Charles Nelson Crittenton (1833-1909) – Business Owner, Evangelist, Philanthropist and
Founder of the National Florence Crittenton Mission
Introduction: Charles Nelson Crittenton went into the drug business in New York City in 1861. In 1882, after his four-year-old daughter Florence died of scarlet fever he devoted his time and wealth to the establishment of the Florence Night Mission to “rescue” prostitutes, and later Crittenton homes for homeless and unfortunate girls and their infant children. In 1898 the National Florence Crittenton Mission received a federal charter to carry on this work. Of these mission homes more than 70 were organized in Mr. Crittenton’s lifetime in all the larger cities of the United States and in Europe. The drug-manufacturing company which bore his name was one of the first profit-sharing concerns in the United States.
Early Career: Charles Nelson Crittenton was born February 20, 1833, on a farm in Henderson, New York. His was a close and pleasant relationship with a family of 8 children and parents of conservative English and Welsh stock. Charles was 6th in this family of 8 children and in his autobiography, records a very happy childhood.
Business Career: Not satisfied with farm life, Charles yearned for work as clerk in a country store. Later he decided to be an itinerant music teacher. Fate intervened and he was offered a job as clerk as he was on his way to give his first music lesson. As his knowledge grew, he became restless for a big city and in 1854 he went to New York City. After a position with another firm in New York, Charles Crittenton became bookkeeper, cashier and salesman for a drug company. Later, as a partner in the company, he became a traveling salesman.
In 1861, with $60.00 capital and a wife to support, (he married in 1859), Crittenton started his own drug business. Mr. Crittenton saw possibilities in obtaining orders from retail druggists, putting up their orders and delivering them. So began one of the early wholesale druggists. At the end of the first year the $60.00 had grown to $853.00, and at the close of the next five years, he had cleared $20,000, in spite of the Civil War. When this business was incorporated, in the year 1893, it was valued at $800,000.
His daughter Florence, the last of three children to be born in this family, passed away in March, 1882, just a little more than four years of age. During her short life she had become very dear to her father, who was stricken with grief at her death. For seven months he spent a great amount of time at her grave, and one night as he returned he felt a power and inspiration which resulted in his conversion. He began to attend mid-day prayer meetings in a church near his place of business.
Evangelist: Later, being especially drawn to a street evangelist, Smith Allen, and through the influence of these two, the Bleeker Street Night Mission was opened in 1883. This was a combination mission and shelter. Because the neighbors objected to the midnight services, a “Rescue Band” was organized and went into the street for meetings.
Because his associates realized the influence of his little daughter in Mr. Crittenton’s work, they suggested the name “Florence Night Mission” for this first home for girls. He was grateful and pleased.
Founding of Crittenton Homes: The loss of Florence, his wife, and the closing of his home, coupled with his business responsibilities of the day and mission work at night, caused Mr. Crittenton to become ill and he was ordered by his physician to rest and travel. He spent a year in Europe, returning via San Francisco, where he expected to stay briefly, but actually remained teaching and preaching for nearly three years. Here in this western city was crystallized, in the mind of Mr. Crittenton, the idea of the National Florence Crittenton Mission.
In the following year, 1893, Charles Crittenton was in Atlanta, Georgia, where he met an unusual woman, Kate Waller Barrett, to whom he told his dream of shelters for girls in each state and, if
possible, not more than 12 or 18 miles apart so they could be referred form one home to another. Dr. Barrett was eager to be helpful in the materialization of this dream. Through the efforts of Dr. Barrett, whose home was now in Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia chartered the organization in 1895. To add further to the prestige of the work and to bring about unity, work was then initiated to obtain a broader organization. This resulted in the granting of a Charter by the Congress of the United States in 1898, with Amendments in 1903.
Mr. Charles Crittenton became president of the National Mission and Dr. Kate Waller Barrett served as General Superintendent. During 1893, Mr. Crittenton had reconditioned a “Gospel Car”, and with one servant he traveled across the country as an evangelist. During 16 years, this car, “Good New”, was his home and his office.
Mr. Crittenton’s personal income was about $5,000 a month. Perhaps he kept $60.00 of its for his own use, and balance was spent in his work, traveling, speaking, preaching and founding homes for women and young girls. He died in San Francisco in November of 1909 of bronchial pneumonia. Even though he had been ill for some time, he could not be persuaded to lessen his activities.
In his autobiography, Mr. Crittenton states that of all the references made to him, he liked best that made by Frances E. Willard: “Charles Crittenton — The Brother of Girls.” He left the maximum permitted by New York law of his estate to perpetuate the continuance of that fine work with his chosen “sisters.”
References: National Florence Crittenton Mission Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha
For information about the Florence Crittenton Foundation visit: http://www.nationalcrittenton.org
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2012). Charles Nelson Crittenton (1833-1909) – Business owner, evangelist, philanthropist and founder of the National Florence Crittenton Mission. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/crittenton-charles-nelson/