Primary Source

1879 Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum Annual Reports


The official records and reports of social welfare agencies and institutions provide insight into societal beliefs and attitudes related to deviance and changes in those beliefs and attitudes over time. While review of such documents may in some instances reveal radical changes in an agency's mission, more often what unfolds is a narrative of an evolutionary process anchored by consistent themes. Such is the case with the many child welfare agencies founded in the mid-19th century as orphan "asylums." Over time, they came to redefine their mission vis-à-vis dependent children from sheltering to changing.

The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum (CPOA, later renamed BeechBrook) was established by a religious organization, as many were in this era, and began with what is often described as a child-rescue mission. The 1879 Annual Report of CPOA demonstrates their original purpose of ". . . sheltering orphaned and destitute children." The 1879 Report is especially instructive because it describes children who had been served since the agency's founding in 1852. The annual report also describes the goal of physically moving children in response to the "increasing call for shelter for orphans," with the goal of either "returning" or "placing out" with another family every child who was admitted. CPOA's annual reports summarize the agency's success in achieving that goal.

Additional records are available on this topic: American School for the Deaf, Perkins School, and others via the Disability History Museum.

This source is a part of the Children and Disability (19th, 20th c.) teaching module.


On this, the twenty-seventh anniversary of The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum, we cannot but review with grateful hearts the many blessings that have been showered upon it by a guiding Providence, from its beginning until the present time.

In April, 1852, the charity of one lady furnished the Asylum with the lease of a small frame house on the corner of Erie and Ohio streets, where it began its work of sheltering orphans and destitute children. This house was mainly furnished by articles of second-hand furniture begged by the ladies first undertaking its management. The post of manager for the Orphan Asylum was during its first years no sinecure, for active exertion was needed to see that the necessaries of life were procured for the household. There were times, at its beginning, when, after one day's table was spread, there was uncertainty as to how that for another was to be provided. Yet the little household never lacked. The promise, "Bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure," never failed towards it. The city at that time was neither so large nor wealthy as it now is, by many degrees, but there was never a time when hearts did not warm to the need of the orphan, and a call of the managers of the Asylum for the means of providing for its necessities always met with a ready response. Soon the little frame house became too small for the number of inmates, and at the second anniversary meeting the report of the managers states that there were then "twenty-five in the family, and no larger number could be accommodated."

A call was immediately made for funds to erect a building purposely for the Asylum, and a general subscription from the citizens of Cleveland resulted in the erection of a building suitable to its wants at that time. The donation of an acre of land by Rev. Eli N. Sawtell, on the corner of Woodland and Willson avenues, had already supplied a site. Four months after the third annual meeting, the building was so far completed that the orphans were removed to it. This house is the one that has ever since been occupied by the Asylum. With joy and pride was the new building opened for use, and little did those then connected with the institution expect to witness a call for another and larger home. The children reveled in the wider liberty afforded them here. One poor little fellow, who had come from some dark, cellar-like home, waking at night in one of the airy sleeping apartments, and seeing the light of a full moon streaming in at the numerous windows, exclaimed: "This is a grand place; they don't have no nights here." The Asylum has indeed been a bright and blessed place for many whose lives but for it would have been forever darkened.

Though the house was occupied in July, 1855, it was not then wholly finished or furnished. This was slowly, and, with some difficulty, accomplished during the four or five years thereafter. It was, fortunately, quite completed in 1860, just previous to the war, when there was an increasing call for shelter for orphans, while the high prices of the necessities of life caused a heavy strain upon the means at command of the institution. This need was, however, generously met by the public in their patronage of a series of entertainments arranged by the ladies connected with the Asylum.

In December, 1863, the well known legacy of Capt. Levi Sartwell supplied the Asylum with such an addition to the small Permanent Fund previously collected, as relieved it from the pressure of anxiety, and with other donations from time to time from kind friends, the Asylum has ever since been enabled to perform its work. Although this has steadily increased with each succeeding year, its income has about covered its living expenses.

