Unwelcome Children

Roman Catholics and Children of Color

Rather than run a local orphanage, Catholic churches in much of Southern Indiana sent children to large orphanages elsewhere. In America, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations vied to prevent people from leaving their flocks and to recruit people away from those they saw as competitors. Many denominations maintained institutions for their members’ orphaned children. Jeffersonville was home to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, founded before 1870, but it did not have its own Catholic orphanage. A few Protestant orphanages sought to take in Catholic orphans to raise them as Protestants, but rarely did orphanages tolerate religious pluralism.

In Jeffersonville, rather than converting children, officials separated Catholics and children of color from their white Protestant peers. At some point, court authorities may have sent Catholic children from Jeffersonville and Clark County, Indiana, to the Catholic orphanages in Louisville, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River. However, several documented cases show reveal local Catholic children who spent their childhoods at St. Vincent orphanage in Vincennes, Indiana, a large facility set on a hill overlooking current Vincennes.

Newspaper articles suggest that local people understood Jeffersonville’s orphanage as a place of refuge for white Protestant children and that the Jeffersonville Orphan's Home did not accept children of color. Orphanages in neighboring New Albany also turned away orphans of color.

Some children of color may have found shelter at orphanages far from Jeffersonville, but several newspaper articles suggest that they could expect placement in the homes of African American community members or early entry into the workforce. In Jeffersonville, local authorities seemed especially interested in finding "respectable" guardians for children of color. Nineteenth century papers freely disclosed gossip and rumors about guardians deemed "unfit," reflecting racist ideas about Black families. Some African American children resided with white families. Their exact status within those families is unknown.



315 E Chestnut St, Jeffersonville, IN 47130