By NATHAN SOLIS
LINCOLN HEIGHTS — In a different era, maternity homes served two purposes: to nurture unmarried, pregnant girls and to hide them. That was the case with the Booth Maternity Group Home for Unwed Mothers and the Florence Crittenton Home, which operated for decades only a few blocks apart when Lincoln Heights was a refuge for frightened girls and their children.
In June 2012 The Eastsider posted a story on the history of the Salvation Army’s Booth home, which operated for about 70 years on Griffin Avenue until it closed in the early 1990s. The Booth home, now a charter school, functioned independently from the Florence Crittenton Home, which closed about a decade ago after housing young women at its Avenue 33 facility for about 90 years.
The Eastsider’s story began to attract comments from the mothers and children of the Booth and Florence Crittenton homes as they searched for answers and family:
“Yes, I lived in that mausoleum in 1970 and my daughter was born at White. I was forced to surrender my child because I was so young. Please email me.
“I was in this home when I was 17 back in 1975, the neighborhood was so pretty and yes, we did take our babies and go for walks. We had curfew and had to be in the building by 7:00 if I remember correctly. Also, I was not a “fallen women” just a messed up kid from a messed up home …”
“I was born at the Booth Memorial Home in 1956…My mother was not wayward…she made a mistake and got pregnant…are there any other adults out there born same place, same year?”
Over the years Lincoln Heights developed a reputation for its maternity homes. No one at the Salvation Army knows exactly why this particular neighborhood was chosen. The Booth Homes were established by the Salvation Army in the 1880s in London as a shelter for unwed, pregnant girls. The Lincoln Heights location, a Mediterranean-style property, was donated by a wealthy benefactor and operated until 1993. A booklet from the 1950s details the Booth Home as a place for “Spiritual and Medical aid” for women. In the 1960s the number of beds in Lincoln Heights was well over 120.
A spokesperson for the Florence Crittenton organization mentions that Lincoln Heights’ relative seclusion might have made it seem like a location where pregnant girls would feel safe. When the Florence Crittenton home opened its doors in 1915 on Avenue 33, Lincoln Heights would have been considered a quiet, secluded corner of northeast Los Angeles. The Florence Crittenton Home shared similar philosophies with the Booth Home, but there were no spiritual components, and a number of staff were volunteers.
With the 2012 story on Booth still attracting comments more than three years after it was published, The Eastsider recently contacted some of the women for more details about their experiences and lives since they left the maternity homes and Lincoln Heights behind. The women contacted for this story did not know each other, but their experiences are similar in many ways. The mothers were young, frightened. None of the mothers were from Lincoln Heights, which made it easier to keep their pregnancies a secret.Patti Sullivan celebrated her 17th birthday at Booth Maternity Home in 1966. Her father did not visit her during her three-month stay. “It’s hard for some to understand how it was back then, but it was the most shameful thing a girl could do to her family and herself.”
Lincoln Heights might as well have been another state for Sullivan, who grew up near San Gabriel. Sullivan gave birth to her daughter, and, as she puts it, was encouraged to give her up for adoption. Her family never spoke about the pregnancy afterwards. Years later Sullivan reconnected with her adult daughter, though she feels that it’s a difficult relationship to maintain.
“I suppressed all the details of that time in so many ways,” says Sullivan, who has a book of poetry based on the experience titled At The Booth Memorial Home For Unwed Mothers 1966.
Arlene Doeden was taught as a child that if you make a mess you clean it up yourself. The pregnant 19-year-old registered herself at Booth. Doeden remembers when a choir was brought in to sing to the pregnant girls.
“It angered me, I don’t know why, but it just did,” says Doeden, who tried to stay in her room all the time while she was at Booth in 1970.
Years after Doeden left Booth, she was put in touch with her adult son by the Salvation Army. Fran Cole was told by her adoptive parents that her birth mother stayed at Booth and came from a religious family. Cole filed a request with the Department of Children’s Services that provided non identifying information. With the help of some online resources, she was able to find an address in Missouri for her birth mother. She sent a letter, but never received a reply.
Then in 2012 Cole contracted breast cancer. At the time Cole knew nothing about her family medical history, so in 2013 she made her way to that address in Missouri.
“It did not go well,” says Cole.
Her birth mother was caught off guard, standing in the front of the yard of a home. She refused to acknowledge that Cole was her daughter. Other people in the house, most likely Cole’s half siblings, were also present.
Cole, who is now in remission, left her information with the family in case her birth mother had a change of heart. Her mother, who died in 2014, never responded. In 1942, at the age of 15, a pregnant Sarah Dianne Hoover arrived at Florence Crittenton with just one dress and one pair of shoes. Pregnant after being raped by a family friend, Hoover was not only scared but also unaware of her surroundings. Hoover, now 90, recalls her mother being emotionally distant when she brought to Florence Crittenton.
Hoover gave birth to a girl. The birth certificate mentioned that the father left the state and was unable to marry Hoover. Police charges were later filed against the man who raped her. With assistance from a counselor, Hoover was taken to an adoption agency where she would see her daughter one last time.
“I named her Leilani, because I had always loved the idea of Hawaii,” says Hoover.
Hoover was reunited with her daughter 51 years later. The girl she named “Leilani” was now Donna, and, in a strange twist, she lived in Hawaii.
After they were reunited, Hoover and her daughter revisited Florence Crittenton, set at the base of a steep hillside. Hoover described the 1994 visit as a walk-through to reclaim memories.
“It was a wonderful place, I felt safe,” said Hoover, who is writing her life story. “Maybe it was because my own mother left me there so abruptly, but that place really did me good.”
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.