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In its initial charter of 1863, the Association was charged to “provide for them a suitable home, board, clothing and instruction, and to bring them under Christian influence” [1]. The Superintendent along with the executive committee was to “govern the inmates, preserve order, enforce discipline, impart instruction in useful knowledge and some regular course of labor, and establish rules for the preservation of health and for their proper physical, intellectual and moral improvement.” [2] It went on to stipulate that, “The trustees may, with the consent of the Executive Committee, bind out by indenture, such children as may be deemed capable of learning trades or of becoming useful in other occupations, to such persons as will give them the benefit of good examples, wholesome instruction, and other means of improvement in virtue and knowledge, and the opportunity of becoming intelligent, moral, and useful members of society.” [3]

Since the beginning and throughout its history, there were two objectives to meet in the development of the curriculum – basic education in writing and arithmetic, and industrial education in domestic labor. At age 12, or sooner if requested, the Association would seek homes for the children in an indentured service arrangement. The foster home would receive a child trained in household work, carpentry, or as a farm hand. In exchange the home would be required to continue their instruction, treat them well and prepare them for life. Given the racial sentiment of the time, many homes were interested only in the prospect of free labor. The Association had a very difficult task of following up on the status of the children placed in foster homes to make sure they were being treated in accordance with their contracts. This was very labor intensive, particularly since children were distributed nationally – placed in New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. In the 1880s and 1890s, as funding decreased, this became a difficult struggle.

All indications were that the staff maintained the strictest discipline with the children, and the finest education that could be afforded. Children in the Home entered Kindergarten at the age of four years; after two years they could be admitted to the school. The school consisted of two teachers, a principal and an assistant, and their curriculum was equivalent to the first through fifth grades in public school. The first teacher, Miss Maria Mann made good progress with the 37 pupils she had charge of, erecting temporary buildings to house them all. The industrial training consisted of household duties, work around the grounds, sewing and mending taught to both boys and girls, and a special carpentry course for the boys. In the instructional component, they learned spelling, composition of letters and arithmetic. If they had contributions from members and friends for carfare, they would take field trips so they could expose the children to the outside world. On Sundays the children attended service at the Congregational Church at the corner of 10th and G.

Foster homes could request particular ages from the Association, and children were usually adopted between the ages of four and eight. The Association received many requests from neighborhoods where children were previously placed – a testament to the work that was taking place. The indenture contract allowed for a probationary period of six weeks. If a child was returned, another home was found. In 1886 the school became part of the DC school system, under the direct supervision of the Public School Trustees.

One of the noted matrons of the home was Miss Eliza Heacock, who served for 22 years along with her sister Jane Heacock, her assistant. These sisters were Quakers from Jenkintown, PA and were noted for the sympathy, honesty, and purity that they demonstrated daily to the orphans. She was described by teacher Nellie Plummer as a sterling Christian, free from prejudice [4]. Miss Heacock was regarded as an excellent manager, with genuine interest and devotion in the children. The many children’s letters addressed to her is an indication of their respect and gratitude for her guidance.

[1] First Annual Report of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Women and Children, Washington, D.C. 1864
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Plummer, Nellie. Out of the Depths or The Triumph of the Cross. New York: G.K.Hall & Co. 1920
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