Monday, June 17, 2013

Amanuensis Monday - St. John's - Orphanage or Safe Haven (Part 3)

Here is Part 3 of my Great Aunt Pat's memories from her 5-year stay at St. John's Orphanage in Washington, DC.  You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

St. John's - Orphanage or Safe Haven? (Part 3)

By Pat Geiger

There are so many memories of my five-year stay at St. John’s – the two tall trees at the country house, one designated for the girls, and the other for the boys.  The girls had the better tree.  It was taller, leafier and closer to the road making the top more expansive.  We spent hours sitting at the top of that tree singing our lungs out.  “Springtime in the Rockies,” “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbing Along,” “Roll ‘Em Girls, Roll ‘Em,” and all the other #1 hits of the ‘20s.

I remember the swimming pool at the country home, not much of a pool, but how many private pools were there in 1925, outside of Hollywood.  This pool was enclosed in a building with barn-like doors which, when open, made the enclosure three-sided.  The boys and girls had different days to use the pool, and there was a large tent for changing into our bathing suits.  The pool was made of very rough concrete and wasn’t very deep which resulted in a lot of scraped kneeds but little fear of drowning.

I remember Sister Emily sitting smack-dab in front of the large Philco radio in the library listening to “Amos and Andy” with all the kids gathered around her.  If we were lucky she would also listen to “Myrt and Marge.”  If not, the radio was turned off, Sister Emily left the room and we went back to our homework or whatever we were doing at 7 o’clock when “Amos and Andy” came on.

I remember when Maryanne Brooks was adopted.  We were sure her adoptive parents were very rich because when whe returned for a visit she was wearing a pale gree silk dress with a wrist watch.

Not many of the children were adopted since most had at least one parent, but I do remember that the dentist, Dr. Martin, adopted one of the older girls.

Evelyn Robinson had been at the home since she was siz months old.  She grew up there and when she was 18 became a governess.

One memory concerns one of my life’s most embarrassing moments.  For a short while after leaving the home we lived at the Flagler Apartments just a few blocks from St. John’s.  Because of the proximity, it was easy to visit my old friends.  At the home we were required to wear long winter underwear, the little girls’ having a drop seat in the rear while the big girls wore what we called “Sally open splits” because there was a slit the full length of the crotch.  When I knew I was leaving the home, I told everyone the first thing I was going to do when I went home was to take off my winter underwear.

It was December when I left and, of course, my other wouldn’t allow me to change into lightweight underwear in mid-winter.  During my first visit back I was in the playroom with my friends turning carwheels.  My dress came up over my head revealing the still-present long underwear.  I was the laughing stock of the playroom.

I was just as happy to leave the home on December 7, 1930 – I remember the date because it was my mother’s birthday – as I had been that summer day in 1925 when I arrived.  But I did miss my friends and since my mother was remarried to a man ten years her junior and an alcoholic, life outside the home didn’t live up to my expectations.

For the better part of a year each time Elizabeth or I stepped out of line my mother would say, “Do that again and I’ll send you back to the home.”  After hearing this more times than I could count, I silently wished she would stop threatening and just do it.

St. John’s Orphanage operated for 86 years, from 1870 to 1956.  During those years it was often filled to capacity and sometimes, in its later years of operation, had as few as 14 children.  The average number over those years was 90 – 100.  Thirty-three children were admitted in 1925 of which I was one.  The average stay for a child according to the records for 1914-1929 was 3.1 years.  My stay of five years was longer than average and Elizabeth’s seven years longer still.  St. John’s was not a place to dump your child and forget him or her, but a place to keep your child safe until better times came your way.
St. John's Orphanage Country Home
Arlington, Virginia

The orphanage closed in 1956 because the need for its existence had dimished with modern-day thinking and other means of child care, mostly foster homes.  Also, the building housing the city home was old and in need ot expensive repairs.  The neighborhood was no longer residential and not considered a proper environment for children.  The few children remaining at the time of the closing were sent to other institutions or returned home to their parents.

