Houser is the President of the Mecklenburg Genealogical Society.
The Florence Crittenton Home in Charlotte began has beginnings in New York City, where in 1833, a rescue home was established to help “poor and unfortunate girls” leave their lives of sin. The work being done in New York soon spread to other towns and cities across the United States and even in four other countries. The Home in the Queen City was included in that group due to the compassion of her citizens and inspiration from a wealthy Northern businessman.
Charles Nelson Crittenton was born on February 20, 1833, in Henderson, NY, and grew up on a small farm. He moved to New York City in 1854 to explore his ambitions in commerce and worked various jobs until becoming a pharmaceuticals wholesaler in January 1861. When his daughter Florence was born in 1878, she was the object of Charles’ devotion. Despite being a healthy child, however, Florence died in March 1882 from scarlet fever. Charles was devastated and fell into a depressed state.
A few months after Florence’s death, Charles had a spiritual revelation that broke him from his sadness. Aware of the social problem of young women engaged in a life of prostitution, Charles formed a committee of fellow church members to address this issue. In April 1883, a building on Bleecker Street in Manhattan became the “Mother Mission” for the over 70 Florence Crittenton Homes that followed in subsequent decades.
The issue of “degraded women” was certainly not limited to large, metropolitan cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population of Charlotte in the early 1900s was only about 20,000 people but also had its share of social ills, including the type that Charles Crittenton set out to resolve in New York. Charles was invited by an assembly of ministers to speak to the citizens of the city and to appeal for the establishment of a Florence Crittenton Home. Charles accepted and arrived in Charlotte in January 1903.
While the Homes already provided refuge to help young women change their lifestyle, it also began serving girls who were unexpectedly pregnant and in a desperate situation. Charles witnessed many such girls cast out by their family and friends and wanted to include them in his rescue work. His fervent speeches in Charlotte created great interest in opening a Crittenton Home and before Charles left the city for Virginia, a group called “The Crittenton Circle” formed. After adjacent neighbors rebuffed two locations in the city, the land was purchased at the corner of 9th and North McDowell Streets in 1904. The cornerstone for the new building was laid in April 1905 with the home opening two months later in June. Four young women were its initial residents.
The Home set out to help the women reform their lifestyles but also taught skills and offered continued education to prepare the girls and young women for life outside the Home. Supplies for the Home were mostly donated by local church auxiliaries and included items such as clothing, bedding, furniture, and kitchenware. The income for the Home came primarily from funds solicited by board members, in addition to voluntary contributions. Local doctors, such as Dr. Annie Alexander, provided medical services.
The majority of residents at the Charlotte Home were not actually from the immediate area. The idea behind the network of Florence Rescue Homes was that girls reside in Homes in other areas to distance them from bad influences. By 1947, the Home needed more space to accommodate its residents, and services were moved to a brand new, larger building on Blythe Boulevard near the Memorial Hospital. It remained at that location until 1988 when it moved into a 3-wing, 35,000 square foot facility, also on Blythe Boulevard.
Although the Homes helped many women who had no other options, there has also been some controversies surrounding the circumstances that some women, especially unwed pregnant women, found themselves in the Homes. Often they were sent by their families to avoid shame. In 2006 Ann Fessler wrote The Girl Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade which details some of the trials and tribulations that unwed pregnant women went through while staying in Florence Crittenton homes.
Today, Florence Crittenton Services of Charlotte offers the same refuge it provided over 110 years ago. Along with medical care and educational programs, it offers services in counseling, substance abuse, foster care, and assisting women from under-served counties within North Carolina.
Bernard, Diane and Maria Bogen-Oskwarek, “The maternity homes where ‘mind control’ was used on teen moms to give up their babies,” The Washington Post, November 19, 2019.