' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Crittenton today: Serving marginalized teens

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crittenton today: Serving marginalized teens

Florence Crittenton moms and babies today
Last month fellow blogger Lorraine wrote about the responses of the Crittenton Foundation, Catholic Charities, and the Salvation Army to Dan Rather Report: Adopted or Abducted. The program was critical of the role these agencies played in the Baby Scoop Era (1945 to 1973) in seducing young mothers to relinquish their infants for adoption. In their responses, only the Crittenton Foundation acknowledged the pain caused by the past practices of its affiliated agencies. Crittenton, it should be noted, operated about one-third of the approximately 200 confidential maternity homes which existed during that sad period.

In putting together the post, Lorraine noticed that the Crittenton Foundation was located in Portland, Oregon where I live. Curious about what Crittenton is doing now, I contacted the President Jeannette Pai-Espinsosa and we met for lunch last week.

It turns out that Jeannette and I both worked for state government during Gov. Barbara Roberts' administration (1991-1995). In an interesting coincidence, Gov. Roberts, had been a teen mother herself, and was thus committed to helping pregnant teens. She knew the need. The Salem, Oregon High School for teen parents is named after her.

Today there are still 27 Crittenton agencies around the country. Some of them, like the San Francisco agency I visited briefly when I was pregnant, are no longer residential. Though all operate as separate entities under a Crittenton umbrella, their mission is the same: “to support the empowerment, self-sufficiency, and the end of cycles of destructive behaviors and relationships for girls, young women and their families who live at the margin of the American dream.” Many still are residential homes for young women;  others are not, but provide in-home care, education and parenting classes to pregnant teens and teen mothers. The focus is on teens in foster care, as they have few resources, are poorly informed about their rights, and are often subject to pressures from child welfare agencies to relinquish their babies. Additionally, Crittenton agencies serve girls who have been sexually abused or trafficked for sex, who are addicted to drugs, and others who simply need help.

The Foundation operates a search service to help former residents and adult adoptees whose mothers were confined at Crittenton homes to connect. At its website, you can see the names of the people who have registered, and the information they provided, state by state. Former Crittenton residents also operate a reunion registry, Florence Crittenton Home Reunion Registry.

When I became pregnant in 1966, I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was from a prominent family in town, and it was unquestionable that I had to go somewhere else. I decided upon San Francisco, where I had been as a tourist and knew was a hip place, but also where I knew no one. I didn't know anything about how adoption worked, but I had heard of Crittenton. I knew it was associated with young women "in trouble" and that pregnant girls stayed there before surrendering their babies. In fact, a woman in my dorm who had confided in me that she had given up a child for adoption had stayed at the Crittenton home in Seattle. Assuming that "Crittenton" was the gateway for all things single pregnant women needed, I headed to the Florence Crittenton home. It was a two-story building which could have been mistaken for an ordinary office building, I saw two young women coming out the front door in long coats, walking in tandem, heads held high, hands folded in front of them. Ironically, they reminded me of the nuns I used to see when I was a girl in Chicago.
Charles Crittenton

I entered the building into a small reception area. In front of me was a locked door. To my left was a counter opening into an office. A candy bowl filled with rings--they appeared to be made of copper wire--sat on the counter, clearly there for residents to wear on their outings, giving them that all important indicator of marriage. I explained my "situation" to a pleasant middle-aged who came to the counter. She called someone on the phone and pushed a button to open the door. I went through a short hallway into a large, comfortable living room, where I was met by a woman in her 30’s who told me that Crittenton was not an adoption agency, that San Francisco was swamped with single pregnant women wanting to place their babies for adoption, and that I should go to a county adoption agency, preferably in the suburbs. Eventually, however, I gave up my daughter through the San Francisco County agency.

Years later I learned that contrary to what I knew in 1966--that Crittenton groomed mothers to give up their babies--Crittenton had not always been about separating mothers and babies. Charles Crittenton, who made a fortune in the wholesale drug business, founded Crittenton Homes as refuges for “lost and fallen women,” opening the first home in New York City in 1883. The San Francisco Home was opened a few years later as the Florence Crittenton Home Association for Erring Women. [Emphasis ours.] Within a few years, he teamed up with a physician, Kate Waller Barrett, and opened more homes, all “engaged in the work of reclaiming unfortunate women.” At its height, there were 76 homes in five countries. Among other services, the homes provided maternity services for poor single pregnant women, giving them a safe place to nurture their babies, often for several years, and training them to provide for their children in the future. Until the 1940's, Crittenton homes required mothers keep their babies at least for six months. Then they reversed their position, adopting the views of social "reformers" that adoption was the answer to white unwed pregnancy. 

