“The Same Religious Persuasion of the Children”: Catholics and the Female Humane Association Charity School of Baltimore, 1800–1834

Anne Owen Tiernan, 1775–1841

Anne Owen Tiernan, 1775–1841.
Portrait from Charles B. Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland, as Illustrated by Extracts from Works in the Public Libraries, and Original Letters and Memoranda in the Possession of Charles B. Tiernan (Baltimore: Gallery & McCann, 1898).

In 1826, when artist J. Wattles painted Anne Owen Tiernan’s portrait, he saw a woman with wide-set eyes under arched brows, high cheek bones, a deep bow in her upper lip, and silver streaks in the dark hair she had tucked neatly under a cap and tied beneath her full chin—and he captured a hint of a smile in the finished likeness. Tiernan, fifty-one years old at the time, looks poised, confident, and satisfied, her small, long-fingered right hand holds her reading glasses in her lap and the left rests on the arm of a carved and upholstered sofa. At the time she sat for this portrait, Anne Tiernan had been married for thirty-three years to Luke Tiernan, wealthy Baltimore merchant and one of the most generous contributors to the Cathedral (Metropolitan) Church. Eight of their nine children had lived to adulthood and three had married, all into equally prominent Catholic families. This year, 1826, also marked nearly two decades of her service to the city’s poor female children, primarily through her work with the Female Humane Association Charity School (FHACS). Fifteen years later, when she died in 1841, Anne Tiernan had helped manage the care, education, and religious training of Baltimore’s destitute and orphaned girls, in this predominately Protestant organization, for nearly thirty years.(1)

Much of what survives on the activities of the charity school rests in the pages of the five reports published during the first thirty-six years of their work. The first report, published in 1803, includes a brief history of the group’s founding in the fall of 1798. Concerned for the welfare of the city’s indigent women during the coming winter, they organized themselves into a group, the Female Humane Association (FHA), and coordinated relief—primarily clothing and food. The FHA was one of several private organizations that strove, with church outreach and municipal offices, to “comfort the wretched,” particularly seasonal wage workers, during the often brutally frigid seaport winters. Urban workers, often day laborers, stood idle for weeks and sometimes months when the frozen harbor immobilized the water trades, milling, manufacturing, and construction work. This then was the population that attracted the concerned, and sometimes sympathetic, benevolent efforts of the upper classes.(2)

A brief account of the FHACS, 1803, cover page_ref_photo_mdhs

A Brief Account of the Female Humane Association Charity School of the City of Baltimore, 1803, Warner and Hanna, cover, MdHS.

The women of the FHA recounted that they had distributed the items themselves and saw firsthand the children “literally raised in the streets in filthiness, rags, and vice.” The plight of poverty-stricken young girls alarmed them and they resolved to open a day school that they might “snatch the child from a fate similar to that of its mother . . . (and therefore) remedy the evil.” Rudimentary education, they believed, including reading, writing, ciphering, and training in domestic skills would equip these children with “habits of industry.” After several years in school they were bound out to work for local families and at the age of sixteen, able to take care of themselves, they went out on their own. On the surface, there is nothing unusual about this little school or the activities of the women who ran it. Like organizations existed in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Charleston, and the history of women’s benevolent work is well studied.(3)

A brief account of the FHACS, 1803, p20_ref_photo_2_mdhs

A Brief Account of the Female Humane Association Charity School of the City of Baltimore, 1803, Warner and Hanna,p.20, MdHS.

The striking difference in the Female Humane Association Charity School is that Catholic women served as managers from its founding in 1799 through at least 1834. Their names appear on each report, consistently two or three of the total nine chosen to oversee the activities and business of the school. Anne Tiernan was not among the founders, but the first Catholic members were Harriet Ghequierre, wife of German-born merchant Charles Ghequierre, and Mrs. S. W. Williamson (about whom little is known). The Catholic presence is solidified in the language of the first report, articulated in an organizational imperative that does not use the words Roman Catholic yet protects denominational representation:

“The Trustees and Directors of the School are not nor ever have been selected from any society of Christians in preference to another, but an equal number impartially taken from each society that discovered a wish to favour the scheme. This conduct became essential to the prosperity of the institution, claiming as it did the whole brotherhood of Christians for their patrons and supporters.”(4)

