Over the years, I've been asked repeatedly about what happened to orphans throughout Cape Girardeau's history.
Parent-less children often were sent to live with relatives. This happened to my great-grandmother, Katherine Bullinger Stehr. Her mother died shortly after Kate's birth, and her father passed on when the child was just 2 years old. Kate was then shuffled among her older siblings, finally ending up with her sister Clara, who was the housekeeper for the priest at New Hamburg, Missouri. There, Kate remained until she was married at age 18.
If you are attempting to research orphans in your family, I would suggest looking closely at census records. Often you will find children living with their older, married siblings, as happened in my family. Also check guardianship records at your county courthouse or archive. Some of those documents are also online.
In Cape Girardeau, there was also the Mattie Adams Orphans Home and Industrial School of S.E. Mo. I wrote about Adams' efforts to care for the young homeless several years ago. Unfortunately, no records were kept of the children she took in.
In the early 1900s, representatives of the Missouri Home Finding Society of St. Louis would occasionally bring homeless children here, hoping to find them families. The Daily Republican reported in November 1914 that 10 children were shown at the Park Theater on Broadway. Here's an account of that event.
Park Theater was built by the Naeter Brothers and stood just east of the Naeters' Daily Republican building in the 200 block of Broadway. In 1914 the Park hosted a baby show, in which orphans were displayed on the theater's stage in the hopes of finding new families. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Published Monday, Nov. 23, 1914, page 1, in The Daily Republican:
SCORES TURNED AWAY FROM BABY SHOW SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Exhibition of Ten Splendid Children Brought Rush of Applications That Will Result in Many Adoptions
PARK THEATER AND REPUBLICAN OFFICE THRONGED BY THE INTERESTED.
Unfortunate children came into their own Sunday afternoon.
Nothing like that display of child worship and the opening of hearts toward those whose lives have been somewhat unfortunate has ever been seen in Cape Girardeau before.
Ten fine little children, arranged in a row across the stage of the Park Theater, proved a magnet that drew hundreds of people into the place and other hundreds unable to get even a glimpse of them. As many went away, probably, as got to see them.
Of course everybody was not there to get a baby, but, without doubt, everybody felt a tugging at the heartstrings that comes from keen sympathy aroused by the tender little voices of children as they sang a verse or two to open the afternoon meeting.
They were children, just like all children too, and they proved themselves, by that little song, to be just as human and as susceptible to training for refinements as those children of our own blood.
A Rush for Them
Is it any wonder that when the Rev. Abe Jones concluded his address with a statement that he expected some of the kind people of the city to come up and make arrangements with him to take the children home for the night and until this afternoon possibly that mothers and fathers by the scores rushed forward and grabbed for the "kids?"
There was genuine weeping by many as they gathered the tots in and nearly fought for the privilege of retaining them. Others who saw the pathetic faces of the youngsters as they too took up the matter of examining those who would be mothers and fathers for a time at least broke into tears and wept quietly, more from satisfaction possibly than from any grief.
The Rev. Jones explained to the people that after the meeting he would meet those who had any intention of taking a child from the home. He would take the children back to The Republican office and there he would receive applications and talk to those who would consider the children.
Probably 35 or 40 different persons or families interviewed, the Rev. Jones (said), among them some of the best and most substantial people in the county. They were made acquainted with all the conditions that must be met in advance and after a child in adopted. The Rev. Jones possibly surprised many when he stated that the society which takes the children watches over them carefully for years after they are sent out into homes. A home has to be right and the child taken has to be given the proper school and church education or it is taken back.
Four Girls, Six Boys
Out of all the applicants there were only one or two that might not pass muster, according to the Rev. Jones. All were good, moral, well meaning citizens who seemed to be in position to treat the children properly and give them the kind of life they had missed so far.
Of the 10 children in the party four were girls. They were pretty girls, too. It was interesting to see the fathers in the large crowd gather around those little girls and admire them while the women were mostly interested in the (six) sturdy little men in the party. Many a mother and father went to the meeting for no other purpose than to see the children out of mere curiosity and remained because something started tugging at their hearts and wouldn't turn loose later. Those kind of people lingered around The Republican office after the meeting and became so intensely interested in the little chaps and lassies that something more serious is going to come from their intentions in that direction.
As announced in The Republican Saturday afternoon, the children arrived on the noon train Sunday. Miss Byrne, a matron in the home, accompanied them, and the Rev. Abe Jones, the Southeast Missouri field agent, met the party here.
There was some doubt until the train arrived what caused so great a number of women to gather at the Frisco station. Then they made a dash for the train and surrounded the stops at the day coaches so closely that Miss Byrne and her 10 children could hardly alight. Dozens of women had gathered to get the first glimpse of them. Two women had boarded the train at Neelys Landing to come to the city and attend the meeting. They wanted children, it seemed. Other persons had come in on other trains arriving early from points in Southeast Missouri. Several of them spoke hurriedly to the Rev. Jones later in order to get away on returning trains early in the afternoon before the meeting was held.
Many After the Children
The little party was taken to The Republican office. Several well-intentioned citizens offered to take them to lunch downtown, knowing the most frequent needs of children. But Miss Byrne had brought a great basket of lunch from the home and at 11 o'clock the children had voted unanimously to feast and had filled up fairly well. So no noon lunch was necessary.
