Home of the Good Shepherd (Seattle)

  • By Toby Harris
  • Posted 5/29/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3837
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The Home of the Good Shepherd, located at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, opened in 1907 to provide shelter, education, and guidance to young girls. The Home generated revenue by operating a commercial laundry, as did many other Good Shepherd institutions. Girls were referred by the courts or brought in by their families from throughout Washington and sometimes Alaska. Tuition depended upon what the family could afford or what each county provided. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd believed that by providing the benefits of a stable and loving home, the girls could become responsible, moral, and caring women. The Home of the Good Shepherd officially closed in June 1973. The City of Seattle bought the property in 1975 and later transferred it to Historic Seattle for use as a multi-purpose community center.

Origin and Overview

"Poor children! Beaten about in the great tempest of the world, they have known nothing but suffering; they have never experienced the sweetness and charms of virtue."

--Mary Euphrasia Pelletier,
Founder of the Good Shepherd Order

Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, founder of the Good Shepherd Order, was compelled by her harsh childhood experiences and strong religious beliefs to dedicate her life to providing shelter and guidance to vulnerable girls and women. Founded in 1835 in Angers, France, the Order of our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd grew to 110 convents worldwide by 1868, reaching Seattle’s First Hill in 1890.

The Home of the Good Shepherd in Wallingford, designed by architect Alfred C. Breitung, opened at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue in 1907, and housed 171 children. Girls were referred by the courts or brought in by their families from throughout Washington and sometimes Alaska. Tuition depended upon what the family could afford or what each county provided. In early years, the girls studied character education, voice, piano and other instrumental music, needlework, dressmaking, public expression, catechism, vocational training, basic academics, and physical education.

The Sisters maintained a fruit orchard and vegetable garden on the 11-1/2 acre grounds. This provided ready nourishment. In the earliest years, chickens and cows were kept on the property for eggs, milk, and butter. Fresh, hot meals for the girls came from the "big kitchen" on the south end of the bottom floor. A separate kitchen and dining hall for the nuns and employees was at the north end of the same floor. Homemade pies, breads, stews, and hot lunches were always a big part of life at the Good Shepherd Home.

The south wing of the building housed the “penitent” girls, those whom society considered “wayward” and rooms for those nuns who worked with them. The Good Shepherd Sisters maintained an orphanage in the north wing along with their own rooms. The two populations were separated. As this young girl placed in the orphan side in about 1924 remembers it:

"There was a good side and a bad side -- the Angel Guardian side on the right as you go in and Sacred Heart side on the left. On the left side … they did the laundry and that sort of thing. There could be some real hard girls over there" (Betty Mayes Interview).

In 1926, the orphans were transferred to Mother Cabrini’s Sacred Heart Villa in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood. The north wing then became the exclusive domain of the nuns, with sparse bedrooms, their dining hall, and kitchen.

The Good Shepherd Aid Society, begun in 1901, provided consistent financial support. Early benefactors included Mrs. S. J. Lynch, Mrs. Levi Foss, Mr. & Mrs. Frank McDermott, The Bon Marche, and Mr. M. J . Henry (Great Alaskan Railway). In 1921, the Seattle Community Fund, a precursor to United Way, designated the Good Shepherd Home as one of their beneficiaries. Throughout the years, The Seattle Times, the Bon Marche department store, Boeing, and other local organizations made major contributions. The Good Shepherd Aid Society later evolved into a Board of Trustees and Auxiliary.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Auxiliary regularly sponsored fund-raising teas and bazaars, featuring crafts created by the Home’s residents. Community contributions raised by the Auxiliary financed construction of the outdoor pool in 1959, just west of the building. The Home of the Good Shepherd continued to serve young girls until it closed in 1971.

The Early Years

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd believed that by providing the benefits of a stable and loving home, the girls could become responsible, moral, and caring women. Sanctioned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835, they had established institutions worldwide by the year of Pelletier’s death in 1868. In 1842, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd arrived in the United States, first landing in Kentucky. In 1890, the train brought five Good Shepherd nuns through mountains and forests to Seattle. Invited by the local bishop to rescue orphans and girls leading an immoral life, they started an orphanage in a house owned by Mrs. Levi Foss at 9th Avenue and Jefferson Street on First Hill.

