History of Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' home

Its Rise and Growth-

'Tis a Model Institution
September 29, 1900 -The Daily Times

by A.P. Doe

Says Col. L.H. Ingersoll: "The greatest achievement of charity, of Christian benevolence, of which any state can boast-is the Iowa Soldier's Orphans' Home."

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.

Soldier's Appeal

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 us."

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 Commission).


Contributions Come.

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 practicable.

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 institution.

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 "Home".

Health Safeguarded.

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 man".