In Behalf of the Neediest: A History of the Salvation Army's Booth Memorial Hospital, St. Paul.

Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum
Project Leader: 
Kim Heikilla, Ph.D.
Project Duration: 
Jan 28 2014 to Dec 28 2014
Project Description: 

This project sought to locate, examine, synthesize, and summarize primary source material from local and national archives to establish a history of the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital that operated from 1913 to 1971 at 1471 Como Avenue, St. Paul. While considerable work had already been done using sources available at the Minnesota Historical Society, the grant allowed continuation of this work, an exploration of related sources at the University of Minnesota and, most crucially, a visit to the Salvation Army National Archives in Alexandria, VA.

Background: In 1898, the Salvation Army opened a rescue home for "fallen" girls and women, addicts, prostitutes, and other sexual transgressors -- in downtown St. Paul, one of many such operations it commanded across the country as part of its ministrations to the downtrodden. In 1913, with the assistance of prominent Minnesotans such as state architect Clarence H. Johnston and businessmen/philanthropists Joseph and William Elsinger, the Salvation Army relocated the home to Como Avenue, where it operated under various names until it became known as Booth Memorial Hospital in 1938. By this time, it had narrowed its focus to providing residential care and delivery services for unwed mothers and their infants, doing so with the assistance of medical students and doctors from the University of Minnesota. In its early years, the Salvation Army relied on a religious approach to its female charges, insisting that unwed mothers were victims of circumstance best redeemed by becoming capable custodial parents under the tutelage of benevolent Army women. After World War II, psychological analysis supplanted spiritual philanthropy and sociological theory in explaining the problem of illegitimacy, and the presumptive practice was to separate (white) mothers and children, ostensibly for the good of both. After the sexual revolution, women's movement, and cultural upheaval of the 1960s, the tide of professional and public opinion had turned away from the notion that single mothers' obstetrical and social needs demanded specialized, secluded care; they could deliver their babies in general hospitals and receive whatever services they required upon release. Booth ceased function as a maternity hospital in 1971 and the Salvation Army converted the facility into the Booth Brown House, whose new mission was to provide services for at-risk and delinquent juveniles.

Research questions: Much of this history of Booth St. Paul comes from preliminary research in the records of state, county, and local agencies that were in some way affiliated with Booth and from scholarly sources on the history of the Salvation Army, unwed motherhood, maternity homes, and adoption. A reading of these sources has prompted a series of questions that guided this project. The main question this project asked is about the relationship between national trends and local practices. How did Booth St. Paul reflect or rework the intense public debate about and policies toward unwed mothers and illegitimate children described by scholars such as Regina Kunzel (Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945), Rickie Solinger (Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade), and Ann Fessler (The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade)?

While these scholars' work is national in scope, this project sought to understand how these issues played out in a specific institution in a particular community, akin to what Marian Morton did in her case study of unwed motherhood in Cleveland (And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland, 1855-1990). Can we, for example, see evidence of the shift away from religious understandings of out-of-wedlock pregnancy toward psychological explanations in the Salvation Army's operation of Booth St. Paul? How did Booth staff confront the challenge posed by the rising class of professional social workers in the interwar years? How did local and state culture impact the implementation of national Salvation Army policy at Booth St. Paul?

A longtime leader in social and child welfare programming, the state of Minnesota surely cast its own unique glow on the national maternity home movement. Besides these broad questions, this project also posed queries more specific to Booth St. Paul: How did pregnant girls and women from across Minnesota find their way to Booth? What was the admission process? How did this process change from 1913 to 1971? What happened at Booth on a typical day? What programs and services did Booth provide its residents? What did Booth staff see as their primary goal for these young women? What kinds of relationships did staff members maintain with residents? How did the practices of Booth St. Paul align with national Salvation Army policy guiding its network of Booth Memorial Hospitals? Did practice match theory? What was the relationship between Booth St. Paul and its surrounding Como neighborhood; other local, county, and state agencies and organizations; and the University of Minnesota? What was the relationship between Booth and other maternity homes for unwed mothers? What distinguished it for special attention and critique by the late 1960s?

Goals: This project had four major goals: 1) to identify and gather new primary source material from local, regional, and national archives about Booth's operations and relationships (see Work Plan for details); 2) to compile thorough notes from each source, photocopying and/or scanning relevant materials when appropriate; 3) to study newfound material as well as primary sources already collected (but not examined) from the Minnesota Historical Society, University of Minnesota, and other collections in order to acquire a thorough understanding of Booth's history; 4) to synthesize the results of previous and new research in a written summary and annotated bibliography, with recommendations for public dissemination and further research.

Future projects may include oral history interviews with former Booth residents and staff as well as publication of a scholarly article about Booth St. Paul. 5) to be a pilot for a series of similar, "place-centric" historical studies.