We have, in previous reports, called attention to the fact that owing to the rapid growth of our city, the site of the Asylum has gradually become more unsuitable for its purposes. The family has grown larger, and the building is no longer well adapted to its use. Much anxiety has also been felt, that a house sheltering so many little children was not fireproof. But generous friends, of whose kindness we call not speak too highly, have been ready, not only to observe the needs of the hour, but to act upon them.

Mr. Leonard Case opened the way by donating a valuable tract of land, fronting upon St. Clair street, as a site for a new asylum, and soon afterwards our staunch friend, Mr. J. H. Wade, signified his willingness to contribute towards the erection of a substantial fire-proof building, the sum of $40,000. It is now one year since work was begun upon the foundation of a building of this description. It has since progressed as rapidly as possible, under the skillful direction of Mr. Samuel Lane, architect, with the very efficient help of Mr. Reuben Bulman, Superintendent of Works.

The building from every point of view presents a massive and imposing appearance, having just enough of ornament to relieve its solidity.

It is built of rock-faced Amherst stone, trimmed with red Marquette sandstone. In the interior the wide halls and large rooms, with their high ceiling, give an impression of ample air and space, and promise of thorough ventilation.

The solid character of the work has prevented its being carried on with the speed that was at first expected, and the interior is still in a rough state, so that a day for its occupation cannot with certainty be named.

Work upon a building at once so elegant and so substantial, has, of course, been costly, and before the summer was over the large sum given by Mr. Wade was almost exhausted. But there was no exhausting the generosity of our large hearted friend, as was proved by the following letter, addressed to Mr. Joseph Perkins, President of the Board of Trustees for the Asylum:

Cleveland, August 29, 1879.
JOSEPH PERKINS, ESQ. President C.P. Orphan Asylum:

Dear Sir:-The amount promised by me towards building the new Asylum is nearly expended, with the building a little more than half finished. This suggests a review of the situation, and inquiry as to where the balance of the money is to come from. The building is costing considerably more than was anticipated, and to complete it from the limited means of the Society will, I fear, reduce their income below the proper requirements for so many children as the new building is capable of accommodating. And wishing to see it all utilized, if Cleveland has enough homeless children to fill it, I have come to the conclusion that rather than have the managers, in whom I have so much confidence, embarrassed for want of funds, in what I regard the holiest of human charities, you may disregard the limit heretofore named, and continue to draw on me for the completion of the building, including heating apparatus, plumbing and gas fitting.

Very respectfully,

For such noble generosity the managers are powerless to render a suitable expression of thanks, but they fervently trust that the blessing of many a soul ready to perish, may through long years to come richly reward the donor.

In the plan of the building a great part of the upper story is reserved for a child's hospital. This plan has had the careful study of Dr. Alleyne Maynard, who last year appropriated for the fitting up and maintenance of this hospital, according to the best recent methods, the sum of $10,000 as a memorial offering for his wife, Mrs. Mary Clarke Brayton, a lady so widely known as one full of good and charitable works.

Our thanks are again tendered to Mr. Leonard Case, who has lately extended his gift of land to the Asylum, by thirty feet fronting on St. Clair street, in order to give a more ample space for so large a building. The whole amount of land in the tract thus liberally donated by Mr. Case is 4x24/100 acres. The great advantage to the Asylum family, of such extensive grounds for use and recreation, will be apparent to all.

In the rear of the new Asylum, and entirely separate from it, a good brick house is being erected for laundry purposes. The cost of this, and of the extensive sewerage required for connecting with mains at a distance of about 1,800 feet, and also the expenses of improvement of the ample grounds, will be met by funds expected to accrue from the sale of the old site, which, it is hoped, will prove sufficient to cover these outlays.

Of the year that has just closed we are glad to be able to record that it has been a prosperous one in our Asylum work. Our Superintendent's report will show the large number of children placed in homes during the year, and we have reason to rejoice in the excellent character of these homes and the good hope that the little ones there placed will grow up under the most favorable circumstance for lives of usefulness. Much time and labor is given by the Superintendent and Matron to the visitation at homes and correspondences both before and after placing ant children, so that we have the satisfaction of knowing that the best has been done that is possible, for each little human waif.

