This tour seeks to restore the histories of Clark County orphans, despite the loss of county orphanage records and damage to juvenile court records. Orphanages loom large in popular culture as homes to plucky, but desperately mistreated, children who find happy endings. Most orphanages didn’t match that stereotype. Orphans' homes became common during the 19th century. Area newspapers sometimes requested readers to provide homes for children who had been abandoned by their parents, who did not have access to basic life necessities like food or housing, or those whose parents had died. This personal appeal for help often failed. In response, communities like Jeffersonville built group homes to house children in need.
Founded in 1876, Jeffersonville's public orphanage offered shelter to children, many of whom had been sent to the orphanage by the legal system after their parents abused or neglected them. Other children passed through while their families struggled financially. Some children were reclaimed by their parents once their problems were resolved. Others were successfully adopted out to families and would become valued members of society: a successful writer, a beautiful bride, loving grandparents.
To understand orphanages and the experiences of the children who lived there, we stitch together records from the orphanage, local newspapers, diaries and personal records, family stories, and published histories. Often, these records can provide no more than glimpses of moments in a child’s life rather than the complete story. These glimpses show that some children experienced abuse or had to resort to sex work to survive.