The demand for Crittenton's services declined in the late sixties as mores relaxed, and women began keeping their babies. Roe v. Wade sealed the fate of confidential maternity homes. In 1955, 90,000 infants were placed for adoption, 50 years later the number was closer to 15,000.

Kate Waller Barrett
Besides assisting the Crittenton agencies, the foundation lobbies Congress for funds to sustain “practices to that will break cycles of destructive behavior and attack root causes like poverty, racism, and sexism.” I asked Jeannette if legislators ever told her that these girls should just give their babies up for adoption rather than receive public resources. “Yes,” she answered, “I hear that all the time.”

Maternity homes continue to exist, now called “Birthmother Housing,” operated by adoption agencies and free for those who give up their babies. No longer hidden in spartan inner-city buildings, mothers-to-be may enjoy spa-like facilities. Edna Gladney, a Texas agency advertises a free dorm “in a park-like setting with a beautiful swimming pool, a cozy fireplace in the living room, beautiful and charming bedrooms, a fitness center, [and] exciting activities such as shopping trips, eating out, sports events, movies, museums trips and other special events going on in the Fort Worth/Dallas area.” A far cry from the SF Flo Crit which offered only secrecy--and use of a copper wire ring.

We would love to hear from first mothers who stayed at Crittenton homes, or otherwise had contact with Crittenton during their pregnancy. What was your experience like?
From FMF:
Deconstructing the Responses to Adoption or Abducted

For more information:
The National Crittenton Foundation
Florence Crittenton Homes Reunion Registry
Gladney Center

Wake Up Little Susie by historian Rickie Solinger is an excellent and illuminating look at the times and the influences on young women to surrender their babies. Highly recommended.


  1. I was not pregnant when I was in Paterdale (a Crittenton home in Phoenix, AZ), but I remember it well. I was a young girl, age 12. The pregnant girls were so sad and the nuns and staff there were so very unkind.

    I stayed there for over 3 weeks as a child waiting to be returned to home or placed in foster care. I will never forget the girls... the young mothers.

  2. "... that San Francisco was swamped with single pregnant women wanting to place their babies for adoption"

    I wonder if WANTING is really the operative word here. Should be more like, had no other choice. Also, how telling that there were so many of these facilities in the country with so many unmarried pregnant women and yet society was still pretending that sex was only for marriage.

  3. @Robin - Thank you for taking the time to question the use of the word "wanting" in reference to losing a child to adoption. I suspect it's very rare for any woman to "want" adoption for her child. I personally don't know a single one.

  4. Gail, Robin,

    You're right. I doubt that all these young women "wanted" to place their babies. I think "wanted" was the word the social worker used. I suspect many of these young women were like me, resigned to their fate. The SWs assumed that adoption was their choice and didn't bother to explore other options with them.

  5. After reading this post I can't help but wonder to this day why we just resigned ourselves to the fate that we couldn't raise our own child. I am sure that many went down fighting but as much as I knew I didn't want to sign, I did.
    And as Jane said they just assumed that is what we wanted and didn't really bother to tell us there may have been another way.

  6. Me too, Janet... I didn't "want" to sign, but I did...

    She had a heart condition, and I had no medical insurance and no place to go... unfortunately, they did NOT tell us "other" options! Just sign...

  7. I resided at a Crittenton House in Brighton, MA in 1960. Much as I didn't want to, I surrendered my daughter for adoption, as it seemed the best thing I could do for HER. I always felt that the staff at Crittenton were so supportive as to make that time almost bearable. At no time was I pressured to give up my baby. I was offered counseling every step of the way. They even secured free legal assistance for me that convinced the birthfather to share my expenses.

    I have recently published a novel based on my experience in which Crittenton House comes off as a mainly supportive environment. Check out it out at Amazon:: Intermission: A First Mother's Story.

    Recently, while doing research for this book, I visited the same Crittenton in Brighton to refresh my memory. I was so pleased to see that now their main purpose is to assist young women who want to keep their babies.

