Charles Crittenton was a wealthy New York business man. He had not come from family money, but, as a result of his own hard work and abilities. he became a considerable and well known success. Everything that was good in his life changed, however, in 1882 when his daughter Florence was stricken with rheumatic fever and died In his devastation, he turned to religion and worked with street evangelist Smith Allen. Through this work he learned about the difficulties facing prostitutes who wanted to leave their lives on the street. These women were often forced into such work because there were few, if any other possibilities. If they were not married, if their husbands had thrown them out (not an unusual act at that time), or if they were unwed mothers, no one would hire them for “reputable” jobs and there were no “do-overs” … nowhere to go to change their lives. Crittenton saw the hopelessness and responded. In 1883, he established the first of many homes which were named after his daughter Florence Crittenton and dedicated to welcoming and giving aid to unwed mothers, prostitutes, abused women and abused or abandoned children.
Street evangelists, wanted to inspire these young women morally; but Crittenton and those who worked with him were the first to make direct contact by systematically going into the streets to find and speak to them with respect. His attitude toward the “women of the street” made his work with them and the homes he would build different. He had an empathy that he was willing to declare. These were basically good women, he said, with life circumstances that had directed them to lead morally corrupt and self-destructive lives. But few others shared his view as Crittenton stated below.
One of the great troubles in fighting this evil is the prejudice against fallen girls and the fact that … a woman who is fallen seems to be just cause to convict her of every other crime in the decalogue, thus removing her from the pale of helpful sympathy which is extended to almost every other class of unfortunate beings. Even convicted murderers are treated with more intelligent sympathy.
Crittenton’s insistence on treating the women who came to him with dignity and respect was a hallmark of his work that is still present throughout the Crittenton system and associated agencies.
By1897 Florence Crittenton Homes grew to 46 facilities throughout the United States. In 1898 the Florence Crittenton Mission (NFCM) was the first such agency to be chartered by a President of the United States, in this case, William McKinley. Not only was this an honor, but it helped the homes to connect and be consistent from state to state.
Sioux City Florence Crittenton Center
In the 1800s, there was an international women’s group, trying to gain whatever help and rights they could for women. Though their movement was slow, they did inspire and, in several states establish a law stating that there would be the presence of a police matron whenever a woman or child was brought into the jail. In Sioux City, one of the Police Matrons was a Mrs. Joanne Thurston. Though we know little about her, she turned out to be, not the founder, but in a fundamental way, the beginning of the Florence Crittenton Center in Sioux City.
Abandoned children were often brought to jail. There were many who were literally throwaways. Like puppies no one wanted, they were tossed and left in road side ditches, on street corners, on porches, in buildings, in houses. These were the children Mrs. Thurston found placed in her arms and to whom she gave, for at least a brief time, safety and caring. Soon she asked a group of women’s to help. They did. They organized the “Babies Home Society,” renting a house at 1361 Jackson Street where the children lived, were loved, and their needs were seen to. Seeing an additional need to care for and “rehabilitate” unmarried women with children, Mrs. Thurston contacted another group of women who, in 1894, organized the “Women’s Home Society” at thirty-second and Jennings. In 1896 the two consolidated into the “Women’s and Baby’s home” which would, in 1903 join and become the Florence Crittenton Center Home of Sioux City Iowa.
Three years later, with a 1000 dollar appropriation from the state of Iowa, contributions from donors, and help from the Florence Crittenton Mission, a new building was erected at 28th and Court Street. The Cornerstone was laid September 7 and the first meeting in the building was held on January 8, 1907. The facility, from its start, served the tri-state area and it continues to do so today.
Dr. Agnes Eichelberger
It is impossible to talk about Sioux City Crittenton Center without speaking of the role played by Dr. Agnes Eichelberger. In an article on the Center’s 50th Anniversary, the Sioux City Tribune observed, “Any thought of the Florence Crittenton Home in Sioux City centers on Dr. Agnes Eichelberger. It was her … great sympathy for unfortunate women and their babies that caused her to enlist her friends in an organization for the care of such women and babies as their need demanded.” It seems fair to say that she established the core values and standards that are still lived today.
Dr. Eichelberger graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, gained experience in the Women’s Division of Cook County Hospital, and was a house surgeon at Cook County. A Sioux City couple met her in Chicago and persuaded her that she was greatly needed in this community. She came and in 1903 became the physician and leader of the Crittenton Center. Her presence and leadership served to distinguish the Sioux City agency from others. Her skills as a physician demanded a level of medical excellence not found everywhere. In his 1933 book on Crittenton homes, Otto Wilson states that Eichelberger and the Sioux City Crittenton Center were inextricably bound.
She stands out as almost if not quite unique among the founders of Crittenton Homes. In practically every case, the earlier Homes were started by men and women actuated by a sense of Christian love for their erring and fallen sisters, and only rarely was this accompanied by scientific training. Dr. Eichelberger, while in full sympathy with the religious spirit which prompted most rescue work, was a skilled practicing physician and her interest might be termed philanthropic rather than religious.
She was determined that women and children not be included in the general population of the ill and her beliefs led to the building of a maternity hospital in 1914, adjacent to the Crittenton Center Home. Its facilities and services were available to the entire community. At that time, maternity wings were not separate in hospitals; nor were they given high priority. Dr. Eichelberger made sure that her facility offered the best medical care possible and it was recognized as such throughout the state and nationally. She also established a Nurse’s Training school so that those caring for her patients would be properly educated and skilled. In 1928, when other hospitals in the community began to offer their own separate maternity wings, the Crittenton facility was sold to Methodist Hospital and eventually closed in the 1950s.