The Asylum household remains under the same excellent supervision that has for years past had our entire confidence. Mr. A. H. Shunk and Mrs. Julia W. Shunk retaining the places of Superintendent and Matron, which they have so long well and faithfully occupied.

Miss M.J. Weaver and Mrs. O. R. Wing, who for nine years past have been our reliance as special care-takers for the boys' and girls' departments, have continued to do good service in those posts; while Mrs. Dora Ellison has given efficient help in different departments.

There has been but little severe sickness within the Asylum during the year. One death has occurred from diptheretic croup.

Our thanks are due to Dr. Thomas, also to Dr. Barr, for their professional services; one at the beginning and the other at the close of the year.

We are pleased to acknowledge again the help of our good friend Mr. David L. Wightman, who has continued to act as a co-worker in bringing to our doors some of those unhappy little ones who are in a state of worse than orphanage, from which it needs the aid of some such good Samaritan ns he to rescue them.

We would recognise the kindness of Miss Jennie Hutchinson, who without charge, for five weeks of the summer vacation, taught a school on the kindergarten plan in the Asylum, and thereby gave great delight as well as good instruction to our restless little ones, on whom, as well as on our tried care-takers, the long vacation hours are apt to drag heavily.

We note a legacy of ($300) three hundred dollars, from the estate of Mrs. Betsy Barnes of Medina, 0., paid into the Permanent Fund of the Asylum through her executor, Mr. William P. Clarke; also a legacy of $55.75 from Francis W. Warner, by Mr. G. Vanvoast, administrator.

In the infant department we consider that much has been done by very simple means. There are no accommodations for infants within the Asylum, but an active committee is appointed, consisting of Mrs. Wm. Rattle, Mrs. N. W. Taylor and Mr. A. H. Shunk, whose duty it is to give careful attention to this part of the work. During the past year twenty-five infants have been placed by this committee in good homes, where they were taken for adoption. It is remarkable, considering the extreme difficulty in bringing along safely infants deprived of a mother's care, that only one babe has died during the year while in charge of the Asylum, and this was one that had suffered so severely from exposure before being received that it was unable to rally from the effects. As care due to the older children renders it impossible to have the infants sheltered in the Asylum, most of the babes have been placed with Mrs. Sarah Woodin, who, during the past six years, has proved herself a careful and affectionate nurse to the infants entrusted to her. We think it but just to commend her as one having a special love for babyhood, that gives an aptness in the delicate management needed for it, and renders the vigilant watching which it day and night demands a welcome toil. We report the following donations for the special use of the nursery, and not included in the Treasurer's report. Mr. James A. Tracy, $25; Mrs. Charles Bissell, $10; Mrs. Wm. Rattle, $25.

At the last meeting of managers for the year, we were informed of two most welcome offerings to the Asylum: one, a fine sewing machine from the White Sewing Machine Company of 360 Euclid Av., a gift which is thankfully received and well appreciated; the other an offering from Mr. J . A. Vincent and his daughter, Mrs. Hines, to furnish the parlor of the new Asylum building. We desire to return thanks to the kind donors for this most seasonable and acceptable gift.

We close our year's work with hearts filled with joy and gratitude for the mercies vouchsafed to our institution, and with brightest hopes for its future prosperity, under the blessing of Him who declared himself the father of the fatherless.

For the Managers,
Respectfully submitted,
A. WALWORTH, Secretary

The number of children in care of tile Asylum at the close of the year (September 30, 1878) was 59; during the year there have been admitted, 150; there have been returned to friends, 91; died, 2, (one in the Asylum and one in the nursery); taken to the Industrial Home for Girls, 1; placed in homes for adoption, 70; now in the Asylum, 45; whole number of children cared for, 209.

As we look over the work of the past year, we can safely say it has been a prosperous and fruitful one. As is our custom, we have given much attention to children who have from time to time been placed in homes. As a general thing we found them in good health, happy and contented; their physical wants abundantly supplied, and their mental and moral training carefully looked after. We are often surprised at the physical development of our boys and girls. We find many of them standing shoulder to shoulder with the best of people, and taking high position in the active duties of life. Surely a good home in the country is a good thing.