While St. John’s ceased operation as an orphanage in 1956, its service to the community continued.  It became St. John’s Child Development Center located at 4800 MacArthur Blvd, N.W.  It’s name is now St. John’s Community Services and its mission, as stated in the brochure “Celebrating 125 Years of Commitment” is:  “To enable children and adults with developmental disabilities to reach their greatest potential by providing them with support and opportunities that enhance their efforts to make decisions for themselves and that offer them full participation in the life of the community.”

In 1959 the building at 1922 F Street, N.W. was sold for $515,000 to the National Association of Life Underwriters which still occupies the building.  The ten acres on which the country home stood became a housing development many years ago, after having been leased by the U.S. Government in 1941 for the duration of World War II.

While the word “orphanage” has come to mean something less than desirable, personal experience and very vivid memories give a different meaning to the word for me.  To all those who feel sorry for children living in orphanages or are shocked to learn that I spent five years in one, I want to say that those five years were the best give my mother ever gave me.  Rather than being called an orphanage, with all that word’s negative connotations, I prefer to call St. John’s my safe haven because that is truly what it was.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Amanuensis Monday - St. John's - Orphanage or Safe Haven (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of my Great Aunt Pat's memories from her 5-year stay at St. John's Orphanage in Washington, DC.  You can find Part 1 here.

St. John's - Orphanage or Save Haven? (Part 2)

By Pat Geiger

Most people, including my own children, feel sorry for me when learning I spent five years in an orphanage.  The truth is, I was far more fortunate than those children left alone all day, many of whom never ate as well as I, nor slept in a nice clean bed, nor had their every physical and spiritual need met.

Both the city and country homes had chapels where we were required to attend brief services each morning before breakfast and each evening before supper.  Every Sunday we attended St. John’s Church – three hours on Good Friday.  When the children reached the age of 10, with their parents’ consent, they were confirmed at St. John’s Church after several weeks of confirmation classes.

I was very proud to be awarded a Bible for having the neatest notebook in my confirmation class.  I still have this Bible in the front cover of which is my Confirmation Certificate dated April 6, 1930 and signed by Robert Johnstin, Rector.  I was confirmed by Biship Freeman, then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

The first page of my Bible is inscribed:

“To Flora Mae Hennings, April 6, 1930
From Elizabeth K. Dodge”

Flora May (with a “y”) Hennings was once my name.

We attended public school, walking to school in groups with a governess.  I attended Grant School for kindergarten through 5th grade.  When leaving the home seven days after turning 11, I transferred to Toner School, a move I didn’t care for.  Elizabeth was allowed to remain at Grant where she graduated from the 8th grade.

There were things, of course, which we didn’t have, things of a personal nature, since almost everything was done in groups and most things were community property.  Every now and then on the way home from school, we would stop at Quigley’s drugstore.  This was the typical drug store of the ‘20s, complete with now- called ice cream tables and chairs with bent wire backs.  Beside one of these tables was a large wire basket filled with unwrapped cakes of soap of every shape and color.  More than anything in this world I wanted a cake of that soap to call myown.  At the home we shared the soap which was either white or tan, what was then called common soap.  Now that I can have any cake of soap I wish, what do I use?  White Ivory 99-94/100% pure.

My sister and I were actually second generation orphanage residents.  My father and my two uncles lived at the German Orphan Asylum in Southeast Washington when they were boys.  If life at St. John’s was any indicator, children living in orphanages, at least in Washington, D.C. were treated very well, not only by those responsible for their care, but by the general public as well.

Once a year Thurston, the magician, came to the home and put on a show.  Every Easter Monday we went enmasse to roll our egges on the White House lawn.  One day each summer Wonder Bread, Fussels Ice Cream and other local companies took over Glen Echo Amusement Park in nearby Maryland, and brought the children from all the city’s orphanages to the park for the day.  All rides were free and refreshments were plentiful.  I remember the Fussels ice cream which cme in pre-wrapped squares of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate or vanilla, chocolate and orange ice combinations.  There were hot dogs served, of course, on Wonder Bread rolls and plenty of other goodies.

