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Orphaned by Divorce

A single line in the Stanford, IL column of the Pantagraph caught my attention today: “Edna and George Gilbert were taken to the Orphan’s Home Monday.” What misery is contained in this simple statement? The column for Stanford, IL went on to describe the happy families socialising, building homes and visiting with friends. But little George and Edna were in the sad position of being sent to the orphanage.

But why? Who were these children and what events had led to this sad journey away from their home? Census records from 1910 show a George (age 8) and Edna (age 6) Gilbert in McLean County living in Allin. Their parents were Harry and Ida Perkins and they had two older siblings, Reva/Reba and John. Harry and Ida were originally from Tazewell County but they moved to McLean County sometime before 1910. He was noted to be a “ditcher” in 1910. In 1912, while working for the Alton railroad Harry was trying to move a hand cart off the tracks as a locomotive was approaching. He was unable to move the handcart before it was struck by the train and received serious injuries that put him in the hospital and then prevented him from working. Alton did pay and unspecified sum for his injuries, but in May, 1913 Harry Gilbert took poison in an attempt to commit suicide. The newspaper account vividly described the scene when Harry called his four children to him to say good bye and then swallowed the poison. The children called a doctor, and the doctor managed to prevent his death. Notably, no mention of Ida was made in this newspaper account.

Newspaper accounts of a trial in June, 1915 indicate that Ida Gilbert left the family around 1910. She implied in court that she left the family because Harry was abusive. She was on trial for living in a room on West Grove Street with Richard Herder for the past year. Catherine Carlin, or “Mother Carlin,” allowed couples to live in her house without the benefit of marriage and the county was prosecuting her and the six people living in her house. Ida finally filed for divorce in 1916, citing extreme cruelty. She lived with Richard Herder on West Grove Street until 1930, when he died.

Harry Gilbert next appears in the census in 1920. He is noted as being divorced and living in Kalispell, Montana working on a farm near a logging camp. A John Gilbert who was born in Illinois is also living in Kalispell in 1920, but in a boarding house. In 1930, Harry is still living in Kalispell, and George has now moved to Kalispell and living there with a wife and children. No census records indicate where Edna was after leaving Stanford. There are no death or marriage records for Edna or Reva.

In 1915, Reva was 15 or 16 and John was 14 or 15 and too old to go to the orphanage. Perhaps they were already living with other families as farm hands or servants. But it appears that the breakdown of the parents’ marriage led to the abandonment of George and Edna. The census records show, however, that George, John and Harry were later reunited and lived the rest of their lives in Kalispell, Montana. The fate of Reva and Edna is unknown. There is no indication that they ever lived with either of their parents.

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