  8. I also "resided" in Brighton one summer, and contrary to the posts' I've read about, the staff was wonderful and supportive.Almost all the posts I've seen, say the birth moms wanted to keep their babies.That's not what I saw. Most, nearly all,thought adoption was the right choice for them.I clearly remember one woman that had given birth and was back at the home, arguing with her parents, because they wanted her to keep the baby, but she was adamant about giving him up.Another womens' boyfriend came home from the service on leave, and wanted to take her out and get married, and she said no.There were a few that would have liked to parent, but didn't have the support they needed.
    Sue b.

    1. I too was at at brighton from 9/1975 - 1/1976 and stayed for a few days with my daughter until we were allowed to go home.
      I gave birth at Boston Lying In.
      I was 1 of maybe a handful of girls during that time that kept her baby.
      The folks at the house were supportive and helpful.
      Providing us with basic living skills.
      Although it was a sad and difficult time, I would not change my decision to go to the house.

  9. I was at the Brighton home in 1970. I gave birth at Boston-Lying -in for women and now trying to find my child. I had an ok experience but did not to be there in the first place. However, my mom would have suffered loss of face at the hospital she worked at if I have given birth there. I want to find my daughter and just keep running into dead ends. The Hospital is a different name and I don't know if Crittenton keeps records that far back. Can you shed some light on if they do keep records ? I had my high school ring stolen from my dorm and when Dr's came to speak to the girls he made the statement that more than 1/2 the girls would be back. I challenged him on that comment and was an outspoken person most of the time. Not sure they liked me very much. Don't really care, I just want to get information from them. Can you help?

  10. I was here in March 1970 and gave birth in June. I did not want to go here but it would have been very awkward for my mom to have me at home. I was 18 and was not prepared to raise a child in any fashion. I thought what I did at the time was the best for my daughter. However, I did put up a small argument that my daughter was not to go into foster care but to leave the hospital with a family. I would not sign her papers unless i knew for a fact that would happen. I'm sure they did not like that very much and my social worker was annoyed i'm sure. But I'm now trying to find my daughter and have discussed this with my family they are all ok with it. I don't know if my daughter would be fine with it, but i would love the opportunity to give her that choice to meet me or not. I have tried numerous times to find out the birth records with no success. The hospital has since changed names and I don't know if Crittenton keeps records that far back. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thank you.

    1. Contact Florence Crittenton's national office. They may be able to help you. http://www.nationalcrittenton.org/

      Also, check out FMF's Resources page for information that can help you search. The link is on the right-hand sidebar. We wish you well in your search.

  11. I was at the Brighton home in 1970. I gave birth at Boston-Lying -in for women and now trying to find my child. I had an ok experience but did not to be there in the first place. However, my mom would have suffered loss of face at the hospital she worked at if I have given birth there. I want to find my daughter and just keep running into dead ends. The Hospital is a different name and I don't know if Crittenton keeps records that far back. Can you shed some light on if they do keep records ? I had my high school ring stolen from my dorm and when Dr's came to speak to the girls he made the statement that more than 1/2 the girls would be back. I challenged him on that comment and was an outspoken person most of the time. Not sure they liked me very much. Don't really care, I just want to get information from them. Can you help?

  12. I was not adopted, I was raised by my single mother. Recently I found out that my mother was an unwed mother in the mid 1950's. The address of the Crittenton House was on my birth certificate. I had googled the address before but nothing much came up and the original building had been torn down. To make a long story short the name on my birth certificate of the father is a dead end and I presume fictitious. Through DNA I was recently contacted by what would probably be my birth father's niece. My mother and him have both passed so answers are hard to come by. Searching I found the address in a San Francisco city directory and listed as the Critteton Florence Home. Googled the name and the rest as they say...My question is: would they still have records from that far back?

  13. Thanks for the update on the SF Crittenton Home. I did not stay there but I went there for advice just before my daughter was born in 1966. It was the only institution connected with adoption that I had heard of.

    Contact the Crittenton home and ask if they have records on your mother. Here's the link to their reunion registry. http://www.florencecrittentonhome.com/Index.html Let us know what you find out.