The orphanage continued to grow and in 1905, a building committee was formed and land purchased in newly platted Wallingford. The nuns commissioned local architect C. Alfred Breitung to build the Home of the Good Shepherd. The cornerstone was laid in September 1906 and the building erected at a cost of $125,000. Mr. Breitung sent ice cream for the Sisters and three busloads of children on opening day, July 29, 1907.

In December 1907, the building was struck by lightning in a severe storm, and Breitung repaired damage to the north end of the building in a dormitory where 60 children slept. That winter Sunnyside Avenue became known as “muddyside avenue.” In 1908-1909, the balcony on the west side was constructed and in preparation for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition, sidewalks and a retaining wall were added to the grounds.

The commercial laundry opened in 1908 on the Sunnyside grounds just south of the main structure. The Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads were major clients along with some downtown hotels. Initially, a team of horses pulled a delivery cart from Wallingford through downtown to the railroad yards. Deliveryman Leonard Boyle lived on the grounds with his family and took care of the horses and cows. By 1916, the horses were replaced with a truck. Mr. Boyle was later promoted to laundry superintendent and continued working there until the laundry closed in 1970.

Middle Years: 1930s to 1950s

What comes from the heart goes to the heart.

--Practical Rules, Convent of the Good Shepherd, 1943

The mission of the Order of the Good Shepherd Sisters was to purify and strengthen the souls of girls living in poverty and in environments considered immoral. Founder Saint Mary Euphrasia, canonized in 1940, taught an attitude of "maternal devotedness" and that "example is more powerful than words." The nuns were not to use corporal punishment. Good behavior was rewarded and restoring the girls' self-esteem was paramount.

The Home accepted girls of all faiths, however the nuns required residents to be respectful of Catholic beliefs and practices. Although the girls' participation in Catholic rituals was never compulsory, priests from nearby parishes led Mass and heard confessions at the Home. The priests and altar boys were often invited to stay afterwards for a hot, home-cooked meal.

The chapel was the spiritual heart of the Home of the Good Shepherd. Located on the fourth floor, its soaring ceilings and intricate stained-glass windows made the room uniquely ornate within the Home's otherwise institutional setting.

The nuns frequently led the girls in religious song as they walked to and from meals and Mass. Spiritual quotations were posted on classroom walls and devotional statues of saints were found throughout the Home's stairways, hallways, and grounds. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd demonstrated to the girls a pious and moral lifestyle.

For the first half of the institution's history, residents rarely were allowed to leave the grounds or hear news of the outside world. Thus, the residents' most coveted privilege was "parlor" -- receiving approved visitors every other Sunday.

The first home visit away from the Good Shepherd was in 1942. A girl who had been there for quite awhile was allowed to go home for a day. “The nuns all waited patiently to see that she came home,” recalls Sr. Mary William McGlone who was there from 1937 until 1957 (Sister Mary William McGlone Interview). After that, they began having days off -- one day per month, then one weekend. By the 1960s there were also camping trips, shopping trips, picnics, and other outings.

The girls earned privileges such as helping the nuns, acting as "big sisters" and taking on other trusted roles. Membership in Sodality, a Catholic girls’ club promoting piety and charity, was also considered an honor. Sodality was established at the Good Shepherd Home in 1892.

Daily Life

The girls lived in the south wing, which housed up to 180 residents and nuns in three large dormitories and supervising nuns’ rooms. The girls had small cubbies outside their dorms. Their toiletries were lined up with precision in these cubbies, with each item being assigned a specific placement. Lockers on the bottom level contained many of their extra belongings.

Healthcare professionals came to the Home to provide for the girls and sick residents stayed in the infirmary. Caring for 100-200 girls required rigid routines, and cleanliness, and tidiness were highly valued. Former resident (1949-1957) Charmaine Ashcraft remembered: "We were assigned one day a week to take our bath and wash our hair. We washed our underclothes and socks every night and hung them over the bed rail. The dorm monitors would always check to see that you had washed your clothing" (Charmaine Ashcraft Interview).

Jackie Kalani, a resident from 1949 to 1952, recalled "All my clothes were marked 147. That was my number. We'd get one clean sheet each week, clean pajamas, and a clean pillowslip. We'd take the bottom sheet and put it on top" (Jackie Kalani Interview).