Eichelberger died in 1923. At her memorial, she was lovingly eulogized as communal admiration and respect were expressed. The following is an example offered by community leader Elizabeth Hubbard :
“She came to Sioux City at a time when but few women had entered the medical profession, but she soon became fused with the life of the people here. Her heart was so generous and her sympathies so broad and her mind so tolerant that she belonged to no one group, but to us all. Her belief in the ability of women to come back after sin, to a normal and useful life, was constantly shown in her devotion to the Crittenton home.”
Up until the 30’s, unwed mothers were strongly encouraged to keep their babies. In the 40’s 50’s, and early 60’s there were cultural attitude shifts and adoption became the strongly recommended choice. In fact, after WWII approximately 98% of Crittenton mothers chose adoption for their babies. Also, the population served had changed. No longer were the majority of women rescued prostitutes or underage girls in distress. Most were adults representing all levels and professions in society.
By the 70’s, being a single mother brought with it less and less shame. Society had finally caught up the 19th century views of Charles Crittenton. Underage and unmarried mothers could stay in their home towns and often with their families. As a response to this trend, in 1979 Crittenton Center inpatient maternity services were discontinued and comprehensive outpatient maternal health services began.
Today: We’re More Than you know
Since then, Crittenton Center board and staff leadership have not feared change, but have welcomed the process of developing new directions and programs to meet each challenge. Yet, were Mrs. Thurston and Dr. Eichelberger able to view the Center’s work today, it would seem they would be pleased at how little their basic values and standards have changed over the past 115 years. Today’s Crittenton Center still cares for pregnant women, high risk and under insured, women who would not be able to have access to such quality care otherwise. It remains dedicated to children, their emergency shelter and safety, their education, their nutritional and medical needs.
However, today’s programs do bring with them a shift that has developed through the years. That is, the emphasis on strengthening families by offering to all members: a) education, b) definition and resolution of health issues, and c) a base from which they can become empowered.
Researched and written by Dr. Diane Kay Sloan.
Today’s Programs- In 2013 Crittenton Center served more than 4500 children, women, and families through the following programs:
“If shelter weren’t here, I don’t know where some of these kids would go,” said Ed Huff, Crittenton Center Shelter Director. Every year the Crittenton Center Shelter takes in about 400 kids. Some stay overnight, others are here for months. Their stays are for a variety of reasons. Parents are arrested, others are deemed unfit and other children are simply left here. The shelter is meant to be a temporary place for kids who are ‘in transition’ and don’t yet have a permanent place to stay for whatever reason.
“The older children we end up having here a little bit longer because they become difficult to place. We become the support system that we never had before,” said Huff.
During their stay, staff at the shelter do their best to try and keep life as ‘normal’ as possible. If the child attends Sioux City Community Schools, he or she will continue schooling. There’s also a one-room school inside the shelter where teachers spend one on one time with the kids when they need it most.
Staying at the shelter also means activities. The staff will do things with the kids including fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. They also experience new things like live theatre and concerts thanks to donations.
The shelter has on average 24 kids a month ranging in ages from newborn to 17 years.
Supervised Apartment Living (SAL) works with teens ages 16-18. The Iowa Department of Human Services funds this program which teaches kids who are forced into adulthood to live independently. They’re also taught necessary life skills.
Being a parent is one of the most difficult yet rewarding jobs a human being can encounter. But sometimes, intuition is not enough. Thanks to the Resource Center, new parents with children ages infant to five can come and learn how to cope with being a parent and their child’s changing needs. The parents earn dollars for learning and are able to buy items like diapers, formula and clothes for their children in the Resource Center’s store.
“Some important times for me are seeing the success stories in the community. Having a parent come back to me 5 years later and say, ‘Hey I got my GED, I went onto nursing school and now I’m a nurse at a local hospital, and it’s all because I took your GED class or your parenting class , and it gave me motivation and support that I can do it, ” said Monica Rosenthal with the Resource Center.
Often times just talking out problems can help prevent child abuse. Thanks to the HOPES program parents who are socially or economically at risk are able to talk through their frustrations with a professional.
“One of the most important things about our program and something that I’m very proud of is that from 2009 to today, we have had no reported or confirmed child abuse cases from our HOPES clients,” said our HOPES Program Director.
HOPES case workers visit those at risk in their homes on a weekly basis. They are encouraged to use family support services available in their communities.
Families eligible for HOPES are identified by a uniform screening process and are offered services through outreach efforts to connect with the family. Participation by the family is voluntary and services continue up to age four of the target child and/or when the family has met their goals.
“We believe that no matter what their economic situation, no matter what their past experiences have been, everybody deserves a quality early learning experience and that is our mission every single day here,” said Erika McWell.
McWell oversees the daily operations of the Crittenton Center’s preschools and child development.
The Crittenton Center provides affordable child care whether it’s preschool or simply a healthy environment for nearly 300 children ages infant to ten.
“I absolutely know first-hand with some of the families that we serve, without the Crittenton Center and without us being here and being able to serve these families, they would be in dangerous situations, some of our kids,” said McWell.
Fees at the preschools and child development center are based on income. Some parents pay more, some pay less. “Everybody has an investment here. It’s not free childcare, it’s not free preschool. The Crittenton Center invests, our teachers invest, our families invest. Everyone has an investment in the entire program,” said McWell. Even parents who don’t need low-cost child care bring their children to Crittenton.