The Home for Destitute Children

Meghan Cope, Dept. of Geography & Geosciences, University of Vermont

The Home for Destitute Children was started in 1866 by a group of middle-class and wealthy women in the city of Burlington, Vermont, initially to serve orphans of the Civil War, but later to serve a wider population of children. Thanks to meticulous record-keeping by the various Matrons over the years, and the preservation of their handwritten logbooks by first the Howard Center and now the Silver Special Collections Department at the University of Vermont, the paths children took in and out of the Home are revealed. Working with several terrific undergrad research assistants between 2015 and 2021, My research team has transcribed and cataloged the logbook information for over 1700 unique children for the years 1899-1941 and are analyzing this rich database. A few samples are here.

Paper out online now!
Cope, M. (2023) ‘Fixing’ destitute children: The relational geography of an early twentieth century children’s home through its archives. Area, 00, 1–9. Direct link:


Follow the paths of the Campbell* children as they moved from Montreal to Vermont and then were brought to the Home and separated into different adoptive families in the early 1900s. (Click on the image to be taken to the StoryMap) * All names and identifying information have been changed.
Lionel Brown; Campbell Family; Isabelle Phillips; Karson Family; Margaret Newcomb; Olsen Family


For a brief overview of the project in paper form, please see this text (link below) of my presentation, recently given at the Mapping (in)Justice Symposium at Fordham University in NYC and the Social Science History Association meetings in Chicago, both in Nov. 2019. (Please do not cite without permission)


Mapping Origins and Destinations
The Home served all of Vermont so some interesting patterns arose when we mapped where children came from and where they ultimately ended up: note the influence of the railroads, changes over time, and the general trend of urban-to-rural migration. (Many thanks to Gemayel Goxcon for his dedicated GIS work!)

Towns of origin and final recorded destination for children in the Home for Destitute Children, 1899-1941


Home for Destitute Children Timeline
For an institutional timeline documenting key events in the formation and operation of the Home for Destitute Children, please click the image or HERE. Many thanks to Bella Federico for her work on this.


During the course of a sample year, 1900, the number of children month to month varied slightly due to families reclaiming their children, children being placed out or adopted, dismissals, and even death.


In addition to logbooks, some of the ephemera preserved in the archive include a “Work Duties” notebook, which was hand-written instructions to beginning workers who were caring for the children. The book is undated but contents suggest it’s from the 1920s. Here is a sample:

Sample of the “Work Duties” notebook, undated