Use of the term “the whole brotherhood of Christians” in such an inclusive fashion is unusual in reports of these organizations. Generally, groups referred to themselves as including “all denominations” or even all Christians, but actually meaning only white Protestants. Catholics could donate to the group if they wished, but were not chosen as officers.(5)

So why did this anomaly occur in the organization of a women’s benevolent group in Baltimore? The answer surfaces in 1801, the year the women turned legal control of the FHACS over to a group of male trustees. Archbishop John Carroll’s name appears on the articles of incorporation and on the 1803 trustee list as president of the board. Carroll, as head of the new nation’s first archdiocese had created and fostered a broad-reaching ecumenism and cooperation with the city’s other religious denominations, among them the “English Protestants” and the “German Protestants.” Carroll’s “Maryland” Catholics, heirs of the Calvert legacy of religious toleration, philosophically embraced those principles of religious freedom and ecumenism and moved fluidly among the Protestant upper class and the city’s few established and wealthy Jewish families. Baltimore’s “American” Catholics had more in common with their Protestant counterparts than with their coreligionists across the Atlantic and some, such as the Tiernans, Ghequierres, and Williamsons with the FHA charity school supported the archbishop’s philosophy of practicing a “warm” charity.(6)

Catholic influence in the FHACS did not reside solely at the top of the organization. Among the earliest directives was the statement that in order to “prove their entire impartiality on the score of religious distinctions,” they had included an appendix in which appeared the names of the “scholars,” their religion, to whom they had been bound, and the religion of the family for whom they worked. The women’s commitment to pan-denominational work is clear in the following resolution:

“That it be recommended to the Directors that in all cases where the children are dismissed from said school, capacitated to maintain themselves, that in all such cases where it can conveniently be done, they bind them to persons of the same religious persuasion of the children; provided it be consistent with the will of the parents or guardian of such children.”(7)

A Brief Account of the Female Humane Association Charity School of the City of Baltimore, 1803, Warner and Hanna, p.15, MdHS.

A Brief Account of the Female Humane Association Charity School of the City of Baltimore, 1803, Warner and Hanna, p.15, MdHS.

The 1803 report details enrollments from June 23, 1800, when the school opened, through November 1801. Of the total twenty-five children who had been bound out for service, the managers identified eight Catholics, three of whom had been placed in Catholic homes. Twenty-seven girls remained at school, more than one third of them Catholic.(8) The issue of worship requirements for those girls still in school was more ambiguous and in practice more of a guideline that a rule. Students were “compelled to attend public worship on the Sabbath, when practicable, at such places as the parents or guardian shall think proper,” indicating that when the children went home on Sunday that responsibility fell to the caregiver, be that person a parent or a guardian.(9)

This 1803 account of the FHACS’s activities is the only one that included specific information on the children, undoubtedly part of a fundraising strategy by which the leaders, both male and female, could demonstrate their good and worthy work and their careful stewardship of the children and resources in their care. Their demonstrated success prompted the appeal for a “proper school house.” Since their founding they had worked in a house in Tripolette Alley where Mrs. Margaret Harrod, the only paid employee of the school, cared for and educated the children.

Four years passed before the women of the FHACS published another account of their activities and this 1807 document is the first in which Anne Owen Tiernan is listed. When she became involved with the school is unknown, but from this point forward she served as a manager and later as president, in 1819 and in 1824. As of this writing, Tiernan is the only known Catholic president of the charity school. As stated earlier, Anne Owen had married Luke Tiernan in 1793 and the couple moved their family from Hagerstown in Western Maryland to Baltimore by 1795. Luke, son of an Irish immigrant and already wealthy, quickly established himself as an influential and respected citizen in the port city. He was among the first to negotiate trading agreements with Liverpool merchants, one of the original seven men elected to the Cathedral vestry, a generous donor to the building fund, contributing $1,300 in a campaign where the average donation was $500, and a Cathedral pew holder. Although the Tiernans had moved to Baltimore several years prior to the founding of the Female Humane Association, their names are not on the 1803 donor list.(10)

Luke Tiernan. Portrait from Charles B. Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland, as Illustrated by Extracts from Works in the Public Libraries, and Original Letters and Memoranda in the Possession of Charles B. Tiernan (Baltimore: Gallery & McCann, 1898).

