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The West Oakland Home:

The West Oakland Home:

The “Noble Work for a Life Saving” of Rebecca McWade

(p.109) Four The West Oakland Home
A City for Children
Marta Gutman
University of Chicago Press

In 1885, Rebecca McWade, a dressmaker, horrified by abandonment and infanticide, expanded her daughter’s sewing circle into a refuge for single mothers and street children. The Little Workers’ Home, set up in her East Oakland cottage, grew into the purpose-built West Oakland Home, a racially integrated, congregate orphanage for illegitimate children. Funded by Mary and Ethel Crocker and supported by the Associated Charities, McWade set a durable pattern in place when she put the orphanage adjacent to schools, churches, and other important community structures. The concepts, redemptive maternity, family strategy, and hidden transcripts, are applied to show how women (and children) made calculated choices about care. Maternity and infant asylums, baby farms, and reform schools are discussed; and prejudices, derived from reform portraits, are challenged including the attack on congregate orphanages by the Children’s Aid Society.

Keywords:   sewing circle, congregate orphanage, Mary and Ethel Crocker, Associated Charities, redemptive maternity, family strategy, hidden transcripts, baby farms, reform schools, Children’s Aid Society

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