Bethany Home.

Abby G. Mendenhall

[From Mendenhall, Abby G. Some Extracts from the Personal Diary of Mrs. R. J. Mendenhall. No publication data; probably Minneapolis, for private distribution, ca. 1900.]Edith Jones Library, Minneapolis Friends Meeting.

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[P 523] Some twenty- three years ago a number of philanthropic Minneapolis women organized the society now known as the Sisterhood of Bethany under the name of the Minneapolis Branch of the Minnesota Magdelene Society, the parent society being located in St. Paul. Its first board of officers were: President, Mrs. George Couch; Vice -President, Mrs. J. B. Crocker; Secretary, Mrs. A. G. Mendenhall; Treasurer, Mrs. Charlotte O. Van Cleve.

The work of the society was confined to visiting such cases as came to the knowledge of the members and assisting to [P 524] pay the expenses of the parent society. A short experiene convinced the members that an independent organization- was necessary for effective work, and on the suggestion of Mrs. Van Cleve the society severed its connection with St. Paul and in I876 adopted its present name. The scope of the work was enlarged and a house as rented on Sixth Street S. E., a matron, employed and Bethany Home was opened as a refuge for those who wished to lead a new life.

Articles of incorporation were taken out in 1879 by Mms. Charlotte O. Van Cleve, Harriet G. Walker, Abby G.-Mendenhall, Euphemia N. Overlock, Ellen Holmes, Martha M. Emery, Hannah J. Moffit, Alexina Walker and Melissa Chase, and the first four have formed a. board which has continued in office without a break until the death of Mrs.Overlock about a month ago.

The home on the East Side soon proved too small for the work of the society, which removed out on Seventeenth Street when Seventeenth Street was considered as almost outside the city limits. In a few years: another change was rendered necessary, and T. B. Walker built the house now occupied by the Unity House Social Settlement for the use of the Sisterhood of Bethany. One other change was made before removing into the present commodious and comfortable building at 3719 Bryant Ave. S.

The house and grounds were the gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. F. Brown and were presented to the society in 1885.

Large as the home was then deemed, a three-story addition was built in 1891, and already the society has been forced to rent a cottage nearby for the accommodation of the older children; and it is only a question of time before some permanent arrangement for increased room must be made.

Bethany Home is a comfortable three-story brick building situated in the midst of a generous lawn. In summer the place is gay with flowering plants set out by Mr. Mendenhall, a staunch friend of the society. The little baby wagons with [P 25] the neatly dressed, careful nurses brighten the lawn Within the rooms are pleasant and cheerful. There is very little of the air of an institution about them, and the object of Miss Rhodes, the matron, to make the place home-like, seems to be realized as far as possible in such a place.

The dining-room, kitchen and laundry are in the basement; reception room, parlor, and matron's rooms on the first floor. The nursery with its rows of snowy cots each containing from one to three happy babies, occupies a large share of the second floor. The rooms for the inmates are on the second and third floors. There are no dormitories for them, and only two occupy a room together. In the wing is a large airy room that is used as a sewing room, and where those who are anxious to learn how to handle their needle in a skillful manner gather under the direction of Mrs. E. A. Allen.

When a girl enters Bethany Home she pledges herself to remain a year. The society has been both criticized and commended for this provision. Rescue workers say it does not take a year to convert a girl. That is true, but it does take a year to establish principles and character that will make her strong enough to stand alone when she leaves the Home. There are no bolts and bars and the front door stands unlatched so that it would be an easy matter for an inmate who ad changed her mind to walk deliberately down the front stairs and out of the door without anyone knowing anything about it. But that is not the way they prefer to do. The girl who has changed her mind waits until night and then climbs out a window and over the back fence and walks to town. Fortunately, such cases are rare, and the majority of the inmates realize the object of the society is not to make prisoners of them, but to aid them to live a better life in the future than they have in the past.

Many sensational and interesting cases come to the home, which, told without any exaggeration and bound in yellow, would find ready sale. But the board keeps these confidences [P 526] sacredly, and if its advice is followed the story of each inmate is kept to herself. While it is necessary for the members of the board to know the real name of each girl, they suggest and advise that a temporary name be chosen during the stay in the home, so that when the year is over and the girl goes out into the world again, she drops all connection with those whom she has met there. Consequently there is a preponderance of Mary Browns and Jane Smiths and Emma Larsons. But it is a wise suggestion, and has been of untold benefit.

