Seattle Children's Home

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 7/02/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3399
Seattle's oldest charity, the Seattle Children's Home originated as the Ladies' Relief Society in April 1884. The founding members intended "general benevolence and charity ... with special emphasis on women and children" (Seattle Children's Home). Within a year, the members constructed an orphanage at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. In 1905, the home moved to the top of Queen Anne Hill. In its second century, the home focuses on treatment for troubled children and early intervention. It is located at 2142 10th Avenue W on Queen Anne Hill.

Women For Children

On April 4, 1884, 15 women concerned about "the number of needy and suffering cases" (Seattle Children's Home) in Seattle gathered to do something. They formed The Ladies Relief Society. The women fanned out across the city and within a month recruited 69 more women to the cause. They also identified children in need of temporary shelter.

In February 1885, Margaret J. Pontius offered her house to the society and a month later, six children lived there. By summer there were 10 children, including one infant. David Denny (1832-1903) and Louisa (Boren) Denny (1827-1916) donated to the society, two lots on their Donation Land Claim south of Queen Anne Hill. The society built a house for $3,600 at 4th Avenue and Harrison Street in August 1886.

Girls learned sewing and mending, and boys performed cleaning and cooking chores. According to the society's bylaws, food

"...must be plain but plentiful, and should be prepared with special reference to the health of the children. Meat to be give only once a day and that at the noon meal ... For the morning meal the principal food should be mush, made of any of the cereals, with plenty of milk .... For the evening meal, bread and milk, or bread and syrup, and stewed fruits when possible" (King).

Seattle boomed over the next few years, straining social services, which were almost completely in the hands of private charities. When The Great Fire destroyed downtown Seattle on June 6, 1889, the society responded to assist the homeless with donations and by taking in the children of parents who were unable to feed them. In 1903, with relief funds left over from The Great Fire, the society purchased 29 lots on top of Queen Anne Hill at 10th Avenue W and W McGraw Streets.

A new orphanage opened on April 13, 1905, with room for 100 children. An annex for ill children was completed in 1909. Orphans were not the only residents. Children of single fathers who worked in the woods or mines or at sea stayed there. Many children stayed for only a few months. The chief reason for admission was the death of a mother, with desertion by the father the next most common reason. The home also received referrals from the juvenile court and from other charities.

Depression Years

By 1931, the original building needed a replacement. Despite the hard times of the Great Depression, the women of the society embarked on a project to construct a new home. The old building was razed and the children were lodged in rented quarters. The new building was ready on February 14, 1932.

When the society celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1934, the problem of orphans had been superseded by the needs of children who suffered neuroses and psychoses. That year an average of 70 children lived at the home. During World War II, the flood of war workers into the city strained to the limit the services provided by the society. The home was limited to 140 residents and some were turned away.

Changing Times

In 1956, the name was changed to Seattle Children's Home. In 1958, membership on the board of trustees was opened to men. That same year, the home's first male director was appointed. In the 1960s, the aging brick building at 9th Avenue W and W McGraw Street was replaced with several modern structures.

The 1960s also saw a continued expansion of services to children. Preventive mental health care, day treatment, and family therapy were offered. The home became Washington's first comprehensive mental health center for children.

In 2001, the Seattle Children's Home offered a wide variety of responses for children's behavior health, from resident care to outpatient treatment, advocacy, training programs for support personnel, and field assistance to homeless youth.


Sources: Marina King, "The Healthful Hilltop Air," Queen Anne: Community On The Hill (Seattle: Queen Anne Historical Society, 1993), p. 149, 154; "Seattle Children's Home, 1884-1994," brochure, 1984, Seattle Children's Home, 2142 10th Avenue W, Seattle, Washington 98119.

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