Luke Tiernan.
Portrait from Charles B. Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland, as Illustrated by Extracts from Works in the Public Libraries, and Original Letters and Memoranda in the Possession of Charles B. Tiernan (Baltimore: Gallery & McCann, 1898).

Other known Catholics listed in the 1807 report included Harriett Ghequierre and Mrs. S. M. Williamson who had worked with the group since its founding. The FHACS that Tiernan joined operated in the new building for which the women had solicited funds in 1803. Several four-digit bequests and yearly collections in city churches had filled their coffers beyond expectation. This more spacious school, located on Calvert Street south of the court house accommodated twenty-seven children, four of whom were boarders.(11)

This development in the care of the children also indicates the beginning of the facility’s transition to an orphanage. And it was this adjustment to their mission that prompted the appeal for additional funds to support more boarders, many who went home at night to “needy, dissolute mothers.” In addition to boarding these girls, the school also accepted girls placed by the Orphan’s Court—another reason to increase the number of live-in students. Later the same year, by an act of the legislature, the trustees and managers changed the institution’s name to the Orphaline Charity School of Baltimore.(12)

Twelve years passed before they published their third formal report and the intervening times had been turbulent for Baltimore and the new nation. The War of 1812, escalating growth and rising rates of immigration tapped the resources of municipal infrastructures and private coffers. The 1819 account, written during a panic year and one in which a Yellow Fever epidemic struck Baltimore, reflected the economic downturn. The women reported that with additional support, they could place “double” the number of girls in comfortable homes. “Most persons who wish for female assistants in their families prefer receiving them from an institution where they have been properly instructed for four or five years.” The number of boarding students had risen, among them one who “is the daughter of a man who fell in defense of the city.” Including this reference was obviously designed to appeal to donors’ patriotic impulses. Unchanged, however, is the directive that those bound out should go to “persons of the same religious persuasion.”(13)        

The number of Catholic managers remained high, however, in 1819, with three identified members once again among the nine who cared for the school and its children. In that group, Anne Tiernan served as president. It is unclear when she gained the position or if she held it continuously, but a Catholic president of a predominantly Protestant women’s group is significant. Also managing the school were her sister-in-law Agnes Owen, wife of her brother Kennedy, and Elizabeth Mary Lucas, wife of prominent Catholic book seller and publisher Fielding Lucas Jr., also a Cathedral pew holder. Harriett Ghequierre’s name is not on the list, nor did she make a donation to the school. Her withdrawal from the charity school may have been connected to changes in the leadership of the archdiocese of Baltimore.(14)

Carroll died in 1815 and the archbishop’s position went to James Neale. Neale, also a Marylander and descendant of a colonial family, brought changes to the position, but his death less than two years later brought a different-type of man to the job. French-born Ambrose Maréchal became the first non-Maryland archbishop of Baltimore. There is nothing in the records of the St. Mary’s Seminary archives specifically related to the FHASC, but it is interesting to note that in February 1818, less than one year after he accepted the position, Maréchal and Reverend Enoch Fenwick (also of the Cathedral parish) met with the ladies of the congregation, including Anne Tiernan, and organized the St. Mary’s Orphaline Female School.(15)

That same year, they created “a school for the maintenance and education of poor orphaned and other destitute female children and for instructing them in the Christian religion.” The school, Maréchal said, was for poor Catholic female children but any children of other denominations “willing to submit to the rules would be received.” The archbishop’s directive for instruction in the “Christian” religion strongly suggests that he believed there should be a Catholic school for girls that included instruction in the ancient faith. The role of religious instruction within the walls of the FHACS is not enumerated in any of the reports. The managers created a Christian environment and situated their responsibilities within a framework of civic republicanism from which they would train their girls as independent and useful citizens of the new nation and where they (unlike their parent/s) would not be “a charge on society.”(16)