During the school year when we lived at the city home, we went every Saturday to the Circle Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., where we were admitted free of charge.  Allan B. Scott of Commerce, Georgia, who lived at St. John’s from 1915 through 1923, shares this memory.  “The Circle movie theater allowed us to come on Saturday’s free.  We only  had to say ‘St. John’s’ to be admitted.  They never seemed to notice that kids from the neighborhood also joined the St. John’s line.”

St. John's Orphanage Country Home
Arlington, Virginia
In order to attend the movies, we had to “get our marks.”  This meant that during the week we had behaved ourselves and and had received no bad marks against our record.  You had to do something really bad to lose your marks, but I remember one time half the girls lost theirs for one foolish act.

When we returned to the home every girl who had been on the shopping strip was asked if she taken anything from the store.  It was amazing the items which appeared out of lockers, out of “jewelry” boxes, from under beds.  Almost every girl had lifted something, most of it things for which they had little use.

Sister Cora lined us up to have our bottoms tanned.  I went to the end of the line reasoning that by the time she got to me she would be worn out.  How wrong I was.  When it was my turn, she was just warming up.  At age 71 Sister cora could still wield a pretty strong strap and though I realize that in today’s world taking a strap to a child is considered abuse worthy of a jail sentence, a few whacks on the bottom truly did no harm.  We had committed a crime and to escape with only a few strokes of the strap made us feel fortunate.  In the five years I lived at St. John’s this was the one and only time I received corporal punishment.  (Sister Cora died in 1947 at the age of 88).

Of course, I was an outcast for a while having been the one who got caught.  Hech’t forgave us once all of the loot was returned to the store, even telling us that when we grew up they might have jobs for us.  I never took them up on this offer but I did a lot of shopping at the store over the years.  This was my first and only infraction with the law; that hand on my shoulder was heavy enough to steer me straight.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Thomas & Margaret (Boa) Stavert

Thomas & Margaret (Boa) Stavert

Thomas Stavert
died June 1, 1869
78 years

died May 14, 1876
89 years

This is the headstone for my 3rd great grandfather and grandmother on my Mom's side of the family tree.  They are buried together at North Bedeque United Cemetery in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada.  They immigrated from Scotland to Prince Edward Island about 1821.

I hope someday to get a much better picture of their headstone as I have cousins that still on the island.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Amanuensis Monday - St. John's - Orphanage or Safe Haven (Part 1)

I remember a few years ago my mom telling that my paternal grandmother and her sister had spent a few years in an orphanage after my great grandmother and grandfather divorced.  After she mentioned it, I didn't think much more about it.  Then when I started researching my family history, my mom mentioned it again and I did some research into the orphanage, but didn't find much.

Then a few weeks ago, my parents returned from a road trip where they visited my Dad's sister.  They brought back lots of scanned pictures and a pdf document that was typed in 1996 by my grandmother's sister about her five-year stay at the orphanage.  It was a very interesting read.  The document is too long to share in one posting, so I thought I'd break it up into several postings.  My Aunt Carol scanned the original document into 11 individual pdf files.  I then transcribed it into one Word document.


By:  Pat Geiger

It was the summer, 1925 and the day to which I had looked forward for two years had arrived.  This was to be the first day of my five-year residence at St. John’s Orphanage in Washington, D.C.  Why would I look forward to going to an orphanage?  My sister, Elizabeth, has been there for two years; I had to wait until I was five.  I wanted to be with my sister.

Since it was summer, the children were living at the “country home” on Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia.  When school opened they would return to the “city home” at 1922 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C.  St. John’s Orphanage was operated under the auspices of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, now known as the Church of Presidents, and the Sisters of St. Margaret.

My entrance to St. John’s may not have been grand, but it was certainly memorable.  The first building I entered was the infirmary.  Immediately upon arriving at the orphanage I asked for Elizabeth and was directed around the corner of the main building.  I set off at a run, fell on the gravel path, tore up my knee and was escorted to the infirmary.  All this, even before I was officially registered.  I still have two pale purple scars to remind me of my first day at St. John’s.