There were so many waiting to see the children and to interview the Rev. Jones and Miss Byrne about them that it was decided to put them on display at The Republican office at once. The crowd of women and many men followed the procession up Broadway and surrounded the front windows of the business offices to watch the children. Those who wanted to talk to the Rev. Jones about taking a child were permitted to enter the office and have the interview. There were probably a dozen who were able to see the field agent before the afternoon meeting at the Park Theater began at 2:30 o'clock.
When the children were taken to the stage of the theater that place was crowded to the limit. Every seat was filled and 200 persons were banked at the front of the aisles and entrance passages. Scores arrived only to turn away when they were not able to get even a glimpse int the building.
The children sang two versus of a song and then the Rev. F.Y. Campbell of the First Baptist Church offered a fervent prayer for the success of the meeting and the fulfillment of its object.
The Rev. Jones then made an address in which he explained the purpose of the children's home and of the meeting at hand. He was going to speak only 10 or 15 minutes, he said, but when he touched upon the children themselves and the glory and happiness they bring to the home he forgot the time, as the big audience forgot it, and spoke for three quarters of an hour.
And then came the rush at the close of the address, men and women made their way to the stage and gathered in the children as if they meant to rush off with them. The stage was soon so crowded that it was a case of pushing around to get out.
Going to The Republican offices as he had announced, the Rev. Jones began to take applications for the children. It seemed that about 50 persons spoke to him about the matter. Probably there were only 30 or 35, but a big crowd kept him busy for two hours. All that time a few hundred persons remained in front of the building watching every movement of the children.
Finally came the arrangements for the children for the night. There were three or four persons wanting every child for supper and to remain over night. Some were disappointed. Some had the happiest night for a long time. And it seems now that some of those who took children for only the one day to accommodate the Rev. Jones and Miss Byrne may never let the children go.
Best Meeting Ever Held
The Rev. Jones told a Republican reporter that it was the best meeting for advancing the interests of the Missouri Home Society he had ever seen or heard of. It was a big success as a meeting and the results will be successful far beyond his hope when he called it by writing The Republican some time ago. He said he believed a large number of children would be placed in good homes as a result of the interest awakened in children and the attention called to the fact that many homes without children could be brightened by the taking of a child from the children's home.
Several thought they would be able to get children right n the spot Sunday afternoon and walk away with them. The Rev. Jones, however, had to be satisfied as to the character of people who applied for the children and for that reason he announced that no children would be given out until today. Some of the children, he said, would probably have to be returned to the St. Louis home while others would be sent down to fill the demand. Many who found no children among the 10 in the party will go to the home to look over the 50 or 60 there.
Little Mary Reilly was the object of many eyes at The Republican office Sunday and since then has been paid the homage of a future queen. Mary has the demurest little face, rather sad, but with features regular and well rounded. A red had with broad brim drooped over her ears and accentuated her good looks. Another little girl of much beauty larger than Mary Reilly was given keen interest by many. But the boys came in for the lion's share of the attention from women. To judge from the remarks heard there were never such eyes in the world as those boys have. There was a little brown-skinned youngster who, the matron said, had a little Indian blood running through his veins. He played a hero's part in the attention given the youngsters.
The children and those who kept them Sunday night and today are:
Lucille Coates, 6, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kelpe, 612 Bellevue St.
Mary Reilly, 11, and Bertie Pendleton, 10, Dr. and Mrs. C.B. Ruff and Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Flentge.
May Sanderson, 11, and Edward Sanderson, 9, Mrs. Elizabeth Allen, 46 N. Painter Ave.
Brownie Powell, 7, Dr. and Mrs. H.L. Cunningham.
Pinkey Edmonds, 11, Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Burton, 1303 William St.
Novey Pointer, 7, Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Williams, 816 Themis St.
Henry Brickey, 9, Mr. and Mrs. Al Huhn, North Sprigg Street.
Arthur Louis Smith, 7, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Bowman.
At noon today two of the children had been placed permanently in homes. Mrs. George Hunter of Jackson was given Mary Reilly. Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Hitt took Novey Pointer. The Rev. Jones, who is looking carefully into the records of the families wanting children, said then, that he was sure four or five more of the children would be given out today or Tuesday.
Three (Black) women interviewed the Rev. Jones Sunday afternoon and inquired if he had any (Black) children to give away. One of them said she wanted a boy. The society does not take (Black) children into the home at St. Louis, but makes provisions for them where they are found. The boy the society has under its control now is at the poor farm in Scott County, having been sent there by Probate Judge Dudley of Benton. The boy may possibly be given to some (Black) family in this city.
Later this afternoon three more children were given out permanently. Mr. and Mrs. Al Huhn were awarded Henry Brickey, 9, a fine little chap, who they couldn't forget after keeping him over night.
Mr. and Mrs. George Weiss, who live a short distance from the city, took Lucile Coates, 6, a pretty little girl.
Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Flentge decided this afternoon to take Bertie Pendleton, 10. The Flentges had the little girl for supper Sunday evening and then Dr. Ruff took her home for the night with Mary Reilly. This morning the Flentges got Bertie again and to divide her time equally with Dr. Ruff and became so attached to her that they decided to make her one of the family.
Apparently, over the next several days, all 10 of the children found new homes in Cape Girardeau and the area.