History of Iowa Soldiers'
Its Rise and Growth-
'Tis a Model Institution
September 29, 1900 -The Daily Times
by A.P. Doe
Col. L.H. Ingersoll: "The greatest achievement of charity, of Christian
benevolence, of which any state can boast-is the Iowa Soldier's Orphans'
In these early days of 1900, with the smoke of war scarcely cleared from the
skies of our country, this monument to the valiant soldiers of the war of 1861,
and the brave-hearted men and women at home, stands forth with an added glory.
For the Iowa Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home was the outgrowth of the "Woman's
Soldiers' Aid Societies." The women most active in providing comforts and
necessities for the brave men at the front were also foremost in founding the
home. They were aided by representative men and women all over the state; and
although the home is no longer a "soldiers' orphans" home by
birthright, it is an ever present tribute to the patriotism of its founders.
Other state followed but Iowa led. The patriotism, loyalty and generosity of her
people were poured fourth without stint both for the soldiers in the field and
hospitals and for the army of heroic wives and mothers who struggled with want
and deprivation at home.
In the fall of 1865 this appeal from the soldiers in the
southern hospitals signed by four hundred and eighty names, was read at a
"sanitary fair" in Des Moines; and it touched the hearts of all of
Iowa's loyal citizens: "We are grateful for all kindness shown us. We
appreciated your noble charity, which reaches us in camp-in the camp and on the
battlefield-but we prefer you should forget us and leave us to struggle with our
fate as best we may-if you will but look after our wives and children, our
mothers and sisters, who are depending upon us for support. A severe winter is
before them and we are rent with anxiety as we remember their slender resources
and our meagre and irregular pay. Sponsor them and withhold your charity from
In response to this appeal a call was sent out from the aid
societies for a convention to be held at Muscatine in October, 1863, to consider
the matter of establishing a home for soldiers' orphans at the earliest date
possible- and on the seventeenth of November the following appeal was published:
Remember the Boys in Blue
"The twenty-sixth day of November has been set apart by the
President of the United States of a day of national thanksgiving. Let us
remember on that day that our lives and our property have been kept secure by
the self-sacrificing patriotism of our brave and noble men, who have gone out
from their homes and their loved ones. Many of our brave men have fallen, many a
true heart has been pierced, and the little eyes at home have looked and wept
for the soldier that shall never return. The windows are darkened, the
hearthstone has lost its warmth and the little bare feet must start out on
life's thorny and perilous way alone.
"Jesus took little children in his arms and blessed them
and said: 'Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'. Let us therefore remember the
orphan children of our soldiers and offer to the Father on that day a tribute of
gratitude that will be pleasing in His sight.
"The ladies of Iowa have resolved to erect a temple in
honor of its heroic dead who have fallen in defense of liberty, and to make it
an asylum, a home for its orphan children, where they may be properly cared for
and educated. They call upon all the people of Iowa of every denomination and
party to aid in this great work.
"Thursday, the Twenty-sixth day of November, is fixed upon
as the time when every effort shall be made in behalf of this cause, and they
urge all ministers of the Gospel, who occupy pulpits on that day to present the
claims of the orphan children.
"It is suggested that Soldiers' Aid Aid Societies, Good
Templars, and all benevolent organizations give public entertainments on that
day for this cause. Land, town-lots, stocks in railroads and other corporations,
or anything that will bring money will be acceptable. All contributions must be
directed to Mrs. N.H. Brainerd, Iowa City, (Treasurer of the Iowa State Sanitary
MRS. ANNA WITTENMEYER, "President"
Contributions of money, clothing, furniture and other property
convertible into money flowed in form all over the state. So many noble men and
women of Iowa took an active part in helping to found this home that it would be
impossible to mention all. To aid and contribute was the rule and there were few
exceptions. Among those most active in the work were Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer, who
not only worked to establish the Home, but took part in organizing it and gave
its management her personal supervision: Judges Lowe and C.C. Cole of Des
Moines; Mrs. P.V. Newcomb, Dr. J.J. Burtis, John L. Davies, John F. Dillon and
Hiram Price, of Davenport, and Mr. and Mrs. N.H. Brainerd of iowa City.
Individual subscriptions from prominent men and women reached as high as $500.00
while many in limited circumstances themselves heroically divided their scanty
store with the suffering widows and orphans.
At subsequent meetings the association was regularly
incorporated. Officers and a board of trustees (two from each congressional
district) were chosen and comittees appointed to secure a site and buildings for
he purpose of opening a home. This they finally succeeded in accomplishing on
the Thirteenth day of June, 1864, at Farmington, Iowa.
All Iowa felt the care of those orphan children. Business men
left their offices and stores, and farmers their fields to drive from house to
house through the country soliciting subscriptions. Our soldiers, suffering
every hardship of war, went without absolute necessities to send their all and
contributed from their meagre pay the remarkable sum of $45,262.62.
