March 23, 1907: At L.A. Orphanage, a Page From Dickens

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

For some time, the teachers at the Casco Street School had been concerned about the pupils from the nearby Christian Orphanage. But finally the problems became too great to ignore.

“One small boy, an especial pet and a delicate child, was found, one cold, rainy morning, filling his blouse with the filthy scraps of bread from the garbage pails in the rear of nearby residences. He was so hungry. ‘Aunt Ada’ had sent him to bed without any supper because he was naughty and she had slapped him in the morning because, like Oliver Twist, he had asked for more mush,” The Times said.

The Miss Ada in question was Ada Bisbee, a member of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union who ran the orphanage at 1724 Kent, part of the Florence Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers. (Recall that this was an era when abortions were illegal and Margaret Sanger was charged with obscenity for sending information on birth control through the mail).

Bisbee, who had taken over after a much-beloved Flora Sallee, denied that there was anything wrong after a confrontation with school Principal Gertrude Horgan.

Horgan found the plight of the orphanage youngsters so dire that she fed them all after discovering that their packed lunches consisted of two crackers and an apple. That would be all until dinner—if, indeed, Bisbee allowed them to have dinner, for they were often sent to bed hungry as punishment.

“The teachers held an indignation meeting. It was raining and all that could be procured in the shape of food were a number of loaves of bread and some molasses and such a feast was held in the school that day that the teachers will never forget. It was painful, they one and all assert, to see the wolfish hunger with which the children devoured the food.”

One of the older girls at the orphanage said she complained that fish being served to the children was spoiled, only to be rebuked. “Why did you say anything?” Bisbee reportedly said. “The children would not have noticed it.”

“Very soon the children were ill, presumably from spoiled fish,” The Times said.

School authorities contacted the superintendent for the home for unwed mothers, A.C. Jeffers, who dismissed claims of harsh treatment.

“When the affair was reported to A.C. Jeffers yesterday he declared that Miss Bisbee is a good disciplinarian but not nearly as severe as his own mother was, and to his mind she makes an excellent matron,” The Times said.

“Yesterday, a delicate, shrinking little fellow, who has to be encouraged to say a word of his own accord, came to school with a long cut on his neck. The watchful eye of the principal saw it. The child said a man at work there [at the orphanage] struck him with a rawhide whip because he refused to do something he was told.”

As a result of Horgan’s complaints, the children appear to be eating more, but she has incurred the wrath of Bisbee, who is said to be taking out her anger on the children.

Casco Street School was renamed Rosemont Avenue School in 1912. The campus is located at 421 N. Rosemont Ave. Gertrude Horgan died in 1919 after a short illness. No record can be found of Ada Bisbee or A.C. Jeffers.

Orphanages in Los Angeles, 1907: Los Angeles Orphan Asylum, Christian Orphanage, Boys’ and Girls’ Aid, South Pasadena Home, Catholic Orphanage, Boyle Heights Home, Victoria Home and Volunteers of America.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, 1912, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Education, Food and Drink, LAPD, Pasadena, Religion, Streetcars. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to March 23, 1907: At L.A. Orphanage, a Page From Dickens

  1. Wow. This is so horrifying.


  2. jennietre says:

    Hello, let me know if you’re interested in more info about “Ada Bisbee” and “A.C.Jeffers” — I found several records about both of them in that round out the story a little. I’m a family history researcher with a subscription to Ancestry and your reposted story came up in a web search I was doing about this area of old LA, where my great-grandfather and his family first lived when they emigrated from the Netherlands ca.1908. (Note: the 1907 Times article spelled his name wrong, he’s actually the Rev. A.C. Jeffries, and his family first settled and owned a large tract in the Cypress neighborhood, where there’s a street named after them on which Florence Nightingale school is located. She (Bisbee) had previously worked at the Los Angeles Orphan’s Asylum, and around 1920 moved to Huntington Beach where she died in 1941 at about age 79.)


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