Meals were served at round tables set for six to simulate the intimacy of family. One girl at each table was sent for food. The girls maintained silence as they entered the dining room and sat down. Butter was allowed on only Sundays. Two nuns supervised lunch from an elevated platform and they frequently used the time to read and censor the girls' mail. Jackie Kalani remembers: "At refectory time, Mother would wait until we all got our food, and then she would say, "God be blessed," tap the little bell, and then we could talk to each other" (Jackie Kalani interview).

Security and rehabilitation were big issues. The girls could not be trusted and neither could the outside world. To prevent residents from seeing the outside world and leaving the Home, locked doors and opaque glass were used in the earlier years. A little later, barred windows, barbed wire fences, then window alarms were installed. Though these measures appeared harsh for some; for others, it offered protection and safety and enabled to them concentrate on rehabilitating and healing.

The Sisters and courts decided when a girl was ready to leave the Home unless a parent had brought her in without court intervention. The girls were rarely given advance warning when it was time. Their belongings had already been gathered and packed up for them and they were sent on their way with words of reassurance, their suitcase, and perhaps a little money. According to Charmaine Ashcraft, "Everybody got a suitcase when they went out. They didn't go out of here in grocery bags. They came in with paper bags and boxes but they left with a suitcase"(Charmaine Ashcraft Interview).

Education and Rehabilitation

Education and rehabilitation for the girls included academic curriculum, vocational training, and work responsibilities. In 1937, the nuns developed a high school program named St. Euphrasia School after their founder. The 1940s brought an emphasis on homemaking and business skills.

Classes were held Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. During these hours, the girls were also required to work in the laundry, kitchen, altar bread room making host for the parish, sewing room, or the office. Other assignments included polishing woodwork, scrubbing floors, weeding, or harvesting. Additionally, there were dormitory obligations, a personal hygiene regimen, and the option of attending Mass.

In the laundry, the girls never had contact with Leonard Boyle or his male crew who washed the laundry and maintained equipment. Mother Michael was the supervising nun who trained all the girls and worked closely with the laundry superintendent from 1936 to 1970.

The clean, wet laundry was pushed in carts through a small door to the shaking room where Mother Michaels’ crew took over. They were assigned to shaking, sorting, pressing, folding, and packing. Operating one of the three mangles (commercial wringers) was a coveted job. After it was run through the mangle, the laundry was folded on long tables and neatly packed into big pullman bags. “You could pack around 400 towels in a bag, pillowslips, sheets in 10’s and 20’s,” remembers Mother Michael (Sister Michael Pundzak Interview). The Good Shepherd Home was paid by the piece of laundry, not by the pound.

In the sewing room, the girls and nuns made school uniforms, and in the beauty school, girls could choose to pursue beautician certification or have their hair styled.

A two-story north annex was constructed in 1954 which provided much needed additional science and arts classrooms. A complete model apartment was created for the home economics program.

Arts and music were consistently valued. Many art classes were taught by Sister Ursula including ceramics and painting. For many years, musical instruction was offered by the Armstrongs, a lay couple who taught piano, voice, and other instruments. In later years, Sister Virginia Hinks led a choir and produced many musical drama productions. She also brought in a guitar teacher in the 1960s.


Though the Sisters of the Good Shepherd had demanding work and study expectations, they also recognized the value of recreation. The large Assembly Room was located on the main floor, south wing, and was used for performances, meetings, special programs, Sunday night movie showings, and beginning in the 1950s, television watching. According to Charmaine Ashcraft, "On Tuesday night, we could watch two things. "Bishop Sheen" and some kind of mystery show. Otherwise, no television. The television was not something you could just sit down and watch if you wanted to" (Charmaine Ashcraft Interview).

Formal graduation dances were also held in the Assembly Room. A former lay teacher (1951-1952), Betty Ferguson, explained: "At the end of the year, graduating seniors had a prom. The girls were all there in their formals and flowers, and there was an all-girl band. They had it all decorated up, and it was just like it would be in a high school except they did not have boys for dates" (Betty Ferguson Interview).

