Early-Day 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.”

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 shelters 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.

PHILANTHROPIC MADAM

Mystery surrounds Miss Rita’s early life.  Raised in a prosperous, but unnamed Oregon family in the early 1900s, she left home to dance for a time for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before she joined the vaudeville circuit.  During her first, brief marriage, no one knows why she became a prostitute.

When the Great Depression forced the decline of vaudeville theatres, Miss Rita arrived in Beaumont, the oil city enjoying its second petroleum boom.  She probably knew about the vast wealth in the southeast Texas city from her tours with the vaudeville circuit and from Beaumont’s fame as the locale of Spindletop, the first big oil gusher in 1901 that led to the creation of industry giants like Gulf and Texaco.

Miss Rita rented facilities for her trade from Charles Ainsworth, but soon took a liking to his son Nathaniel.  The couple married and Miss Rita took early retirement.  After several years of financially establishing themselves in Beaumont, Rita and Nathaniel purchased Beaumont’s small Shamrock Hotel.

After Nathaniel died in 1946, Miss Rita sold the Shamrock, and purchased the Dixie Hotel in Beaumont’s thriving red light district. (The Dixie is the white building, second from right)  Employing her knowledge of the prostitution business, she tastefully decorated the Dixie and employed a group of attractive, well-mannered women.  Word spread quickly about her discreet, first-rate establishment.  Some reports claim private entrances allowed customers to enter undetected.

Despite ample competition, business thrived at the Dixie and Miss Rita used her increasing wealth and business sense to make large investments in local real estate.  She also raised her children and even sent her daughter away to a Catholic girl’s school.

Miss Rita became known in the community for her generosity.  She funded little-league teams, supported churches, and even sent a priest through seminary.  Some accounts say the police contacted her when people needed financial help after an accident or some other misfortune.  Miss Rita set aside the third floor of the Dixie for old men who had no place to live. While cheap local hotels charged a dollar a night, Miss Rita charged the men only seven dollars a month, which included their meals.

Finally in 1961, vice and corruption in the red light district reached such a level that a five-man committee conducted three-day televised hearings exposing the sale of liquor to minors, narcotics trafficking, and payoffs to city officials as well as prostitution.  The Dixie closed with all the other facilities.

An IRS investigation resulted in a $100,000 tax bill, forcing Miss Rita to sell all her property except her home and the Dixie.  Apparently she continued her prostitution business out of her home until 1976 when failing health forced her to sell the Dixie to the Gulf Sates Utilities Company who donated it to the Beaumont Heritage Society.

The philanthropic madam moved to Houston to live with her daughter and died in 1978.  Miss Rita’s position in Beaumont’s life earned her a story in a pictorial history of Beaumont. The attached painting “Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher,” by Aaron Arion, belongs to Beaumont’s Tyrell Historical Library.