Home for Unwed Mothers

In a plan to redeem prostitutes and “combat the social evil of fallen women” in 1894, the Rev. J. T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie Mae organized the Berachah Rescue Society in Waco. One newspaper account claims he was “driven away [from Waco] by angry fellow Methodist church members who opposed his missionary work with prostitutes.” Regardless of the reason, the Upchurches moved in 1903 to the Dallas slums to continue their mission.

Portrait photograph of Rev. J.T. Upchurch and his wife, founders of the Berachah Rescue Work library.uta.edu

Portrait photograph of Rev. J.T. Upchurch and his wife, founders of the Berachah Rescue Work library.uta.edu

Sometime in 1903 Mrs. Upchurch’s father donated twenty-seven acres in Arlington between Dallas and Fort Worth, and the Upchurches opened the Berachah Industrial Home for homeless, often pregnant girls, from all over Texas and the surrounding states.

Although Upchurch held conservative theological views, his ideas for social reform were liberal for the time. His home, unlike others for unwed mothers, required that children remain with their natural parent and that the mothers learn to care for themselves and their children. He believed that there were no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.

Upchurch published The Purity Journal for financial contributors who were primarily Dallas-Fort Worth businessmen. In the journal articles Upchurch wrote of the evils of brothels, saloons, and social corruption. His stories about the slums and the shelter included accounts of redemption and salvation. He also described the work being done at the home and detailed individual case histories. The residents worked in the home’s handkerchief factory, operated the press for the Purity Journal, and maintained the large gardens and orchards. Upchurch required all residents and staff to attend worship services on the premises and to refrain from using the phone on Sundays, eating pork, or consuming coffee, tea, or tobacco.

At the height of the operation in 1928, the home added an additional forty acres and expanded to at least ten buildings including a hospital/clinic, nursery, dormitory and dining room, handkerchief factory, school, auditorium, and barn. The home closed briefly in 1935 and Upchurch’s daughter and son-in-law Allie Mae and Reverend Frank Wiese reopened the facility as an orphanage that served until 1942.

Today the property is on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington, and the only physical reminder of the history of the site is the cemetery opened in 1904 that contains over eighty graves of unwed mothers, stillborn babies, children who died in measles epidemics, and employees and their children.

Berachah Home and Cemetery marker, Arlington, TX

Berachah Home and Cemetery marker, Arlington, TX

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8 thoughts on “Home for Unwed Mothers

  1. You’ve reminded me of a now-disappeared blogger I used to read faithfully. She declared her site the “Moonbeam McQueen Home for Wayward Bloggers and Retired Carnival Personnel.” It’s just as funny now as it was then.

    I recently wrote about my favorite aunt, whom I only recently learned had embezzled $2K or so from the County Treasurer’s office and was sentenced to ten years in the Iowa Women’s Reformatory. (She’s still one of my favorite aunts, though long departed.) What’s interesting is that the documents and newspaper articles I surfaced about the reformatory itself described a very similar approach to the residents. Like the home you describe, the women at the prison worked the farm (both animals and crops), attended Sunday services as a group, and were taught an assortment of trades.

    Even though “home for unwed mothers” and ‘reformatory” have fallen out of use, I’m not certain some of the qualities of those institutions couldn’t serve us well today.

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    • I agree that we don’t seem to be in the rehabilitation/reform mode nowadays. It’s all punishment, which creates more problems, I fear.
      Interesting story of your aunt. Sounds like a good book is waiting.

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  2.     Interesting story.  Did I tell you about a similar story that was the beginning of the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio where we adopted Betty & Robert?  It was started about the same time (maybe a decade later).      The story, as I remember it, is that a madam was converted during a revival at Travis Park Methodist Church and she changed her house of prostitution into a home for unwed mothers and related ministries educating and helping the young women become self-sufficient and providing adoption services.  My guess is there is information about this in the archives of Travis Park United Methodist Church.  For the period of about 1950 to 1975 there was a member who was devoted to collecting and organizing church history of Travis Park and the annual conference.  The archives of Southwest Texas Annual Conference (now Rio Texas Annual Conference) probably has information about this also..      Because of “the pill” and changing social values, the need for a “home for unwed mothers” dropped so that the mission of the home changed.  It is no longer called the Methodist Mission Home and developed and expanded into other ministries — especially helping/empowering  deaf young adults who had “fallen through the cracks” to become self-sufficient.                                        Jimmy

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