“We only aspire to save” – The Nursery and Child’s Hospital of Baltimore

The Protestant Infant Asylum of Baltimore City was founded in 1875 to provide refuge for orphaned and abandoned babies. It was one of several similar privately funded charitable institutions which helped give shelter, medical attention, and eventually permanent homes to the city’s less fortunate children. These agencies were often set up by concerned citizens, primarily wealthy and middle class women, along religious or ethnic lines. For example, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and German Orphan Home had been established in previous years to care for children in their particular communities. A group of like-minded women, led by Mrs. William H. Brune, became concerned by the lack of Protestant orphanages and thus started the Protestant Infant Asylum.

The Maryland Lying-In Asylum or Maternite Hospital affiliated with College of Physicians and Surgeons. From "The Monumental City, Its Past History and Present Resources" by George W. Howard. (REFERENCE PHOTO)

The Maryland Lying-In Asylum or Maternite Hospital affiliated with College of Physicians and Surgeons. From “The Monumental City, Its Past History and Present Resources” by George W. Howard. (REFERENCE PHOTO)

The asylum operated exclusively on charitable donations and volunteer support and was given two rooms at the Maternité Hospital at 163 West Lombard Street in Baltimore to host its wards. Doctors and nurses from the associated College of Physicians and Surgeons attended to the medical needs of the children. Women involved with the organization handled the day to day operations of the asylum. They would provide care for the children during the day. They also started sewing circles to make clothing and other essential items for the babies and assisted with fundraising and supply collection.

The institution took in sixty-six infants in its first year. Some of these babies were orphans, but others were placed for temporary care by their parents who could not afford to keep them. The parents paid a nominal board for the child and could take back the child when their financial circumstances improved. The asylum and other institutions which provided the same services were often met with criticism that providing care for these children would encourage people to have children they could not afford or promote “loose morals” among single women. The officers and board of directors deflected this criticism. The members felt that children should not be punished for the circumstances of their birth and should be assisted regardless. The first annual report states this position: “Many of these children are the offspring of honest parents, struggling in the iron grip of poverty, no means to care for them, no home comforts, and by leaving them, in our Asylum, they try to get work…thus enabled to get along moderately well, knowing their infants are in good hands.” The report also does not condemn those women who had children out of wedlock stating, “On the other hand if the children are the fruit of sin we do not encourage it, nor do we hinder it, both are beyond our power, — always will be and we only aspire to save and succor the innocent little ones.”(1)

The former Schroder Mansion with additional wings that housed the orphanage and hospital services. Nursery & Child's Hospital, not dated, Nursery and Child's Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.003, MdHS.

The former Schroeder Mansion with additional wings that housed the orphanage and hospital services.
Nursery & Child’s Hospital, not dated, Nursery and Child’s Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.003, MdHS.

Eleven children were placed with adoptive families in the first year. Several others were returned to their mothers as their financial position had improved. Despite these successes, the early years were plagued by very high mortality rates because of illness and malnutrition. The infants often came into the Asylum’s care as hopeless cases, woefully underfed and sick. Wet nurses were employed to feed the youngest babies, but this did not always save them, and the institution often struggled to assist. Physicians’ reports from these first years lament the struggle to keep these infants alive because of the lack of a sufficient replacement for mother’s milk. This problem was unfortunately not exclusive to the orphanage. The Board was forced to purchase a lot in Loudon Park Cemetery for the wards who were lost. Babies beyond breast-feeding age and toddlers fared much better, and the physicians’ reports often proudly celebrated “epidemic” free years.

The Protestant Infant Asylum moved to a house at Gilmor and Presstman Streets to accommodate the large number of wards in the following year. The asylum quickly outgrew this space, and moved in 1879 to the former Schroeder mansion at 400-410 North Schroeder Street, which had previously housed the Union Orphan Asylum. Hospital services were added and the move also prompted a name change to the Nursery and Child’s Hospital.

