Our Homeless Wards (1903)

A Great Wilkes Barre Charity about Which Little is Known -- Excellent Care

The Home for Friendless Children, the oldest charitable institution in Wilkes Barre, which quietly celebrated its 41st anniversary the other day, continues on its noble mission caring for hundreds of little homeless children who have been neglected or otherwise deprived of the care of parents.

Orangized in 1862, it stands a monument to the benevolence and charity of a few sacrificing ladies and gentlemen of this city, whose interest and sympathy for these little wards has been productive of a vast amount of good and has placed the institution in the front rank, as being one of the best managed and most successful of its kind in the country.

The home is one of Wilkes Barre's landmarks, an old fashioned square brick building has aged angular walls of which are being covered with a green mantle of ivy and Virginia creepers. It shelters a large and happy family of sixty children, ranging in the age of two to fourteen years. The work has now outgrown the present building and plans are being considered for a new modern and more commodious structure.

A record reporter called at that Home last week and was shown through the institution by the kindly matron, Miss Sophia Herriotts, and was surprised at the evidences of system, management, cleanliness, and comfort of the place, and the care taken of the little inmates. It contains many of the cozy comforts of home, and the fact that there was only one case of contagious disease during the past year speaks well for the attention given to the health of the children.

An Interesting Scene

The bulk of the children were at their studies in the school room when the reporter called, but several little towheaded tots, too young to be pupils, were found amusing themselves in swings, or making sand houses in the playground. They were managed like a large family. All eat together and there is no distinction made between whose board is paid and the one who was abandoned to the cruel charity of the world. The little ones are given all the care and attention that loving hearts and tender hands can give.

Receive Good Training

The children are also trained to be useful citizens and good housewives. The girls are taught to work, to bake, cook, clean house, sew, put up preserves and become proficient in general housework. Even the little boys assist in his kind of work., for there is no other for them to do, and all are taught deportment, politeness, and good manners. And with all this they are given an education the same as in the public schools.

The Comfortable Home

The old fashioned, roomy building is divided its entire length by a wide hall, and each of the three floors is reached by ample stairways. It is well lighted and ventilated, and clean as a new pin. The front portion of the ground floor has the reception room. Back of this on the right side is the large dining room, where the children take their meals. Seated together at a meal they present an interesting sight.

What They Get to Eat

The institution is conducted by an excellent system -- fixed hours to eat, work, sleep, and play. Breakfast is served at 7 am., dinner at 12, supper at 5 p.m. The children arise at 6:45 am., winter and summer, and retire at 7:30 p.m.

For breakfast the meals consist of bread and mill; some cereal, potatoes and fruit. This is varied with eggs or hash. For dinner there is meat, potatoes and other vegetables, pudding, and sometimes pie. For supper the meals consist of bread and milk, corn, meal and milk, pudding and fruit of preserves. Special dinners are served on holidays, the lady managers providing an elaborate menu.

The kitchen is in the rear of the dining room, and a few of the larger girls do the cooking and serving under the supervision of the matron or her assistant. The laundry is in the basement, where all the washing and laundry work for the institution are done by the older girls. The bake house, store room, wash room, etc., are also in the basement. Several of the larger girls do all the baking and their loaves have the fluffy size and lightness that appeal to the heart of the old fashioned housewife. The children compete as to which can make the best loaves. Each has her private mark and they take great pride in their success.

They Like Crickets

Whiles standing in the bake house the reporter was surprised to hear the cheerful chirps of crickets in the hearth of the oven, and when he remarked on the sound, Miss Herriotts replied "Yes, they are crickets. The children like crickets -- like to hear them sing. They say they bring good luck. They will not harm one and think if they kill a cricket the house will burn down."