The children at St. John’s, few of whom were full orphans, most having one remaining parent or being children of divorce, were divided into little girls, big girls, little boys and big boys.  I was never in the boy’s quarters – no co-ed housing here – but I assume the big boys were again divided as were the big girls, into “insects,” “juniors” and “seniors.”  There were only two senior girls who shared a room adjacent to that of the governess, Mrs. Alford, the mother of one of the seniors.

The “big girls” were really not very big since I started at age five as a “little girl” and advanced by the age of 10 to the “juniors.”

Each group of boys and girls has a governess.  There were also four Sisters of St. Margaret, Sister Cora, who was very much in charge , Sister Emily, Sister Eleanor and Sister Eleanora.  There was also a cook, a yardman, and in the summer, a gardener who grew all the vegetables consumed by the residents.

St. John's Orphanage Summer Home
Arlington, Virginia
There was a full-time nurse in the infirmary plus a doctor and dentist who visited on a regular schedule.  There was a hospital within walking distance of the city home which was a great convenience.  I once walked there accompanied by a governess, holding a towel to my split chin, the result of an accident while showing off my acrobatic prowess.  Another scar to add to my memories of St. John’s.

As mentioned, many of the children had divorced parents.  In the 1920,s there was little organized child care, no pre-school or Head Start.  Foster homes were in their infancy and still a subject of controversy.  When my parents divorced, Mother had no choice but to place us in St. John’s, the best decision she ever made regarding our care.

If parents could afford to pay for their children’s care, they paid what they could.  If they could not, they were not required to do so.  Each child was treated the same whether or not they were paid for.  If parents could not afford Easter baskets, for instance, the home, which is what we always called St. John’s, provided them.  Everyone received Christmas presents, many of them donated by caring people or organizations who also donated turkeys at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Whether or not our parents could afford to pay for our keep, we also had to “work” for it.  Even the youngest children were required to make their beds each morning and the older we were, the larger our tasks.

The bathrooms at the home were, of necessity, quite large with a line of basins and toilets much like a large public restroom.  There were also several bathtubs.  Two or three children were assigned the task of cleaning the bathroom (there was a separate bathroom for each group of children) for a week.  The following week they would move on to another job:  doing the laundry, cleaning the playroom, helping in the kitchen and dining rooms (the boys and girls has separate dining rooms), mopping and dusting the dorms, etc.  None of the work we were asked to do was beyond our abilities and while we complained as all children do when asked to perform chores, it was good training for the future.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday's Obituary - Isabella Sharp (Tanton) Sporie

Today is Sunday's Obituary, a daily blogging prompt from Geneabloggers.  This is the obituary of my maternal grandmother that was published in The Wilton Bulletin (Wilton, CT) on February 14, 1968.

Mrs. Sporie Dies, Native of Canada

Mrs. Isabella T. Sporie, 65, wife of Carl F. Sporie, of Marchant rod, died Monday, February 12, in Danbury Hospital after a long illness.

She was born April 1, 1902 in St. Eleanor's, Prince Edward Island, Canada, daughter of the late jarvis P. and Bessie (Stavert) Tanton.  she had lived in Georgetown from 1943 to 1948 and in Redding for the past six years, after moving from Kent.

Besides her husband, she is survived by two sons, George F. Sporie of Woodbury and Frank T. Sporie of Lansing, Mich; four daughters, Mrs. Gerald Mattson of Richmond, N.H., Mrs. Harold Ruscoe of West Redding, Mrs. Gilbert Cartagena of Roxbury, and Mrs. Alan Lusby of Oakdale; one sister, Mrs. Herbert Leavitt of Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Canada; three borthers, the Rev. G. Stavert Tantonof Prince Edward Island, Canada, Frank Tanton of Transcona, Manitoba, Canada, and Bremmer Tanton of St. Petersburg, Florida, and 18 grandchildren.  She was the sister of the late First Selectman, Harvey D. Tanton of Ridgefield.