The organizational structure of the St Mary’s Orphaline Female School (St. Mary’s) mirrored that of the charity school, nine male trustees and nine lady managers, but they implemented a different curriculum than the charity school, one that emphasized morality, religious instruction, and needlework skills. The children received “common education, including sewing, marking, knitting, prayers, catechism, and would be impressed with a very great regard for the truth, modesty in behavior and dress, and a profound respect for religion.” The woman leading the St. Mary’s school and overseeing its work was none other than Anne Owen Tiernan, who served as president during the same years she held the office for the charity school.(17)

As a wealthy member of the Cathedral congregation, wife of a vestryman, and one for whom Carroll had performed her children’s marriage ceremonies, Tiernan most certainly had audience with and influence on Maréchal and the mission and structure of the Catholic school. The fact that she continued to serve the charity school indicates her commitment to its mission and reflects, in this one woman’s work, the epitome of the Carroll legacy.

By the mid-1820s, the trustees and managers of the overcrowded charity school had built a larger facility, this one on Mulberry near Cathedral Street. Their staff had expanded to include the matron and a teacher and two of the twenty-three children in residence, “bound to us for household purposes.” On matters of religious policy, they continued to select girls “of every sect.”(18) Another nine years passed before the mangers of the charity school published another appeal for funds, this one for an addition to the building. The institution no longer bore the name of the Orphaline School but now operated as the Baltimore Female Orphan Asylum, its primary mission housing and educating girls without homes. Anne Tiernan still served as a manager but was no longer president and Elizabeth Mary Lucas remained as well.  A small note in the history of the St. Mary’s Female Asylum states that in January 1837 all of the Catholic children at the “General Asylum on Mulberry Street” were removed to Catholic Orphanage.(19) Anne Owen Tiernan died in 1841, in her sixty-sixth year and it is unclear as to whether she stayed with the Baltimore Orphan Asylum after the Catholic children were transferred to St. Mary’s.

These changes in the religious compositions of children at the Baltimore female orphanages and in other cities such as Boston reflected the larger issues of the 1830s. Nativist tensions simmered and burst into violence as increasing numbers of immigrants entered the country. Many settled in the port cities along the east coast in search of work on the railroads, canals, and transportation routes and their presence brought an increasing distrust of Catholics whose first allegiance appeared to be to Rome. These “new” Catholics bore no resemblance to those of the older generation and that remarkable Carroll “moment” in Baltimore’s history, when Catholic and Protestant women worked together for the benefit of the city’s impoverished girls had passed. (Patricia Dockman Anderson)

Dr. Patricia Dockman Anderson specializes in U.S and Maryland History, Nineteenth Century; Social and Cultural History; Catholic History; and Civil War Civilians. She has served as a member of the History Advisory Council for the Women’s Industrial Exchange, the Baltimore History Writers Group, and the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Dr. Anderson is the Director of Publications and Library Services for the Maryland Historical Society, editor of the Maryland Historical Magazine, and a professor at Towson University.


(1) Portrait in Charles B. Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland, as Illustrated by Extracts from Works in the Public Libraries, and Original Letters and Memoranda in the Possession of Charles B. Tiernan (Baltimore: Gallery & McCann, 1898), 31; biographical information in Dielman/Hayward files, Maryland Historical Society library, hereinafter cited D/H files; A Brief Statement of the Proceedings and Present Condition of the Female Humane Association Charity School, April 21, 1807 (Baltimore: Dobbin and Murphy, 1807), hereinafter cited Statement of the FHACS, 1807; Report of the Baltimore Female Orphan Asylum for the Year 1833–1834 (Baltimore: John D. Toy, Printer, 1834), hereinafter cited Report of the BFOA, 1834.

(2) A Brief Account of the Female Humane Association Charity School of the City of Baltimore (Baltimore: Printed by Warner & Hanna, 1803), 3–4, hereinafter cited Account of the FHACS, 1803; Seth Rockman, “Work, Wages, and Welfare at Baltimore’s School of Industry,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 103 (2008): 572–607 and Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

(3) Account of the FHACS, 1803, 3–4; Anne M. Boylan, Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); E. Susan Barber, “‘Anxious Care and Constant Struggle’: The Female Humane Association and Richmond’s White Civil War Orphans,” in Elna C. Green, ed., Before the New Deal: Social Welfare in the South, 1830–1930 (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1999), 123; for the Boston Female Asylum, see Susan L. Porter, “Victorian Values in the Marketplace: Single Women and Work in Boston, 1800–1850,” in Porter, Women of the Commonwealth: Work, Family, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), 17–42; for the Charleston Orphan House, see Timothy James Lockley, Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007), 6, 48.