The founders of the asylum had always aspired to provide more advanced health care to impoverished children up to 18 years of age. Lack of space and funds had prevented this, but the new property was much larger and donors endowed new wings and beds for patients. The hospital provided medical services to needy children for free. A majority of the cases required long term care for chronic illness or physical ailments. The doctors and nurses often treated cases of “lameness,” which were the result of injury or illness. Private rooms were also available to those who could afford to pay for treatment, fees from which helped sustain the charitable work. In 1893, a free dispensary was opened to better serve the community but was forced to close three years later due to a lack of funds. By 1898, the maximum admission age to the hospital had dropped to 15.

Nurses and children outside of the Schroeder Street facility. Children at Nursery and Child's Hospital, ca. 1880-1890, Nursery and Child's Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.005, MdHS.

Nurses and children outside of the Schroeder Street facility.
Children at Nursery and Child’s Hospital, ca. 1880-1890, Nursery and Child’s Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.005, MdHS.

As the organization expanded its medical services, the Nursery faced challenges accommodating demands to take in more children. Even in the larger building at Schroeder Street, the asylum was forced to turn away four out of five applicants to the nursery. To alleviate some of the financial burden, the Maryland State Legislature voted $10,000 to support the agency in 1882. This began an era of state and city government funding. The city also began to pay a small daily fee to cover the expenses of children placed at the Nursery. Despite this support, the institution was still heavily dependent upon private donations of money and supplies. Board members were constantly challenged to raise more and more cash to cover basic operating expenses and pay for necessary upgrades and repairs to the building. The early 1900s were a particular time of financial struggle for the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. The great fire of 1904 in Baltimore and World War I diverted donations from the hospital. The war also made finding foster families much more difficult. Hard economic times forced members to reevaluate the process for admitting new wards and they capped enrollment at 90 children. The Nursery also moved away from taking children younger than six months old. It was also suggested that the institution exclusively take African-American children as no such agency existed in the city, but the staff and board decided it was best to continue as the Nursery as an orphanage without race restrictions.

The board and staff of the institution tried to prevent the lack of funds from affecting the children in their care. For many of the wards, the Nursery had more luxury than they had ever known. Generally, the children came to the institution through city and county government agencies and other private charities. However, there are a few accounts of children being abandoned on the steps of the building. A baby boy, later named Billy Barton, was anonymously dropped off in a florist’s box with air holes punched in it in 1928. In 1895, a baby boy of supposed Japanese heritage caused quite a sensation. Women and children from all over the city came to visit Frank, as he was known. He had apparently been left at the Nursery soon after his birth at the Baltimore University Hospital by his mother, a travelling performer. The staff tried to give each child a normal upbringing that did not feel overwhelmingly institutional. Play was encouraged, and the children were often taken on field trips and treated to ice cream and candy. A quick adoption or return home was always the main goal.

By 1932, the Schroeder street buildings had become too antiquated and costly to maintain. The institution temporarily moved to 420-422 North Fulton Street while the board searched for appropriate property to purchase to build a new facility. The board had always wanted to have a custom built space, and the following year, property on Woodbourne Avenue was purchased to build a tailor made building. The move to Fulton Street also signaled the end of an era for the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. The organization ended its hospital work. Also by this time, the foster care system had overtaken traditional orphanages, and the Nursery and Child’s Hospital struggled to remain relevant in this climate.

An artistic rendering of the new facility on Woodbourne Avenue in Baltimore's Govans neighborhood. 721 Woodbourne Avenue, not dated, Nursery and Child's Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.019, MdHS.

An artistic rendering of the new facility on Woodbourne Avenue in Baltimore’s Govans neighborhood.
721 Woodbourne Avenue, not dated, Nursery and Child’s Hospital Photograph Collection, PP308.019, MdHS.

The new building at 721 Woodbourne Avenue opened in 1938, and the institution once again changed its name and took on a new identity. The Nursery and Child Study Home of Maryland, Inc. became a group home which cared for children who struggled to find a place elsewhere. The new admittees ranged in age from four to fourteen. These children faced different challenges then the population the Nursery had previously served. Those admitted had “emotional disturbances manifest themselves, on the one hand, in aggressive acting out behavior, or, on the other, withdrawal into a hard-to-reach fantasy world,” which required close supervision and psychiatric care.(2) This included chronic truants, those who had difficulties adjusting to foster care, some juvenile court cases, and children whose behavior led their parents to seek outside help.

