"I had the Best Childhood": Growing up in Ohio Orphanages in the 20th Century

In the course of the twentieth century hundreds of thousands of American children spent part of their childhood in orphanages or children’s homes across the country. Modern understandings of life in such institutions are typically negative, associating orphanage life with the hardships encountered by fictional characters such as Oliver Twist and Orphan Annie. Surely, growing up outside the family was associated with trauma for many children, but the reality of orphanage life was often more complex. Based on 200 oral history interviews, this talk explores the experiences of more than 200 individuals who grew up in Ohio orphanages between 1920 and 1995. How do these former orphanage children recall their childhood? What is it like to come of age in an institution? Surprisingly, many of these individuals had very fond memories of their early lives, sometimes claiming that their childhoods had been close to ideal. Why did they think so? And what can we learn from their experiences that might influence present-day child welfare policies?

Presented by Assoc. Professor Birgitte Søland, Dept. of History, The Ohio State University.

This was a Clio Society sponsored lecture. We are friends of the History Department at The Ohio State University. Some of us are current and former students of the university; some of us earned degrees in history; others are current and former faculty members of the department; some of us have an interest in the History Department and its continued growth in excellence; and all of us love to read and talk about history. We range in ages from 18 to 88 and from history specialists to business people, lawyers, and other professionals who never lost their interest in history. For more information about the Clio Society, please visit http://clio.osu.edu