Participation in physical activities and sports was encouraged. The "backyard" provided a summerhouse (now used as an open pavilion shelter); a paved area for roller-skating, tennis, and square dancing; grassy fields for baseball, speedball, and volleyball; and like many Good Shepherd Homes, a swimming pool. The Sisters believed that swimming provided an excellent outlet for the girls’ physical energy. The pool was built in 1959 and a few years later, a “bubble” was added for year-round swimming. Many of the girls had never been in a swimming pool and treasured any opportunity to swim. Some of the Sisters swam as well, but not at the same time as the girls.

Ping pong, dancing, and listening to music were also popular pastimes, though the girls weren’t allowed to listen to male voices until the late 1950s or early 1960s. Beautiful gardens and devotional statues provided inspiration for prayer and reflection.

Later Years: 1960s and 1970s

Beginning in 1959, Sister Valerie Brannan began the push to develop the large dormitories into smaller, home-like spaces with kitchens and sitting areas.

The Vatican II Council ended in 1965 and signaled some changes within the Order of the Good Shepherd. The Sisters had been living a semi-cloistered life and now became uncloistered. Though the impact of this decision on the Good Shepherd Home was minimal, the Sisters themselves were allowed more freedom. Some of the nuns no longer wore their habits and/or veils and their attitudes were affected by societal changes as well.

The trend of creating a more home-like atmosphere continued and slowly, the institution became more informal and less structured. By the late 1960s, the smaller dormitory suites housed about 15 girls each. Not all meals were eaten in the dining hall together and not all doors were kept locked. A resident entrusted with a key to the attic storage room started a fire on August 7, 1967, causing major damage to the south wing's top floor. By 1970, restrictions had so loosened that small groups of girls walked unsupervised to the University District on Saturdays.

The Closing of the Home of the Good Shepherd

The decline in railroad travel and a demand for girls to spend more time in school precipitated the closure of the laundry on September 1, 1970. In addition to the loss of laundry income, Boeing had suffered financial losses in 1971 and cut back severely on charitable giving as had many others. Maintaining and updating the structure became an overwhelming financial burden and the Home of the Good Shepherd officially closed in June 1973. Other reasons for the closure included increased governmental paperwork, more stringent educational requirements for staff, and fewer women choosing a committed religious life.

After it closed, much of the Good Shepherd Sisters’ property was sold at an auction. The Wallingford community fought and defeated a proposal to turn the site into a shopping center and the city of Seattle bought the property in 1975. The swimming pool was considered hazardous and filled in with dirt by the Parks Department. The building was then transferred to Historic Seattle for use as a multi-purpose community center and has since housed a senior center, various schools, non-profit organizations, and small businesses.

For many former residents, the positive effects of living at the Good Shepherd Home were lifelong.

"She is placed in the Home of the Good Shepherd, not as a punishment, but in the hopes that she will mature into all the beauty of womanhood with knowledge, abilities and ideals which evolve into a happy life, and which, in turn, she may share with others."
--Sister Mary William McGlone, Mother Superior and Principal of St. Euphrasia School


Anne Cawley Boardman, Good Shepherd’s Fold (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1955); Provincial Convent of the Good Shepherd, Practical Rules for the Use of the Religious of the Good Shepherd for the Direction of the Classes (St. Paul: The Newman Bookshop, 1943); Sister Mary St. William McGlone, "Some Characteristics of 189 Girls Who Terminated Residence in the Home of the Good Shepherd," Master of Social Work Thesis, University of Washington, 1954; Annals, 1890-1920, 1962-1972, Sisters of the Good Shepherd Regional Archives, St. Louis; Sister Vera Gallagher, The Good Shepherd of Angers, (Province of St. Paul, ca. 1976); Jubilate Deo, program from canonization of Saint Mary Euphrasia and Golden Jubilee of Convent of the Good Shepherd in Seattle, 1940; Girls Town, Good Shepherd brochure, 1940s; Toby Harris Interview of Betty Mayes, February 23, 1999, Seattle, WA; Toby Harris Interview of Sister Mary William McGlone, May 5, 1999, St. Paul, MN; Toby Harris Interview of Charmaine Ashcraft, June 3, 1999, Seattle, WA; Toby Harris Interview of Jackie Kalani, August 27, 1999, Seattle, WA; Toby Harris Interview of Sister Michael Pundzak, May 8, 1999, St. Paul, MN; Toby Harris Interview of Betty Ferguson, March 25, 1999, Seattle, WA.

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