At the second annual meeting of the association held at Des
Moines in June, 1865, an orphan's fair was arranged to be held at Marshalltown
and requests were presented from Davenport, Cedar Falls and Glenwood, asking
that branches of the home be located at each of these places. These requests
were favorably considered. The fair held the following fall was a decided
success, netting about $50,000 from cash contributions, the sale of merchandise
and articles donated.
||At this time the Home was reported as fully
established and during the past year it had clothed, fed and instructed
ninety-seven (97) children of our heroic martyrs. While hundreds of others in
distressing conditions awaited admission.
Home transferred to Davenport
At a later meeting in the fall of 1865, it was decided to
transfer the Farmington Home which on account of its location and limited
capacity had already proved inadequate to Davenport.
The people of the latter city made every effort in their power
to deserve and support faithfully the charge intrusted to them. In October,
1865, Rev. P.P. Inagalls, the regularly appointed state agent of the society,
spoke here concerning the Home and $2, 800 was raised in a few minutes by
twenty-two subscriptions. Another speaker at the same meeting reported the Home
association worth at that time in cash and personal property over $150,000. A
committee sent to Washington about this time secured from the government the
Camp Kinslonger required their use for soldiers full camp supplies, bed linen,
pillows, mattresses, blankets, etc., were given with the barracks. This gift at
that time proved almost invaluable as it enabled the association to at once give
a home to the many children who had been waiting for months for admission.
In November 1865 the children, 150 in number, were brought from
Farmington to Davenport. The citizens of the town received them, gave them a
breakfast in the Christian Chapel and drove them to the Home in carriages. The
people of Davenport-then as now-felt the Home to be their especial charge, to
care for and support with all the aid possible. No appeal to them has ever been
allowed to pass unanswered.
Hiram Price's Work
Hon. Hiram Price did much at this time to stimulate the
enthusiasm felt for the Home. At one meeting where he spoke, soliciting
subscriptions, one man said he had no money but he has a little fob chain he
could give. Mr. Price replied: "I'll give you $5 for the chain provided you
give the money to our children." The trade was made and Mr. Price now
offered the chain at auction, the proceeds to go toward the Home fund. A voice
bid $5, the money was dropped into the hat. Each purchaser in turn offered the
chain for sale and the final proceeds netted nearly $100.
In January 1866, a petition was circulated asking the
legislature, then in session, to make the Soldiers Orphan Home a state
institution to be supported by the state. This petition was granted, and
provision was made for its support. $10 a month for each child and for
government by a board of trustees, said board to consist of one person from each
congressional district, and one from the state at large for a term of two years.
Their first board meeting was held at Davenport June 8, 1866,
and the association then turned over its entire property valued at about
$160,000 to the state.
The branch at Cedar Falls was already established and in the
fall of the same year another branch was opened at Glenwood for the convenience
of the western counties in the state.
As the institutions thus became permanent, many changes were
needed to improve the sanitary condition of the Homes. Normal classes were
organized and much labor and expense were incurred in making the institutions
"homes" indeed for these destitute orphan children.
Three Homes Supported
The following ten years (1866-1876) Iowa liberally supported
three Soldiers' Orphans' Homes with an average total enrollment of 721 children,
providing them with the necessary officers, employees and funds for all running
expenses. Slight changes took place from time to time, the legislature in 1872
diminishing the number of trustees to four-one from each county where a home was
located and one from the state at large. four years later when the homes at
Glenwood and Cedar Falls were transferred, by act of legislature, to Davenport,
a law was passed providing for three trustees from the state at large. During
the same session an act was passed admitting indigent children to the privileges
of the Home as the board of trustees might deem fit, their support to be
furnished by the counties of which they were legal residents, and the name was
changed to the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home and Home for Indigent Children.
The first appropriation for permanent buildings was made by the
Eighteenth General Assembly in 1880 when $26,000 was given for eight new brick
cottages to replace the old wooden ones then in use, a new brick school
building, etc. In 1882 the board of trustees was required by act of legislature
to consist of three members, one, a woman, one from Scott county, and one from
the state at large, no two from the same congressional district.
In 1876, the Twenty sixth General Assembly changed the name from
the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home and Home for Indigent Children to Iowa Orphans'
Home and Home for Destitute Children.
But the general sentiment throughout the state that the soldiers
themselves had made too many sacrifices in the founding of the Home and the
G.A.R. posts had done too much for it in later years to allow the dropping of
the word "Soldiers'" from the name of the institution which owed so
much to them; and when the Twenty-seventh General Assembly convened the original
name was restored.