Great Amount of Food

The storeroom was another interesting place. Here the children work in the fall season putting up hundreds of jars of fruit and vegetable preserves. The smaller ones assist in cleaning the fruit and the others assist with the preserving. There were 2,500 cans and jars of preserves put up last year. An idea of the amount of food consumed each year may be gathered from the fact that 100 bushels of potatoes, 4 bushels of carrots, 2 bushels of cucumbers, 16 bushels of beets and 16 bushels of turnips, have been used since the stock last fall. Three barrels of flour are used each week. Many of the vegetables are raised in the garden, about an acre of ground surrounding the home, but most of them are donated or purchased.

How They Play

The large play room is in the rear of the building on the left side and here is ample opportunity for indoor childish games. A punching bag suspended from the ceiling affords great sport for the boys. There is also foot balls and other toys for them. While the girls amuse themselves at playing house, planning for their dolls, etc.

The play ground, an ample lot at the rear of the building is the most popular resort for the children when the weather is good. The two large swings, whirligig, sheltered pavilion, trees, etc., affording a wide field for amusement and exercise. Several little ones, from 3 to 6 years, were seen playing in the yard, some in the swings and others digging in the sand, all as happy and contended as they could be.

"What do they think and talk about ?" asked the reporter.

" Just like other children," replied the matron. "They seldom think or talk about their homes after they are here a short time. Some of them came from homes that were undesirable or where they were ill treated and neglected, and we don't encourage them to think or talk of such homes."

Their Ambitions

"Have they any ambitions?"

"Oh, yes," laughed the matron, "most of the boys would like to be cab drivers, they say. They watch the drivers go up and down the street and think it fine to drive a horse. They also greatly admire the fire engines, and when one passes they all want to be a firemen. Some of them think to be a policeman would be nice and there are not a few whose ambition is to be a soldier and carry a gun. Col. Dougherty is their great hero and when the regiment passes the Home the boys are happy."

"What about the girls?"

"The girls want to be dressmakers, laundresses and cooks. Their ambitions seldom run higher. One of the girls recently did not want to go to school and when I urged her to go, that she be a school teacher, she replied that she wanted to be a scrub woman."

A Circus Their Heaven

The fondest wish of the children is to see a circus, and Miss Herriotts mentioned the fact that they had seen the Barnum circus last month. She smiled when she mentioned how delighted they were with the experience and said thats when they came home all wanted to be circus people. The boys gave miniature circuses in the playground every day for a week. They climbed the trees, slid down poles, tumbled about the ground, stood on their heads and did their best to imitate what they had seen. Their chief delight was the clowns and they never tired of telling their antics.

Their are funds provided through charitable bequests so the children can properly observe the Fourth of July and the Christmas festival, and if a circus fund could be established so the little waifs could see a circus once a year their hearts would be gladdened beyond measure.

The children are fond of music and the presence of an organ grinder on the street is a great pleasure to them. They agree together remarkably well and there are few quarrels. They are treated as equals and are taught to respect each others' right. There is seldom occasion for inflicting punishment and if a child is disobedient its play is stopped for a few hours, which generally proves effective.

The reporters' notice was attracted to a little white-headed boy and a brown haired girl sitting together in a swing and prattling about some childish nonsense, and he remarked on the pretty picture of love and innocence they presented. His interest deepened and was tinged with pity when he was told the boy was a son of John Lutz, who was hanged for murdering his wife at West Pittston a few years ago.

The Gypsy Queen

There has been an air of gladness about the Home for the past few days as the pet of the household, as the pet of the household, the baby queen, who had departed to take up her resign in a private home, had returned to her subjects.

The baby is a Syrian Child, brought to the Home by her mother, a Syrian peddler, last September, being only 16 months old. The mother told the matron she could not care for it and asked for permission to leave it at the home for a time. The child was taken in. The mother called once to see it, kissed and pressed it to her breast and departed on her nomadic wanderings, never calling again. The little dark-eyed Arab was the youngest child in the institution and speedily became the pet in the Home. It grew into a pretty, lovable child, large black eyes, black silken hair and olive complexion, and when it was taken away the other children cried for it. They are happy over its return.

