is my conscience dead that
That distant night in June when love was sweet Seems more of madness than of sin?
Will He who knoweth all, not judge this the sin How I fulfill my trust in motherhood?”
“Now superintendent, that repelling word,
A mother, more you’ve been to me,
Oh, understanding heart!
For all these months I’ve been your girl And tried so hard to be
The woman you would have me be.
Within the shadow of your wing I can be strong and brave.
But I must go.
A sleeper stirs upon her cot,
Poor friend, do you too in your dreams seek To find the answer?
Dear superintendent, I’m but one. Year after year, and day by day
You yearn for us and ache with us
Yet firmly keep your faith in God.”
“And last my child, Sleep on dear one Your dreamless sleep.
Too soon your eyes must open on this cruel worlk, But what would you bid me do?
Robbed of a father, must you never know
That divine something God has put in Mother-love? Must you learn your prayers at another’s knee
Or will you put your little hand in mine
And come with me down the rough, hard road,
With only love to light the load?
I’ve nothing else, I’ve only you,
Must I need lose you, too?
Does no one care, will no help come?”
“Oh! God, Thou has promised to wipe the tear From every eye, Comfort, guide me, hear my cry.”
The Florence Crittenton Homes Association
The Florence Crittenton Homes Association (FCHA) was established at a 1950 meeting of the National Florence Crittenton Mission (NFCM), upon recommendation from a special committee appointed to study the future of the mission. The National Florence Crittenton Mission, which had been established in 1893 and granted a charter by Congress in 1898, promoted the creation of homes for unmarried mothers and their infants. It provided supervisory and advisory services for individual Florence Crittenton homes and, occasionally, offered financial assistance for construction and special projects. However, there was no formal or legal connection between the individual homes and the national mission.
In the mid-1940s, National Florence Crittenton Mission executives, Robert Barrett and Reba Smith, announced their intention to retire by 1950 or 1951. Hester Brown, national extension director, was also anticipating retirement. This prompted plans for a reorganization. Rather than revise the NFCM charter, a new organization, the Florence Crittenton Homes Association was created. The FCHA was an autonomous federation of Crittenton homes financed partly by the national mission and partly through dues paid by the member homes. It operated as a separate agency from the NFCM and assumed the responsibility for work with individual homes as well as the extension and clearing house services that had previously been provided by the national mission. In 1960, the Delegate Assembly voted to change the name to the Florence Crittenton Association of America (FCAA).
Chicago was designated as the headquarters of the FCHA because of a desire for a more central location than Alexandria, Virginia, where the NFCM was located. Gladys Revelle, onetime chairman of the Central Extension Committee, worked very closely with Robert Barrett in the formation of the new association and became its first president. Virgil Payne was appointed executive director in 1951. She remained with the Association until 1957, when she was succeeded by Mary Louise Allen, who held the post until 1971. Executive Directors, Katherine Daly and Helen Felitto, served from 1971-1980 and 1980-1983, respectively.
The number of young women served by the association and the occupancy rates of its homes rose steadily throughout the 1950s. By the early 1960s, the staff at the national office was over-extended and divided between providing consultation to local homes and participation in advocacy for unwed mothers and their children on the national level. In 1961, the FCAA began a self-study, known as the Greenleigh Study. The report, issued in 1962, found that FCAA was providing crucial services, but it also recommended the addition of new elements, including increased field service, development of accreditation standards for association membership, expanded services to minority groups, legislative advocacy, and increased public education. These recommendations were based on several trends that had begun to emerge: new client groups, particularly minorities and unwed mothers who were not interested in a residential program; shorter stays for those who did choose the residential option; and an increased emphasis on fund-raising and public relations.
The rapid social changes of the 1960s and 1970s had a dramatic effect on the FCAA. The availability of contraception, legalization of abortion, and changing attitudes towards unwed mothers, together with an increasing tendency of those mothers to raise their children rather than relinquish them for adoption, all had an impact on the need for the traditional maternity home.
The search for a new organizational role for the FCAA that would allow it to remain relevant to a changing society dominated the first half of the 1970s. As the services of member agencies diversified, with some Crittenton agencies discontinuing maternity care altogether, it was clear that FCAA needed to redefine its identity. After almost a century of service, Crittenton work came full circle, with renewed emphasis on birth mothers raising their children and the original mission of helping young women in need.
In 1976, the Florence Crittenton Association of America merged with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), and the Florence Crittenton Division of the Child Welfare League of America was established. Merging with the CWLA gave the Crittenton agencies access to the range of resources and services necessary to deal with the broad scope of problems, including drugs, runaways, and abuse, facing teenagers in the 1970s. The Crittenton Division acted as a liaison with former FCAA agencies and other CWLA members that offered similar services. It provided CWLA with research, publications, surveys, education, field service and special projects in the area of adolescent sexuality and unmarried parents.
The FCAA-CWLA merger was the result, in part, of changing societal attitudes towards unwed mothers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The traditional maternity home fell out of favor as the pressure on unmarried, pregnant women to leave their communities lessened. As more unmarried mothers decided to raise their children, the Crittenton movement focused on programs that would enable young women to be good parents and also began to develop more services for birth fathers. Many of the former maternity homes were converted to other uses, primarily serving non-pregnant adolescents as residential or day treatment centers.
Additional information on the history of the National Florence Crittenton Mission is also available in Fifty Years Work with Girls by Otto Wilson. The book contains a history of the Mission, information on its founders and early leaders, and brief histories of individual member homes.
- “Florence Crittenton Association of America” historical sketch. In Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions, Social Service Organizations , edited by Peter Romanofsky, 306-311. London: Greenwood Press, 1978.
- “History of the Florence Crittenton Mission Board” available on the Child Welfare League of America Website
- National Florence Crittenton Mission Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha