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Making Good on a Promise: The Education of Civil War Orphans in Pennsylvania, 1863–1893

  • Sarah D. Bair (a1)

During and after the American Civil War, individual state governments, faced with numerous economic demands, struggled to meet the needs of soldiers and their families. Among other pressing questions, they had to decide what to do with the massive number of dependent children orphaned by the war. Pennsylvania, a state that contributed the second most soldiers to the Union cause (only New York contributed more) suffered heavy losses. More than 15,000 Pennsylvania soldiers died in battle or of mortally inflicted battlefield wounds during the conflict. When one factored in death from disease and other causes, the number of Pennsylvania casualties exceeded 33,000. In addition to those who died, many others had their lives shortened by wartime injuries and diseases. Thousands more Pennsylvania soldiers survived the battle and its aftermath, but suffered severe injuries and were left too disabled to work. As a result, an unprecedented number of children became either full orphans or half orphans (those with mothers still living) or lived in families without adequate income to support them.

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1 Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 1, Number and Organization of the Armies of the United States (New York: Thomas Yoseloff Publisher, 1959), 12. First published 1908 by The Dyer Publishing Company.

2 It should be noted that responses by states to the aftermath of the war coincided with both local volunteer efforts and a governmental response at the federal level. For discussion of the federal pension system for Civil War veterans and widows, see Holmes, Amy E., “Widows and the Civil War Pension System,” in Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays, ed. Maris A. Vinovskis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 171–95; Kelly, Patrick J., Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans’ Welfare State, 1860–1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 24–31 & 52–62; McClintock, Megan J., “Civil War Pensions and the Reconstruction of Union Families,” The Journal of American History 83, no. 2 (1996): 456–80; and Skocpol, Theda, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).

3 Carl, L. Bankston, III and Caldas, Stephen J., Public Education America's Civil Religion: A Social History (New York: Teachers College Press, 2009), 2734; Church, Robert L. and Sedlak, Michael W., Education in the United States: An Interpretive History (New York: The Free Press, 1976), 55–81; Cremin, Lawrence A., American Education: The National Experience 1783–1876 (New York: Harper, & Publishers, Row, 1980), 178–85; Kaestle, Carl F., Pillars of the Republic, Common Schools and American Society 1780–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 104–35; Parkerson, Donald H. and Parkerson, Jo Ann, The Emergence of the Common School in the U.S. Countryside (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998), 1; and Perkinson, Henry J., The Imperfect Panacea: American Faith in Education, 1865–1965, 1st ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 10–12.

4 Kaestle, , Pillars of the Republic, 104.

5 Bankston, and Caldas, , Public Education, 30.

6 Wickersham, James Pyle, A History of Education in Pennsylvania, Private and Public, Elementary and Higher (Lancaster, PA: Inquirer Publishing Company, 1886), 73.

7 Abramovitz, Mimi, Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present (Boston: South End Press, 1988), 144–55; Hasci, Timothy A., Second Home, Orphan Asylums and Poor Families in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 13–17; Hiner, N. Ray, “Children in America,” in Rethinking the History of American Education, ed. Reese, William J. and Rury, John L. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 167–72; Katz, Michael B., In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1986), 118; and David Nasaw, Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 11.

8 For an overview of the rise of orphan asylums nationwide between 1830 and 1860, see Hasci, Second Home, 20–27.

9 Rothman, David J., The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971), 193–99.

10 Church, and Sedlak, , Education in the United States, 56; Hiner, “Children in America,” 171; and Nasaw, Schooled to Order, 50–59.

11 For a description of programs in other states see the Annual Report of the Superintendent for Soldiers’ Orphans to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Pennsylvania, 1872, 30–31, Collection of Annual Reports, 1870–1920, Record Group (RG) 19, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA; and James Marten, The Children's Civil War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 212.

12 Annual Report, 1893, 14, RG 19.

13 See for example, Governor Curtin's 16 March 1866 speech to the legislature published in James Laughery Paul, Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools (Harrisburg, PA: Hart, Lane S., 1877), 7476. For a more general discussion of postwar charitable duties see Walter I. Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, 6th ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1999), 77–78.

14 For a discussion of the connections between family needs and the recruitment of soldiers see, McClintock, , “Civil War Pensions,” 456–480. For a broader examination of how soldiers were affected by worries about the home front see, Reid Mitchell, “The Northern Soldier and His Community,” in Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays, ed. Vinovskis, Maris A. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 7892.

15 McClintock, explains how the Civil War vastly increased the number of pensions provided by the federal government to both veterans and their family members, noting that from the American Revolution to the 1861, “143,644 total pension claims had been allowed by the federal government,” and that “between July 1, 1861 and the beginning of 1890, the Bureau of Pensions approved more than five times that number of applications, all stemming from the Civil War.” McClintock, “Civil War Pensions,” 463–64. Despite these increases many widows still relied on state and local support.

16 One of the earliest homes to take in Civil War orphans was the Northern Home for Friendless Children in Philadelphia, which opened its doors to orphans as soon as the war began and quickly had more than 100 war orphans in its care. See Annual Report, 1872, 96, RG 19.

17 Speech by Curtin, Governor Andrew to the Pennsylvania legislature, 16 March 1867, quoted in Paul, Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 75.

18 Ibid., 36–38.

19 Legislative Record: Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the sessions commencing January 1858 and ending December 1869 [8 April 1864], Forum Room 116 – PA Documents, State Library of Pennsylvania.

20 Several annual reports review the early history of the schools, including an overview of Burrowes's plan. The most detailed is in the Annual Report, 1887, 3–7, RG 19.

21 While all of the schools/homes eventually used for Civil War orphans employed Bible reading and Christian teachings, they did not conform to a particular religion. Those that were church-affiliated represented both the Catholic Church and a range of protestant sects. Schools/homes run by individual proprietors or less overtly religious charities still incorporated broad-based Christian principles. A child's religious preference was one factor in choosing a school for him/her.

22 [n.a.], “A Century of Growth: 1863–1963,” Scotland Courier, 1963 [n.d.], Scotland School Museum, Scotland, PA.

23 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 51–52.

24 Annual Report, 1871, 7, RG 19.

25 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 53.

26 Annual Report, 1871, 17, RG 19.

27 Ibid.

28 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 61–62.

29 Ibid., 61–76, 80–89.

30 Ibid., 86.

31 Marten, , The Children's Civil War, 215–20.

32 Annual Report, 1871, 13, RG 19.

33 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 122–25.

34 Nasaw, , Schooled to Order, 60.

35 The best source of information on individual orphan schools in Pennsylvania is the collection of superintendent annual reports housed in the PA State Archives and Paul's Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools.

36 Annual Report, 1870, 13, RG 19; Annual Report, 1871, 16, RG 19; Annual Report, 1872, 16, RG 19; Annual Report 1873, 17, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1874, 3, RG 19.

37 Annual Report, 1870, 17, RG 19.

38 Annual Report, 1874, 21, RG 19.

39 Annual Report, 1884, 1–2, RG 19.

40 Annual Report, 1877, 2, RG 19.

41 Annual Report, 1880, 2–4, RG 19.

42 Official Circular, No. 15, Annual Report, 1880, 97–98, RG 19.

43 Annual Report, 1880, 4–7, RG 19.

44 Annual Report, 1884, v, RG19.

45 Bankston and Caldas, Public Education, 28–34; Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic, 95–103; Nasaw, Schooled to Order, 44–65; and Parkerson and Parkerson, The Emergence of the Common School, 5–16.

46 Church, and Sedlak, , Education in the United States, 55–56.

47 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 131–34.

48 Kaestle, , Pillars of the Republic, 103.

49 Paul, , Pennsylvania's Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, 134.

50 Rodgers, Daniel T., “Socializing Middle-Class Children: Institutions, Fables, and Work Values in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Growing Up in America: Children in Historical Perspective, ed. Hiner, N. Ray and Hawes, Joseph M. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 122.

51 For a discussion on how changing views of children increased criticism of corporal punishment in the nineteenth century and led to greater awareness of child abuse, see Hiner, . “Children in American History,” 169–71.

52 Annual Report, 1870, 35, RG 19; Annual Report, 1876, 41, RG 19; Annual Report, 1879, 30, RG 19; Annual Report, 1881, 23, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1884, 22, RG 19.

53 Annual Report, 1877, 29–30, RG 19.

54 Parkerson, and Parkerson, , Emergence of the Common School, 57–60.

55 Annual Report, 1876, 35, RG 19.

56 Annual Report, 1879, 27, RG 19.

57 Annual Report, 1878, 3–4, RG 19.

58 Annual Report, 1880, 31, RG 19.

59 Annual Report, 1881, 22, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1884, 21, RG 19.

60 Annual Report, 1872, 26–28, RG 19.

61 Annual Report, 1878, 31, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1880, 31, RG 19.

62 Annual Report, 1870, 26, RG 19.

63 Hasci, Second Home, 36–40.

64 Annual Report, 1870, 34, RG 19; and Annual Report 1871, 38–39, RG 19.

65 Annual Report, 1871, 32, RG 19; Annual Report, 1884, 21, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1889, 5, RG 19.

66 Annual Report, 1890, 47, RG 19; Annual Report, 1891, 23, RG 19; and Annual Report, 1892, 39, RG 19.

67 Annual Report, 1871, 33, RG 19.

68 Annual Report, 1884, 20–21, RG 19.

69 Annual Report, 1875, 40, RG 19.

70 Special report on the McAlisterville School, Inspector Greer, John M., 5 March 1889 in the Annual Report, 1889, 2–5, RG 19.

71 Marten, , The Children's Civil War, 213.

72 Annual Report, 1887, 34–38, RG 19.

73 Annual Report, 1874, 31–33, RG 19.

74 Annual Report, 1884, vi–vii, RG 19.

75 Ibid., viii.

76 Ibid., ix.

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History of Education Quarterly
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