Gladness and Tears

Children are frequently taken to the institution and their board paid by mothers who have no home or friends to care for them. The mothers or friends are permitted to call twice a week on visiting day, Wednesdays or Saturdays, and they are frequently touching scenes at the meeting and parting of mother and child. There are happy meetings, an hour of fondling and caresses, the mother bringing candy, fruit, and dainties to the little ones, whisperings of love and affection-- and kisses and tears at parting.

The Dormitories

The second and third floor of the building are used for the dormitories. There is a sewing room on the second floor, where a seamstress is employed, and the larger girls taught to sew. There is also bath rooms, where all the children bathe atleast once a week.

There are separate dormitories for the boys and girls filled with rows of neat little white cots. Each child, after it reaches a certain age, must make its own bed and there is rivalry among them as to neatness and cleanliness. This system of individual responsibility extends to the ward room, where the Sunday clothing is kept. There is a locker for each child, where the best clothing is put away and kept for holiday occasions.

Religious Instruction

Every Sunday morning the children attend the 10 o'clock service at St John's Lutheran Church, accompanied by the matron and her assistant. There is also Sunday at the Home on Sunday afternoons at 4 o'clock, conducted by Rev. Mr. Beates, pastor of St. John's Church, and there are devotional services in the Home each morning and evening by the matron.


The system of work and play is well regulated, there being hours for each. Nearly all the work in the institution is done by the children, and when each completes its duties there is no restraints on the hours of play. The children are not allowed to leave the house or playground unless accompanied by the matron or her assistant.

The staff is small for the amount of work accomplished. The whole is under the matron, Miss Herriotts and her assistant, Miss Danniel. A seamstress and a gardener comprise the remainder of the paid force.

Dr. Levi Shoemaker make frequent visits to the Home as the physician in charge and looks after the health if the inmates.

The care taken of the health of the children and their hygienic surroundings are shown by the absence of any serious illness amount the inmates during the past year. Contagious diseases are especially guarded against, but occasionally where there are so many children together and so many new ones constantly arriving some contagious is introduced and then there is much to do for the doctor and nurses.

Some Cemetery Mounds

In Hollenback Cemetery there is a plot of three lots which were donated to the home by Mr. hollenback, and here are ranged twenty-three little mounds, the graves of the children who have died since the institution was established. The graves are well kept, the little wards remembered even after death, and each grave is marked with a small iron marker & numbered to correspond with the name & history of the dead child, which is kept in the records of the institution.

The Lady Managers

No small share of work and management of the institution devolves on the board of the lady managers, an warmest body of this city's leading woman, who motherly interest and loving, kindly charity keep almost constant watch and supervision over the little brood of the homeless waifs. There are twenty-four members of the board of lady managers and they divide they work among several committees --investigating, house, sewing, etc., who attend to the various details of the management. When a child is sent out to a family for adoption it is not lost sight of and frequent visits are made to its new home by the committee to learn if the child is properly treated and is in a moral environment. If not it is taken from the family and returned to the home.

The lady managers are assisted by a number of men, who look after the financial interests of the institution. The officers, directors and lady managers of the home at present include:

President, J. W. Hollenback; vice-presidents, Stanley Woodward, G.R. Bedford; treasurer, F.A. Phelps; secretary, A.F. Derr; trustees, Stanley Woodward, J.W. Hollenback, I.M. Thomas, J.B. Woodward, W.H. Conyngham.

Matron, Miss Sophia Herriotts.