  14. After graduating from high school in 1966, I discovered I was pregnant after breaking up with my boyfriend of three years. At that time, options were limited for girls and mother went looking for a way to help me. After a failed attempt (thank goodness) to seek a solution in Mexico, or telling a local doctor that I'd kill myself if I went thru with the pregnancy, a meeting with a private attorney who connected young girls with infertile parents, to being told that "I was a horrible person & a sinner" by a nun from a Catholic organization - well, that just touched a nerve in my mother (I of course felt awful) so after defending me, we left. In the car, she reassured me that she would find a place where I would feel safe and supported during my pregnancy so I could make a clear decision whether to keep the baby or not. I don't recall how my mother discovered Florence Crittenton in San Francisco but, I've never forgotten how everyone I met made me feel - safe & supported. I spend the last 3-4 months of my pregnancy there and I'm so thankful for that opportunity. Staff connected me with a doctor at University of California San Francisco Medical Center, I learned how to get around the City using public transit, provided classes on nutrition and what to expect before and after delivery. There were individual and group counseling sessions which were an invaluable part of the whole experience. It was truly a life-changing experience for me. Getting to know the other girls/women at the Home, what brought them there, their hopes and expectations - it made you feel that you weren't alone in your struggles or more importantly, made you think about what you wanted for your baby. My son Matthew was delivered on May 2, 1967, and we reunited in 2016. His father and I remained friends up until he passed away from complications due to a stroke less than a month before I found our son. Ours was a rocky relationship for many years but we always hoped we'd find him - unfortunately, our son never got to meet him. I've been lucky to share so much about him, our love, my decision to choose adoption, and the experiences I had along the way. I was fortunate to meet his birth mother before she passed away a year ago and I especially cherish the last few conversations we had. She knew I was very cautious about not wanting to overshadow her relationship with him (or her other children) so she told me, not to worry and that "there's enough love all around - I was lucky enough to be his mom for the first fifty years and now you can be his mom for the next fifty". What a gift.

    1. ...and in case my email isn't shown under my profile, here it is:


      Thank you so very much

  15. My Aunt was in one of these homes in San Francisco during 1965. She was sent there by her parents and had no desire to give up her child. There she and the other women were physically abused by nuns, some were sexually abused. They were treated like slaves doing menial tasks (like scrubbing toilets and showers with their toothbrush). When she had her daughter, she was allowed to hold her for a few moments. Then a woman came in with a form saying she had to sign it because it would put her daughter in a foster home until she could get on her feet. She never saw her daughter again. This has destroyed my Aunt. A few years later, my Aunt gave birth to my wonderful, amazing, (everybody's) favorite cousin. He was biracial and my Aunt was heavily discriminated against, so she fled Michigan, worked her butt off to buy 2 plane tickets and took her son and her to Hawaii. They had the most wonderful life for 23 years in Hawaii. They were absolutely best friends. My cousin was such an exceptional person that even my racist grandparents fell in love with him. Sadly, my cousin died tragically at 23 and my Aunt witnessed it. Now my Aunt is over 70 years old and I honestly don't know how she made it this far. She's such a strong and incredible woman. She has been searching for her daughter ever since 1965 and cannot find her anywhere. I have done loads of research and I cannot find her anywhere. Please, if you can offer me any advice, shoot me an email. My Aunt wants to at least know what happened to her daughter, whether that news is good or bad. We have done DNA tests and nothing connects. Her daughter was born April 15 1965 at St Elizabeth (children's?) in San Francisco. Her adoption was through Catholic Services. If you were there during that time, I would be forever grateful if you would reach out to me even if just tell me what your experience was like. My Aunt has been having serious health issues over the past year and I so want this for her while she is still with us. Thank you so much

  16. Katie, take a look at FMF's Resources page. Some places that may help your Aunt in her search. Your Aunt can meet other first parents and learn their experiences through Contacting Concerned United Birthprents (CUB).

    As for me, my daughter who was also born in San Francisco contacted me in 1997 when she was 31. There's been ups and downs but we have a good relationship now.

  17. My aunt was sent to the SF Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers when she was 16, in 1951. Her father insisted. My nana had to take her to SF, leave her there, and come home acting unphased in time to make dinner for the younger daughters. Noone ever brought up where L, was for all those months. Her son found her in the 90s. My aunt hadnt spoken about it for 40 years until he contacted her. Her kids, sisters, spouse--noone knew. The shame women were forced to hold on to is heartbreaking. The repeal of Roe v Wade is tragic.

    1. Thanks for your comment and your sensitivity. Yes, the repeal of Roe v Wade is tragic. I note that two of the justices who voted to overturn Roe are adoptive parents, Justices Roberts and Barrett.



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