During the year we have travelled 13,000 miles, and have visited 113 boys and girls in their homes. For various reasons we have made some changes, and in some cases have thought best for children to return to the Asylum.

Occasionally our friends become somewhat discouraged in the management of our boys and girls, but this discouragement comes largely from the fact that we are all working in undeveloped ground. Children, no more than adults, can be raised to high levels suddenly. We must take them on their own plane, place them under the elevating influence of Christianity and education, and gradually bring them to the appreciation of higher privileges.

Personal influence is a great power. There is no such sunshine as sympathy and encouragement. Slow growth is often sure growth, - some minds are like Norwegian pines, they are slow in growth, but they are striking their roots deep.

We must keep in line of sympathy and thought with the young. We need more wisdom, more cheerfulness, more fruitfulness. These are elements that every man should seek for in his daily experience. The good farmer, with whom we like to place our boys, knows full well the value of trenching and enriching the soil. Success in agriculture and horticulture is in exact proportion to the amount of labor and stimulus given. Let us have less of the pruning knife, and more root culture; less repression, and more encouragement.

There are few things to which we need to train ourselves more diligently and conscientiously than the habit of giving cheer and encouragement.

We soon expect to leave our old Asylum Home, with all its sacred memories. And as we enter our new and commodious building, erected by generous hands, we are not unmindful of the fact that increased facilities bring greater responsibilities. The design of the Orphan Asylum is to supply the place of the parent, as far as possible. The homeless and destitute children of the city are our special wards. Our open door bids them a cheery welcome, where warm hearts and willing hands will minister to their necessities. Our ambition is to save the perishing. We want the Asylum to be a known refuge to every child who may need its hospitality. To this end we earnestly invite the co-operation of all friends of suffering humanity. We shall at all times be glad to have anyone point us to a homeless child or a child in distress.

We still believe that the true home for the child is the family, and that the ultimate aim of all asylum work should be to establish the child in family relations as soon as possible. In this department of our work we need troops of friends; we need their help, we need their advice, we need their encouragement, and we intend to do our work in such a way as to command their confidence and respect.

We fully appreciate the good work done by the many friends of the Asylum in days past, and we sincerely hope they will not forget us in days to come. Speak a good word for the Asylum, and point us to some good home for an orphan child. There are many childless homes throughout the country, Christian homes of peace and plenty, but such homes naturally tend to selfishness. The divine law is a law of unselfishness, and we would say to all such homes, take to your hearts some bright orphan child, and learn that life is another thing when great love enters it.

Sometimes people ask where all our children come from. They come from hunger, from cold, from nakedness, from neglect and abuse. Their poverty is not of their own misdeeds; but for this mysterious providence they appeal to us as God's poor.

In our new building, No. 940 St. Clair street, we shall always be glad to see our friends and co-operate with them in any good work which will tend to bring a homeless child and childless home into a divine and mutually blessing relation.

The following letter is from two sisters who went out from the Asylum four years ago:

October 5, 1879.

DEAR MR. AND MRS. SHUNK : - Papa received your welcome letter, and he wished me to answer for him. Katie (or Minnie as we call her now) and myself attend school all the while. We have a very good school; there are five departments. Little Minnie took the price in the first intermediate at the close of the year. I attend the high school, study history, geography, grammar, arithmetic. We also attend Sabbath school and church every Sunday. I have played the organ in Sunday school for two years, and have played for church service all summer, the organist being absent. We have a beautiful organ; little Minnie plays a few exercises. We have a very pleasant home; papa and mamma are very kind to us, and give us all the advantages they possibly can, and we are very happy. I am sorry we have no portraits to send you at present; will send them as soon as we have some taken. I suppose the children are all sitting out on the grass this beautiful afternoon, listening to some story being read by some of you. Would like very much to see you all. I don't suppose there are any of the girls at the Asylum that were there when I was, but presume you hear from them once in a while.

Papa, mamma and sister Minnie wish to be remembered, and they would like very much if yon could come and make us a visit. Please let us hear from yon again.