The work of the home is largely done by the inmates. A cook, laundress and seamstress are employed and instruct those who wish to learn more in any of these branches. Some of the girls are anxious to learn as much as they can, others would spend the day lazily doing nothing. The latter, however, are very much in the minority.

"I'm not going to bother about such things," said one of the girls, lazily. "I know enough about sewing."

"What did you come to Bethany home for?" suggested Miss Rhodes, gently, "if it was not to learn to do things better."

When the girls leave they must decide whether they will take their babies with them or leave them at the home for adoption. In the former case the directors try to find a home in the country where they can keep their children with them. If that is impossible, they furnish the address of a woman who will care for her children for a reasonable sum and provide a situation in which the money can be earned. Where the girl goes into the country the next thing the director very often hears of is that she is going to marry an honest farmer and many women who have learned their first lessons of right and wrong in Bethany Home are today presiding over comfortable farmhouses, not only in Minnesota but in other states.

"We seldom have babies enough to supply all the people who apply for children for adoption," laughed Miss Rhodes, [P 527] when questioned in regard to the children who were left behind when their mothers went out into the world. "People come from all over to see our children, and we do have nice babies. Women who want to adopt children usually think they know what they want and ask for blue- eyed girls or black-haired boys, but it very often happens that the women who asked for a blue -eyed girl goes away with a brown haired boy. The children take fancies to people who come and very often run to welcome them and call them "mama" or "papa." This pleases the man or woman and the suggestion becomes a reality."

Bethany Home does not permit children to be taken on trial and when a baby is taken away it goes into a permanent home. "If it were sent to you by God you couldn't change it," was Miss Rhodes's answer to a woman who suggested that she take home a little 3 year old to see if she would like to keep it. Taking children on trial recalls the story of a small girl who was taken from an institution so often and returned that she grew discouraged, and after three such disappointments refused to call the fourth woman who had taken her, mother. "I'll wait until I see if you keep me." she said, wearily.

Of the large number of children sent out from Bethany home every year, not one has given cause for any anxiety to the directors, who always keep a watchful eye on them. "I believe in heredity," said Mrs. T. B. Walker, "But my experience with Bethany Home has caused me to think that environment is of the utmost importance." The children from the home are found in families all through the northwest and are proving as clever and good as children born under more fortunate circumstances."

The directors have no endowment on which to draw to meet the many expenses of the home. The city appropriates two or three thousand dollars a year toward its support, so that cases may be sent from the city. Girls from Minnesota [P 528] are admitted for the year on payment of $50 and those from outside the state for $100. The industrial department does considerable sewing on underwear and infants' and children's clothing, and adds about $400 a year to the revenue. The vegetables are raised on the institutional grounds d and a cow is kept. The Needlework Guild makes an annual donation and the friends of the home do their share, which is a generous one. The Northwestern Hospital sends two nurses from the training school to get experience in obstetrical cases.

The observance of Christmas is one of -the festivals. Some day between Christmas and. New Years is selected to insure, the attendance of the members of the board and a week previous to the date cards are sent to all who are interested, asking for contributions of provisions, dry goods, clothing, or money. Several hundred cards are issued and the responses are very satisfactory. Large numbers of gifts of clothing, bedding, dress goods, shoes, toys, confectionary and provisions arrive throughout the appointed day and the sums of money often amount to over $100. A bountiful dinner is served at noon and each inmate is presented with new gingham for a dress, white goods for two aprons; each baby receives a new dress and the older children toys. The house is decorated and guests go out from town to wander through the cheerful rooms and admire the babies in the nursery all day.

Just at present there are seventy Children and sixty adults in the home. There are fourteen children- and a matron at the cottage. The children are happy, jolly little people whose only trouble is that they are not allowed to play outdoors all day long, regardless of rain or shine. There is no kindergarten at present to direct their play, though a school is maintained at home for the benefit of the mothers.

The work of the home has been great and far -reaching and its influence can hardly- be overestimated. The little group of philanthropic women who saw the need of such an [P.529] institution and organized the Sisterhood of Bethany undertook a work that is not for today and tomorrow but for all time.