Few things touch our hearts like the suffering of children. In Joplin's early days, it was not unusual for children to be orphaned when their parents died from illness or accidents.

Until 1899, there was no organized program of care for these children. Small children without parents were taken in by relatives or cared for informally by neighbors. Children as young as 10 could find work and, in theory at least, support themselves.

According to J. Durbin in "The Joplin Children's Home," the first city orphanage was founded by Mrs. C. E. Barr and was dedicated June 19, 1899. The home was sponsored by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which hoped to rescue the "poor, homeless and orphaned waifs of this region who otherwise would have fallen into despair, crime, vice or drugs as unwanted street urchins."

Society has always been concerned about the plight of orphans.

The first orphanage in the United States was founded by the Ursulines in New Orleans in 1727. In Colonial America, orphans were charges of the town or county where they lived, and in most states they were cared for in almshouses.

In the first half of the 19th century, a spirit of evangelical benevolence spurred the establishment of orphanages in the United States. There were no more than seven institutions for orphans in 1800; by 1850 there were 77. Most were established by churches or individuals, although it wasn't unusual for local governments to contribute financially. The Civil War created an urgent need for more orphanages, and the number skyrocketed to more than 600 by 1880. By 1910, there were more than 100,000 children in American orphanages.

Joplin's Children's Home evolved, as did other orphanages, into a place for homeless children including those who had lost one or both parents, as well as children from broken homes and runaways.

The home was first located at 708 Pearl Ave., then moved to Fifth Street and Pearl Avenue, 15th Street and Pearl Avenue, and 1051 Virginia Ave. before its new building was constructed at Third Street and Comingo Avenue in 1905 on land donated by John H. Taylor. The Children's Home was designed by Garstang and Rea, one of Joplin's top architectural firms. It also designed the Junge Bakery, the First United Methodist Church and the 1906 Municipal Building. The Children's Home was a stone and brick structure planned to cost $15,000, but its cost grew to $30,000 by the time all the finishing touches were added.

While the new orphanage was being built, the temporary building on Virginia Avenue was destroyed by fire on the day before Thanksgiving 1905. Local residents opened their homes to the orphans for the next month, and area churches gave their Thanksgiving offerings to help the children. Many of the more than 30 children under 7 years of age were kept in the headquarters of the Volunteers of America at 925 Main St. until the new home opened.

By 1915, the Children's Home had been taken over by the city, and a small hospital to treat children was added to the home. In 1919 a nursery was added to care for infants. The orphans continued to arrive, and by the 1930s more than 100 children were being housed in the overcrowded home that had been designed to hold 80. An annex was planned in 1936 using funds allocated by the Works Progress Administration and matched by the city.

Many civic organizations supported the home with money and donations of clothing, food, etc., but finances were often tight. And despite the best efforts of the home's directors, life for children in the orphanage was far from ideal. Although they were fed, clothed and educated, the management of such a large and diverse group forced a regimentation that was often unpleasant and sometimes cruel. By the second half of the 20th century, the orphanage movement had declined in importance. Child-welfare workers promoted individual care in foster homes for children who had lost their parents or been abandoned, abused or neglected.

In 1959, the Joplin Children's Home was closed and the building converted into the Joplin Boys Club. It was remodeled about 10 years later, and the remainder of the old structure was demolished in the 1980s. Yet it should be remembered that for more than 60 years, concerned residents had provided care for children whose homes had been disrupted through the Joplin Children's Home.

Sources: "The Best of Joplin" by Brad Belk; "The Joplin Children's Home" by J. Durbin in Conestoga Newsletter; www.myorphanage.org; "Orphans and Orphanages," The Catholic Encyclopedia; www.newadvent.org; "The True History of Orphanages"; www.americasfuture.net.

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