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Illinois Orphanages -- White Hall, Greene County

Writing this blog has put me in contact with many people who have ancestors they cannot trace and who think they possibly came on the orphan train. As I have already written in one post, between the years of 1905 and 1910 orphanages and the State of Illinois distributed about 4,731 children throughout Illinois and into other states. This is more children than the New York Juvenile Asylum sent to Illinois during the first 40 years it was operating! (between 1855 and 1898). In 1898 the State of Illinois began to make it difficult to send children from the East to Illinois, simply because Illinois had an excess of "orphans" already. These children were also placed in homes under indentures, the same as the Eastern children were.

One of these homes was the White Hall Orphan's Home in White Hall, Illinois, north of St. Louis and southwest of Springfield. This photo is from a "Souvenir" of White Hall printed in 1911.

The write up for the Orphans' Home in the Souvenir:

The 1911 report of the Department of Visitation of the State of Illinois demonstrates pretty clearly the purpose of this "Home," which was merely a way station for homeless children.

Children from White Hall were placed all over the State of Illinois. This was a tiny town of just 2800 people in 1910. How were so many children available from this small town?

This clipping from 1915 certainly indicates that the Orphans Home dealt in babies, not farm workers -- but where were these babies coming from?? In 1912 a lady from Bloomington, Mrs. Shotwell, was bringing children to Henry, IL to find homes for them. An advertisement in the Ashton Gazette told prospective guardians: "This soeiety accepts' children who are all right mentally and physically for placement, ranging in ages from small babies up to 16 years old. Do not hesitate to take a child because it may be younger than desired for the purpose you have in mind. A child five to eight years old or younger is more adaptable than one 10 to 15, apt to remain until of legal age and prove more satisfactory in many ways. Write for an application blank, fill carefully and file promptly if child is desired."

This very alarming article appeared in the Rock Island Argus May 8, 1913. "Child's Sale Revealed by Head of Orphanage." It was a reprint of an article in a Springfield paper, which must have appeared in several papers around Illinois.


Another, from the Republican Atlas reported the appearance of a representative of the White Hall Orphan Home at the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting (left). Another article in a Decatur paper indicated that County had entered into a similar agreement with the Home.

Representatives of the Home travelled to Illinois towns seeking cash donations to support their "work." Reports made to the State of Illinois indicate that this small orphanage spent between $4000 and $6000 in "salaries" each year during its existence (1902 to 1915). Comparable institutions in Illinois managed to operate homes without paying any salaries at all or for less than $500 in salaries, according to the reports to the state. The White Hall representatives were paid 30 to 35% of whatever they managed to acquire in donations to the Home. Newspaper accounts indicate that Warren and Macon County both paid the Home to take away their dependent children. Macon County was paying as much as $50 per child. White Hall appears to have been little more than a baby/child selling scheme. It was shut down in 1915, probably due to the efforts of Thomas Curran, an Illinois Representative who started an investigation into the child placement activities of licensed homes in 1913.


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