The home employed an on-site psychiatrist, an on-call medical doctor, nurses, and housemothers and fathers to care for the children. The patients would stay for a few months receiving treatment to address whatever ailed them. The doctors and social workers also worked with their patients’ parents to continue progress made while at the home. They also sought to create a safe space for the children that felt more like home than a psychiatric hospital. These children were not treated as prisoners but given freedom to play, visit with family, and some even continued to attend their own school, or in other words, live as normally as possible. They were not subject to harsh punishment but gentle encouragement to behave appropriately. This change in mission also necessitated another name change in 1943 to the Child Study Center of Maryland, a title which reflected its new services. The center’s goal was to rehabilitate the children in its care, so they could return to society. The study center continued in this vein for many years and evolved its practices and policies as the field of child psychiatry changed and grew. In 1964, the center became affiliated with the Children’s Psychiatric Services of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Woodbourne property was sold in 1972 to the Baltimore City Department of Juvenile Services. The facility became the Maryland Youth Residence Center, a residence for boys ages 14 to 18 committed by the court. It operated in similar capacities until 2008 when the building became office space. (Lara Westwood)

The Nursery and Child’s Hospital Manuscript and Photograph Collections were donated in 2015 by the Woodbourne Center. The collections contain materials, such as annual reports, meeting minutes, and documents, which document the history of the organization and its social work.


Sources and Further Reading:

(1) Protestant Infant Asylum. The First Annual Report of the Protestant Infant Asylum of Baltimore City. Baltimore: Hanzsche &, 1876, 4.

(2)The Child Study Center of Maryland, Inc. report, no date (ca. 1943), Nursery and Child’s Hospital Manuscript Collection, MS 3180, Box 1, Folder 5, MdHS.

“A Five-year Plan for the Orphan.” Baltimore Sun, November 21, 1937.

“Baby Left on Nursery Steps in Box Is Named Billy Barton.” Baltimore Sun, April 2, 1928.

“Baby Jap Christened.” Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1895.

“Home to Be Built for Treatment of Problem Children.” Baltimore Sun, July 13, 1937.

Nursery and Child’s Hospital Manuscript Collection, MS 3180, Maryland Historical Society.

“Nursery and Child’s Hospital Moves into New Quarters.” Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1938.

DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE SERVICES.” Juvenile Services, Maryland Department of.

Zmora, Nurith. Orphanages Reconsidered: Child Care Institutions in Progressive Era Baltimore. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.


5 Responses to ““We only aspire to save” – The Nursery and Child’s Hospital of Baltimore”

  1. Planning a nursery for your small one is something that moms, dads and family members take very seriously. Mothers and fathers are prepared to place it all on the collection when it comes to their babies.
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    Posted by nazmulh100 | 14. May, 2016, 8:56 am
  2. Hallo
    I’m trying to find out the names of the institutions mentioned by George Walker in his report: ‘The traffic in babies; an analysis of the conditions discovered during an investigation conducted in the year 1914′
    I hope you can help me.

    Posted by Mary Flannery | 12. Mar, 2017, 5:33 am
    • Thanks for reading! The library staff was unable to identify the institutions mentioned in the report, unfortunately. The Baltimore Sun did run several articles on the report which may prove illuminating.

      Posted by mdhslibrarydept | 31. Mar, 2017, 3:10 pm
  3. Where are the records for this hospital stored? I’m looking specifically for records from 1896 – 1903. If you can answer this, would you please write to [email protected] — and put in the subject line: 1900 Balto Orphanage Records — I would appreciate any help I can get. Thanks.

    Posted by Dee Mayfield | 05. Apr, 2017, 11:49 pm
  4. Hello, Can you give information on the Child Study Center of Maryland, Woodbourne Avenue? Is it still in operation? Etc. Thanks, Stan Kolker

    Posted by Stan Kolker | 25. Jan, 2018, 11:41 am

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