(4) Biographical information on Harriett Ghequierre, D/H files; Thomas W. Spalding, The Premier See: A History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1789–1989 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 29; Account of the FHACS, 1803, 8, 20.

(5) Boylan, Origins of Women’s Activism, Table A-I; email conversation with Anne M. Boylan, March 29, 2009; Barber, “ The Female Humane Association and Richmond’s White Civil War Orphans,” 123.

(6) The Maryland General Assembly incorporated the school at its January 1801 session, creating an organization with, per the 1803 report, a “more respectable and substantial form,” see “An Act Incorporating A Society for the Maintenance and Education of Poor Female Children, by the name of the Female Humane Association Charity School,” Account of the FHACS, 1803, 9–13; Male trustees of women’s groups was typical in the Southern states, see Boylan, Origins of Women’s Activism, 193; Bilhartz, Terry D. Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening: Church and Society in Early National Baltimore (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986); Spalding, The Premier See, “Introduction,” 18–19, 22. Other members of the first board of trustees included Reverend J. Daniel Kurtz of the Zion Lutheran Church, Reverend Phillip William Otterbien (United Brethren), Reverend George Roberts (Methodist), Emanuel Kent, Eutaw Street (Methodist) Church, and merchants James H. McCulloch, Jesse Hollingsworth, William Wilson, and Charles Ridgley of Hampton, all Protestants.

(7)  Account of the FHACS, 1803, 19.

(8) Account of the FHACS, 1803, 5, 13–15. Seth Rockman was unable to track any of these girls in the public records, email conversation, July 31, 2008.

(9)  Account of the FHACS, 1803, 18.

(10)  For biographical information on the Tiernan family see D/H files; Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland; Spalding, The Premier See, 29; Michael Joseph Riordan, Cathedral Records from the Beginning of Catholicity in Baltimore to the Present Time (Baltimore: The Catholic Mirror Publishing Company, 1906), 51; A Report of the Orphaline Charity School of Baltimore, 1819. n.p., 8, hereinafter cited Report of the OCS, 1819; Report of the Female Orphaline Charity School for 1824–1825 (Baltimore: B. Edes, 1825), frontispiece, hereinafter cited Report of the FOCS, 1825; Account of the FHACS, 1803, 20–23.

(11) Statement of the FHACS, 1807, 6–7.

(12)  Statement of the FHACS, 1807, 6; Session Laws, 1807, Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds., Archives of Maryland (Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 1990–), 596: 89–90, Hereinafter cited ArchMdOnline

(13)  Report of the OCS, 1819, 7.

(14) Report of the OCS, 1819, 8–12.

(15) Spalding, The Premier See, 66, 78.

(16) Sister Mary Joan Gerrity, O.S.F. “The Growth and Development of Catholic Secondary Education for Girls in Baltimore and Vicinity from Colonial Times to the Present” (Master of Arts dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1942), 26; Samuel C. Appleby, A Hundred Years of the St. Mary’s Female Orphan Asylum of Baltimore, being a historical sketch, 1818–1918 (Baltimore: Fleet-McGinley Co., 1918), 9–10; Lockley, Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South, 63; Bilhartz, Urban Religion, 58–59.

(17) Gerrity, “The Growth and Development of Catholic Secondary Education for Girls in Baltimore,” 26; Appleby, A Hundred Years of the St. Mary’s Female Orphan Asylum of Baltimore, 9–10.

(18) Report of the FOCS, 1825, 6.

(19) Report of the BFOA, 1834, 10–11; The BFA, although they did not have Catholic managers, had admitted both Catholic and Protestant girls since its founding in 1800, Porter, “Victorian Values,” 35, n.3; Appleby, A Hundred Years, 23.


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