The "Home" of today needs no introduction to Iowa's
citizens. It's location, two miles northeast of the city of Davenport, is one of
the most beautiful and healthful in the state, while its grounds beautified by
shade trees, flowers, shrubbery, offer attractive opportunity for exercise and
recreation of all sorts. Eighteen well equippted, invitingly but practically
furnished cottages accommodating twenty-five to thirty-five children each,
arranged in the shape of a capital E, face the main entrance. A large two story
hospital, laundry, engine house, manual training and industrial buildings, a
barn of 100 tons storage capacity and a stable of ample dimensions complete the
list of buildings as they stand today, while a chapel is being rapidly brought
to completion by the efficient supervision of the present board of control,
which aside from its necessity for religious and other services, will make
possible many entertainments and amusements otherwise impractical for lack of
place to hold them.
||The health and welfare of the children has been the
primary consideration in the construction and arrangement of all the buildings
and sanitary precautions of all kinds regarding fresh air, abundance of light,
pure water, and so forth, have been carefully observed. The buildings are heated
by steam, lighted by electricity and equipped with all the modern improvements
The executive building occupying the center space contains the children's
dining room. 48x90 feet, with seating capacity of five hundred children,
offices, reception rooms, kitchen, storerooms, pantries, bakery and dining and
living rooms for the superintendent and force of about fifty-five employees. The
building erected for this purpose in 1880 at a cost of about $50,000, was burned
by lightning in 1886, and another built four years later, which, with the
experience afforded by its predecessor, more adequately meets the needs of the
Influence of the Home
The state intends that each child shall go forth from the Home
self-reliant, self-respecting, and equipped with a good education and knowledge
of some one means of support as far as his or her age permits. This institution
has the only graded school belonging in a state institution in Iowa and
connected with it a kindergarten department under a trained kindergartner. Too
much importance can hardly be attached to this branch of the work. The
"Home" contains an average number of seventy-five children of
kindergarten age, most of them from homes where habits of order and self-control
are absolutely unknown. The kindergarten training not only provides the mental
concentration and discipline necessary to good thorough study in later education
but furnishes by far the most pleasant and beneficial amusement possible for
these young children. The school work follows the regular grammar school
curriculum through nine grades, admitting students on graduation to any high
school of the state. In addition to their studies the girls receive industrial
and domestic instruction, the boys manual training each day. A resident music
teacher instructs them in the principles and rudiments of music, and to sing and
read by note and no school can show a better general proficiency and almost
unanimous response to efforts made in behalf of their musical training than the
The health of the children is under the supervision of a
physician in charge and a resident trained nurse, but the habits of personal
cleanliness and attention to hygienic laws required, render the hospital the
least used building on the grounds. With an average enrollment of 475 children
the "Home" records show a period or three and one-half years without a
single death. No effort is spared to make the home life of the institution
attractive and the graduates leave it regretfully. The people of Davenport have
done untold good in their uniform kindness to Iowa's children. Their generosity
and the cordial welcome accorded the children whenever opportunity offers have
endeared them to each child, while invitations to the opera house, fairs, river
excursions and such pleasures have left bright spots in the little lives
otherwise somewhat uneventful. The warm helpful interest of Davenport citizens
prove that they have this "their" institution as they feel it to be
constantly in mind.
An important change was made in July 1885 when all the state
institutions of Iowa passed into the hand of a state board of control. The three
members are selected for their adaptability for the work and devote their entire
time to the institutions of the state. By the merging of many boards into one
much more system can be used, more uniformity and co-operation, and much more
practical and economic results can be obtained. Since upon the strong, healthful
developments of both mind and body the future usefulness of a child depends, the
state of Iowa is doing her utmost to qualify her wards for life's duties. The
conditions, influences and environments of many of the children before coming to
the "Home" have such that it was difficult to find homes for them in
families where they would be kindly treated and improved. A year or two of
instruction and training at the "Home" enables the management to place
them readily in the best families of the state.
Graduates of the Home
In the thirty-six years of the "Home's" existence more
than five thousand children have gone out from it to become citizens of the
state and the records of many of the men and women, at one time little wards of
Iowa, would make a page in our history which would do us honor.
Iowa was first in 1864. A year or two later a few states adopted
her plan and later many others follow- until at the present time most of the
states support their homeless and indigent children in homes under state
control. The voices of children are no longer heard in the alms houses and
county poor houses.
European coutries have seen and appreciated this grand work and
England, Scotland, and France now have institutions organized and managed very
much as ours are. They all attach the greatest importance to manual training and
industrial departments and the world is glad to know that the London of today
would furnish Dickens with a very small percentage of the characters he has
given to the literacy world.
The years that the children spend in the "Home" are
decisive ones and the training and influences which surround them there color
their entire lives. Great responsibility rests upon the faithful, conscientious
workers who have them in charge and as far as is possible the state sees to it
that these charges are faithfully performed. The good accomplished during these
years is permanent; for all history proves that "The child is father of the