By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
Lured by advertisements painting a “land of milk and money” and promises of “free land,” thousands of European families immigrated to the United States in the 1800s.
Sadly, overcrowding in northeastern port cities led to unsanitary conditions and diseases that claimed the lives of many overworked parents. This resulted in a growing population of homeless orphans. In 1853, philanthropist Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society, began an unconventional experiment aimed at finding well-rounded homes for the orphans of New York City.
Brace’s social experiment, the Orphan Train Movement, would come to be widely recognized as the beginning of the foster care concept in the U.S. From the 1850s through the early 1900s, the Orphan Train Movement placed more than 120,000 orphans in homes throughout the country. Brace’s intention was for the orphans, many of whom lived in the slums or on city streets, to find shelter and a healthy upbringing in farm homes in the West. Children would be placed in homes at no cost but with the promise of providing extra help with daily chores on the farm or in the house.
As the trains made their way west, the stronger, healthier children had better chances of being adopted first. Many of the remaining children made it as far west as Fort Worth, where Methodist minister I.Z.T. Morris provided them with shelter as he worked to find adoptive families. Morris established the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth in 1887. His conditions were clear – children would only be placed with parents and families that were appropriate for them, not just the first parties to show interest and meet eligibility requirements. The home was chartered by the state of Texas on January 25, 1904. Morris’ wife Isabella and social worker Edna Gladney ran the home.
Following the death of Morris in 1914 and his wife in 1925, Gladney, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took over as superintendent of the home. Over the next 33 years, Gladney would leave a lasting impression on the center, the families and children it served, and also on society’s perception of orphans and unwed mothers. Gladney oversaw the expansion of the center to include a maternity facility, where expectant mothers could receive prenatal care, as well as a Baby Home, where infants received specialized care until they were adopted. Gladney also led the fight to enact two major pieces of legislation improving the adoption process. The first bill, which passed the Texas Legislature in 1936, required the word “illegitimate” to be removed from birth certificates. Gladney also successfully lobbied the State to allow adopted children to have the same inheritance rights as biological children. This resulted in Texas issuing second birth certificates for children in the name of their adoptive parents.
By the 1960s, the newly renamed Edna Gladney Home, now under the direction of Ruby Lee Piester, had expanded further to include an on-campus middle and high school, a counseling department, dormitory, and living center for older women. Over the next several decades, the home would also expand to offer adoption services for children with special needs.
Today, the Gladney Center, renamed in 1986, is the nation’s oldest, largest, most comprehensive maternity and adoption agency. Since it was founded by I.Z.T. Morris in 1887, the Gladney Center has placed nearly 30,000 children and helped more than 37,000 birthparents. This past month, the Gladney Center began a year-long celebration of the institution’s 125th Anniversary themed “Where Hope is Born.” All Texans can be proud of this first-rate center and the fine work it has been doing for 125 years to make a positive difference in the lives of children, birthmothers and adoptive parents.
Sources: Children’s Aid Society; Gladney Center for Adoption; Texas State Historical Association
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.