Eighteen months ago, Mr. D. L. Wightman, agent of the Humane Society, brought a little curly headed boy to the Asylum, deserted by his father and abused by his mother. He had received an injury from which he came near having hip disease; but through the skill and kindness of Dr. Biggar, the child recovered. We placed him in a good home, where he has been legally adopted and made an heir to property. A few weeks ago, in company with his foster parents, this little boy visited the Asylum; hale and hearty, with his past neglect and suffering entirely forgotten.

Last spring Willie W. wanted to know whether we would buy some potatoes of him in the fall. Certainly, said we. So early in the morning, October 7, Willie drove up to the Asylum with a big load or produce. We paid him the market price for his potatoes, and we find them to be excellent. Will is an Asylum boy, a manly fellow, and we are always glad to have him come home. In the same good place lives Gracie. She is an Asylum girl, and always comes in with a smile on her face. Occasionally Gracie calls with a basket of eggs, and is quite disposed to drive q good bargain. We attribute this to her Western Reserve training, which is all right, tor industry and economy bring wealth. We are proud of Will and Gracie.

Coney B., who lives in the same neighborhood, bas a good deal to tell us about the good time he has going to school, and hunting rabbits and squirrels. Coney is in good hands, and we expect good things from him.

Lulu is a fine girl of nine years. The old, old story or drunkenness and abuse was the cause of her coming to the Asylum. Nearly two years ago we placed her in a pleasant home in the country. Before coming to the Asylum, Lulu scarcely ever heard anything fall from the lips of her parents but profanity and obscenity. Mr. Wightman will bear us out in this statement. In her new home she is neat and tidy, happy and contented. We called to see her recently. She read to us out of the Bible, and sang many of the popular Sunday school songs of the day. She never goes to bed at night without first praying for the children at the Orphan Asylum.

Once upon a time, not far from the above home, we placed a little homeless girl baby. We called to see it. She is a promising child and has been legally adopted. Furthermore, she has four big brothers, who declare that she shall have her rights under the law. And as we looked over the large, well ordered farm, we came to the conclusion that her rights under the law is no small matter.

The following letter from Daisy tells a sad story:

DEAH MR. SHUNK: - I write to tell you that my dear papa is with us no more. Mamma and I are so sad and lonely. Papa was so much company for us, and he was so kind to teach me how to write, and how to read in the Bible, and to love God. I shall not forget his kind Words. I will try to be a good girl, and meet him in heaven. He is buried near by, so I can go to his grave every day and carry flowers to it. Mamma and I are coming to see you in November. Truly your friend, DAISY.

October, 1879.


Dear Sir: - I wish to send you many thanks in acknowledgement of the great kindness you rendered me when you sent me the dear little baby I have waited for so long. She is entirely different in looks from the ideal baby I looked for: but her sparkling eyes, and quick, bright ways make her so attractive that she long ago found the way to our hearts; and we dearly love the little homeless one - homeless no longer - for we would not think of parting with her now. She is well and grows nicely, and has already learned to know her papa and mamma from everyone else. She is such a comfort to me. How can I thank you enough? Now about adoption papers. Please let us know what will be required of us, for we wish to keep our baby. We will be glad to finish it up as soon as possible. I---H---

If there ever was a child rescued from danger, it is the little boy who (in words of his own selection) morning and evening repeats IRVIE'S PRAYER:
0, Lord, take care of papa,
0, Lord, take care of mamma;
0, Lord, take care of me;
0, Lord, take care of all little children. Amen!

David writes good letters. He has a good home, and seems to be much interested in agricultural pursuits. He has been the subject of much anxiety, but we believe the good work done by his best earthly friend has not been in vain, and that he will yet rise up to call Miss Weavce blessed.

We would like to speak of a great many of our boys and girls; would like more fully to tell of our visits to them; would like to read many good letters we have from them, and mention the good reports we hear of them, but we have not room for all these good things. We want our boys and girls to get more and more in the habit of writing to us. Tell us all about what you are doing and how you do it; be assured we will be interested in anything you may have to say, and be assured we shall always be glad to see you at your Asylum home.



The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum. Twenty-Seventh Annual Report. September 30, 1879.

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