Saturday, October 22, 2016

When Lincoln Heights was a haven and hiding place for pregnant girls

The former Florence Crittenton Home on Avenue 33 | Nathan Solis

The former Florence Crittenton Home on Avenue 33 | 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.

The former Booth Home For Unwed Mothers is now a charter school

The former Booth Home For Unwed Mothers is now a charter school

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.

The cornerstone of the Booth Home

The cornerstone of the Booth Home

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.

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  1. Great story! You really uncovered some fascinating history here and, and some moving stories of people coming to terms with it. I loved reading it.

  2. Have been spending some time in L.H. when taking a break from working on friend’s garden there, and have photo’d a lot of the older bldgs., homes and businesses, schools and churches. Am very glad to see this wonderful piece on the Eastsider, many thanks.

    As a child of the Sixties who well remembers how shameful a teenage pregnancy was in that era, this also breaks my heart.

  3. An amazing story. Thanks for this piece of history I knew nothing about. Some people pine away for the “good old days”, but this story reminds us all that those days weren’t always so good and how far women have come.

    • Yup, teen pregnancy seems to have spiked in the 50’s-60’s so it was lack of birth control, education, a stigma, and dirty old men of yore who could get away with it because “those were the times”.

    • I live there in 1975-76 it was a great place. I was unaware of the history. if anyone reading this was there in 75-76, plz reply. I remember Gail , Harriet
      My name is Edna/ same call me neise

  4. Thank you and the women whom participated for writing this article. One of the many things it brought to my mind was to wonder how pregnant, unwed girls and young ladies who did not make it to facilities like these coped with their dilemma(s), alone most likely.
    Being an incest, and molested as a young man, survivor, I really appreciate that I saw this.
    Thanks again.

    • Growing up in the midwest, I never heard of a home for unwed mothers. If a girl got pregnant, it was expected that the guy would marry her. You heard of the occasional girl who “had” to get married. It carried a huge stigma (for the girl only, not the guy) and she wouldn’t dare wear white if she was showing.

  5. Great reporting.

    Is this the reason there’s a Florence Nightingale statue in Lincoln Heights? I’ve always wondered about that.

  6. Wonderful information… is there a book out there with more history and stories, very interesting

    • Two of the women are writing about their experience, including Sarah Dianne Hoover and Arlene Doeden.

      Patti Sullivan’s book of poetry, At the Booth Memorial Home For Unwed Mothers 1966, will be published by Evening Street Press.

      • Patti Sullivan

        I didn’t realize so many comments had been made regarding Nathan’s article. After he interviewed me, I read the article of course, but then got really busy and hadn’t been back to
        read the comments. I appreciate all the thoughtfulness of these comments,, it seams that this article was badly needed by so many people. When my book is out and I start doing readings from it, I’ll be sure to mention Nathan’s article and all the wonderful comments I’ve just read here. Please, see the wonderful book by Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away. She interviewed hundreds of women who had to surrender their children and also people who were adopted. It is a very important piece of history that she explores in depth. Thank you Nathan for your article and including my story.

  7. Thank you so much for writing a wonderful article depicting the importance of these two maternity homes in Lincoln Heights. Your words and journalistic style painted a beautiful picture of that historic moment in time. Dianne Hoover is my birth mother. I am the daughter she chose to give life to at the Florence Crittenton Home so very long ago. Through God’s grace we have shared a loving mother daughter relationship for 23 yrs. Much Aloha and Mahalo, Donna Sorensen

    • Donna it was a real pleasure to listen to Dianne’s story. It means a lot to know that you read the article.

      • You have been a great blessing to my mom. I have eagerly awaited the publication of this article. You have written a beautiful piece. It captures that era, that neighborhood, and lives touched by the loving spirit of the homes. Thank you Nathan…a great job well done. Much Aloha

      • I lived in Florence crititon in 1986-89 I wasn’t pregnant girls on the second floor had babies and we were on the third floor we didn’t have kids although it was some pregnant girls on the third floor but when they had their babies it was off to the second floor also for the girls that was pregnant we got to be there lamoze coach and be there when they delivered they babies my favorite staff member was a woman name char Jones and Nate Thomas they made my stay there awesome although marylane (forgot her last name ) pissed me off all the time also our school teachers penny and Diana was the nicest weird but nice I’m glad to read this article brings back memories I can go on and on

        • Spring time, summer time, winter time, fall, girls at crittenton through it all. Good time, cutie pies, survivors too, girls at Crittenton through and through. I missed you Deb. I have always wondered how you were. Im glad you are well.

  8. I grew up right down the street from Crittenton and remember those girls well. They mostly kept to themselves and never caused trouble. We would see them when they’d walk to the little market on Griffin Ave with their baby bellies just about bursting. It most have been torture to have to give those babies up. Once, a girl came out chasing a car, screaming and crying as far as she could before they came and took her back. I don’t know if someone was taking her baby or if she was being left off by her family, but it must have been devastating for her either way. Culturally speaking, I guess it wasn’t as big a deal being young, unwed and pregnant around the neighborhood (unfortunately, a lot of my cousins and high school friends got pregnant in the 70’s and though not forced to give up their babies, were coerced into marriages), but it was probably unacceptable among these girls’ families. Crittenton soon transitioned from being a home exclusively for “unwed mothers” to what we called home for “troubled girls”. There was a lot more drama then, but still the home had them pretty well managed and the girls seemed content. It’s now a charter school I think. Glad to see that beautiful building still standing and in use.

    Someone asked the question of why so many homes for unwed mothers existed here (Good Will, St Vincent DePaul too). I think it might have had to do with a very strong sense of charity and moral duty that a lot of the earlier inhabitants, and particularly the women, harbored then, These were very religious and church going people who were proactive in volunteering and raising funds for hospitals, orphanages, etc.. It is generally agreed that Lincoln Heights is the oldest suburb in L.A., so it wold make sense that a lot of these charitable organizations would be established here. When we first moved into our old house in LH we found a stash of old bibles, prayer and hymn books in the attic which were scrawled with beautifully written notes in the margins expressing faith and goodwill. Seems quaint now, but again, those were virtuous times.

  9. Excellent poignant history write-up. Thank you Eastsider LA and Nathan Solis!

  10. Have to say, one of the best pieces — and thread of responses — ever for Eastsider. Believe we are all touched in our hearts. The changes in American society from, say, 1965 — 1975, were huge and wrenching, and life as we know it would never be the same.

    I wish peace to those girls, and the children too.

  11. There was also St. Anne’s on Griffin which I attended back in 1978. Of course, times were different. Great story. Thank you Mr. Solis!

  12. Very good read, I lived \ nearby for 2 decades I had no idea the history with these places.
    Very good

  13. Juli Abraham (formerly Daulton)

    I was a resident of Crittenton Center on Avenue 33 from 1989-1993. I had my son there. Thank you for sharing this history. I was one of those girls with my big pregnant belly walking to the La Fortuna market on Griffin Ave. I knew that the group home had been used in the past for young women to come have there baby in hiding, out of shame and embarrassing their families, but to actually hear a story from one of those girls is very profound for me. So happy you reconnected with your daughter.. and bonus she lives in Hawaii!!

  14. Juli Abraham (formerly Daulton)

    I forgot to mention. My son and I went back to visit in 2002 and there on the wall of the reception office, was our picture!! Don’t know if it’s there now, but it was very cool to see that. Made me feel like it was still our home.


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