Lady Managers -- President, Mrs. J.C. Phelps; vice president, Mrs. G.M. Reynolds; secretary, Mrs. A.R. Brundage; treasurer, Josephine Hillard, Mrs. R.J. Flick, Mrs. I.A. Stearns, Mrs. Ziba Bennett, Mrs. G.B. Kulp, Mrs. Woodward Leavenworth, Anna Hunt, Mrs. T.C. North, Mrs. T.W. Brown, Elizabeth Sharpe, Mrs. I.M. Thomas, Mrs. M. Wood, Mrs. Stanley Woodward, Hettie Wright, Mrs. Garrett Smith, Mrs. H.L. Jones, Mrs A.H. Dickson, Jane Shoemaker, Mrs. John N. Conyngham, Mrs. F.B. Parrish

A Brief History

The Home for Friendless Children for the Borough of Wilkes Barre, was incorporated by the act of Assembly, April 11 1862, signed by A.G. Curtin, the war governor. The first board of trustees included: George M Hollenback, president; Samuel R. Marshall and James D.L. Harvey, vice presidents; Agib Ricketts, secretary; William S Ross, treasurer; Andrew T McClintock, solicitor; Dr. Edward R Mayer, Dr. Lathan Jones, Robert C Shoemaker, Volney L Maxwell, William M Lewis, William Wood, Nathaniel Rutter, Sharp B Lewis, William Swetland, Joseph Lippincott.

The first board of lady mangers included: Mrs W.C. Gildersleeve, directress; Mrs James L Blake, second directress; Mrs V.L. Maxwell, secretary; Mrs. Ziba Bennett, treasurer; Mrs. M.G. Hollenback, Mrs. J. N. Conyngham, Mrs. A.T. McClintock, Mrs. S.D.Lewis, Mrs. Theron Burnet, Mrs. J Lawrence Day, Mrs. E.R. Mayer, Mrs. W.S. Ross, Mrs. Joseph Lippincott, Mrs. H.B. Wright, Mrs. S.E. Parsons, Mrs. C.E. Wright, Mrs. W.F. Dennis, Mrs. J.B. Stark, Mrs. J.D. L. Harvey, Mrs. Eliza B. Covell, Miss Harriet M Waller, Miss Augusta L Rutter, Miss Harriett N Jones, and Miss Hetty Wright.

The above named, by careful management, laid the foundations of this noble charity, which has done so much for little friendless children of the city and county. The institution had its origin in the desire of these charitable founders to provide shelter, food, and instruction for a number of destitute children who were being trained as street beggars and exposed to all the vices if that position. The Home had humble beginnings. Acting in their capacity as managers the ladies received from a resident of this city the free use of a small house on South Street to be occupied as a "Home," employed a matron and received such little wanderers as were willing to accept the blessings tendered them. The ladies donated money to defray the first expenses and donations were asked of friends for the object. They were asked to send anything in way of household articles or provisions towards furnishing and providing the house. A liberal response was made and soon comfortable accommodations were provided.

After an existence of three months the increase in the number of children made it necessary to enlarge the building, which was done, but the institution continued to grow, and two years later, in May, 1864, plans were decided upon for the erection of the present Home and the building was begun shortly afterward.

The number of children who passed through the institution is hard to estimate, but it will run into the thousands. During and after the Civil War scores of children whose fathers were killed and whose homes were broken up, were given temporary homes and cared for until sent to the Academy for Soldiers' Orphan at Harford, Susquehanna County.

The work has now outgrown its present quarters and it is safe to assume that friends will not be lacking when assistance is asked for the erection of a modern building. A visit to the institution shows the need for a new structure and the work accomplished during the many years of its existence is an eloquent plea for continued support.

This information was collected from an article published in the Wilkes Barre Record April 1903. It was typed by Tammy Lamb.

The Following information was collected and added by myself:

1870 Census of Friendless Home

1880 Census of Friendless Home

Other Articles on This School:

Next Article

Previous Article

Other Orphan Homes in Pennsylvania:

Visit the Harford Military Orphan School in Susquehanna County

Visit the Mansfield Orphan School

Visit the McAlisterville School in Juniata County, at McAlisterville, PA

1997-2018 by Mary Ann Lubinsky for the PAGenWeb Project, and by Individual Contributors

 Mary Ann Lubinsky
County Coordinator

Back To Luzerne