Funeral services will be held at the Christ Episcopal Church on Thursday, February 15 at 10:30 a.m. with the Rev. Randall C. Giddings, rector, officiating.  Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Heart Fund or the Arthritic Fund.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Surname Saturday - J. Bernard HENNINGS (1856-1919)

J. Bernard Hennings
Today is Surname Saturday, a daily blogging prompt from Geneabloggers.  As I move my way through the alphabet, I'm at the H's, so may I present to you my 2nd Great Grandfather, J. Bernard Hennings.

Since I didn't know the origins of the name, I did a search on the internet for the origin and meaning of Henning(s), and this is what I discovered.

Henning is a surname with origins in Northern Germany.  It originates as a given name from either Heinrich or Johannes.  In Germany and Scandanavia it is more often used as a given name than as a surname.1

The name Henning is indigenous to the North German areas of Mecklenburg, Hannover, Hamburg, Holstein and Pommern.  Especially the towns of Stralsund and Greifswald, in Mecklenburg, near the Baltic Sea is well known as places where the name originated.  Both towns formed part of Denmark up until the Third Years' War (1618-1648).2

According to my records, Bernard is the son of Frederick Hennings and Catherine Von Lindon of Germany.  He was born in Germany about May 1856 and according to the 1910 U.S. Census, he immigrated to the US about 1869.  He also became a naturalized citizen.

He married Ella Cole about 1880 in New York, probably in Steuben County.  They had the following children:  Frederick William (1883), Earl George (1888), and Arthur Cole (1892).  Both Earl and Arthur were born in Corning, Steuben County, NY.  I think Frederick was born in Port Allegany, PA.

I found Bernard & Ella on the 1892 New York State Census living in Corning, Steuben County, NY.  They were enumerated with Fred (8) and Earl (4).  Bernard's occupation was listed as a machinist.

I also found Bernard in the 1893 Corning City Directory listed as a machinist, and living on Main Street, Gibson.  I also believe that Ella died about 1893 in New York.

Bernard is next seen living in Maryland on the 1900 US Census.  Apparently he bought a farm in Nanjemoy, Charles County, Maryland.  He apparently remarried about 1894 to a Martha R. Caswell, from Maryland.  On the 1900 Census he's enumerated with Fred (16), Guy (13), and Arthur (8).
(l-r) Arthur C. Henning, Virginia Hennings,
Bernard Hennings, and Martha Hennings

The last census Bernard shows up on is the 1910 US Census, and he's now living Washington City, DC and working as an engineer at the German Embassy.  The Census shows Bernard living with Martha (59), Earl G (23) and Arthur (17).  The family is listed as living at 1410 E Street, SE.  See the picture to the right, as this is the house they are living in at the time.  Virginia Hennings is the wife of Bernard's oldest son, Frederick.

Martha died in August of 1912 and Bernard married Annie C. Gleasner in June 1913.  Annie and Bernard were only married about 6 years before he died on 25 Sep 1919 in Washington, DC.  He's buried at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Questions:  What brought him from New York, to Maryland, then to Washington, DC.  Did he immigrate with both parents or just his mother?  What about brothers and sisters?  When/how did he meet Ella and when exactly did they get married?

Plan:  I am currently working on a research plan to confirm Bernard's parents, his date of birth, and find out where in Germany he is from.  Because of the search I did on the origins of the surname, I have a starting point of actual cities that I didn't have before.  But before I go searching all over Germany, I need to find his immigration and naturalization papers.  I just need to figure out what state he was living in when he became a naturalized citizen.  I also want to find the land records for the farm he owned in Maryland.  According to some articles I found in the local papers after he died, he still owned the farm.  I also need to see if I can get a copy of his will.

If anyone has any information on Bernard or think that we might be related, please contact me.

1 Wikipedia contributors, “Henning,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 1, 2013).

2 Wikipedia contributors, “Henning,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 1, 2013).
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